Guilt, Grief, and Grace in Divorce
It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Remember the game where people sit in a circle and one person begins by whispering a phrase into the next person’s ear? That person whispers the phrase into the next person’s ear and so on until the phrase has made its way around the whole circle. The phrase has a way of changing a lot from the first whisper to the last.
In today’s passage, Jesus addresses the important topic of divorce. Divorce was frequent in Jesus’ day, and it was the subject of great debate. God’s original word about divorce had become badly distorted and so here (and again in Matt. 19:3-9), Jesus reminded his followers what God originally whispered about divorce.
- Marriage is a gift from God to join one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship (Matt. 19:5-6).
- Because of sin, marriage commitments can become impossible to keep, so God has graciously allowed for a marriage to be dissolved through divorce (Matt. 19:7-8).
- If divorce is sought, it should be done only for the most serious reasons with great solemnity, by legal instrument, in writing, with witnesses, to deal respectfully with all parties involved (Deut. 24:1-4).
Matthew heard Jesus permit divorce only in the case of adultery; Paul permitted divorce in cases of spiritual incompatibility; and Luke heard of no acceptable reason for divorce. I take this to mean that every marriage is unique and there is no cookie-cutter approach. We need to listen again for God’s ancient whisper about divorce because today’s culture is a toxic environment for marriage.
Remember Guilt—God allows for divorce because of the unrelenting assault of sin on marriage relationships. So make your confessions before God. Remember, God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not deal with us according to our sin or repay us according to our iniquity.
Remember Grief—No one gets married with the expectation of divorce. The death of a marriage is comparable to the death of a loved-one. And so we grieve. But remember that we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. Godly grief produces a kind of repentance that leads to salvation and does not disappoint, but earthly grief leads to death. Practice Godly grief.
Remember Grace—Divorce is always accompanied by anger, hurt, or indifference. Despite the wounds, be gracious and merciful to the one you are divorcing—and to yourself.
When the old peach tree died in the back yard of John Claypool’s grandfather, a neighbor asked, “What shall we do?” The grandfather said, “Eat the fruit, and burn the wood.” Good advice for lots of failures in life, including divorce.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What theories do you have for why divorce is so common today? What are the impacts on society? What do you think would be the effect of outlawing all divorce? What does it mean to you to “practice Godly grief?”
PRAYER: Merciful God, some will pray this prayer who have never faced the disappointment of divorce, but there are others who pray and bear in their heart the guilt and grief of a marriage that has died. Into whichever category we fall, hear our confessions of regret for the things we do that wound relationships, comfort us in our sorrows, and arm us with the grace and love of Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Dave Peterson is an ordained pastor who is the Director of Community Outreach for The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation and Scholarly Advisor for the H. E. Butt Family Foundation. He is the author of Receiving and Giving, Unleashing the Bless Challenge in Your Life. Dave and his wife, Terri, have four adult children and four grandchildren. Send a note to Dave.
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