Divorce and Remarriage: What Makes and Breaks a Marriage?
The issue in the possibility of divorce is not whether divorce happens, but whether the marriage bond can truly be broken. To examine this, we must not only look at the Scriptural guidelines regarding divorce, but those regarding marriage. The primary marriage passages must be Genesis 2:18-25, especially verse 24, and Matthew 19:4-6. (While the continuing verses in Matthew are relevant to the overall question of Divorce and Remarriage, they are not to this initial question. We will address them later.)
Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Matthew 19:3-6 “He [Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
What is the “therefore” of Genesis 2? The therefore is the creation of the institution of marriage between man and woman by God, for the purpose of making both better for their created purposes. A man will leave (the Hebrew is strong, like ‘totally abandon’) his parents because God has set aside for him a wife who makes him better. The converse is true for the woman – therefore, she must do the same, because there is set aside for her a man who makes her better.
What is, “They shall become one flesh”? Of course the sexual act is implied and part of it, but it is far greater than that. This is evident in our society, which is plagued with live-in sexual relationships. These couples are almost TWICE as likely to divorce than those who do not live together first, and married couples have lower rates of domestic violence, child abuse, relationship dissatisfaction and unhappiness than those couples who are merely living together. Lastly, the rate of those who remain together for the rest of their lives is no comparison. When we compare the married and the unmarried, one group is clearly more of one flesh than the other.
So how is it that this special, ordained bond can become broken? Well, we know it can be broken by death. There are no married couples in heaven (cf. Matt. 22:24-30), and on both the OT and the NT we find expectations that younger widows will remarry. Yet, the question is still present asked by those who were testing Christ in Matthew 19, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?”
If our answer to this is based upon current cultural norms, the answer is obviously yes. In all 50 states a marriage can be dissolved at the insistence of only one member, with no reason beyond their desire to divorce required. In some states, it is easier to divorce than to get out of a contract with a lawn mowing company!
Jesus emphasizes later in the passage that the state of divorce, even in the first century, was not what God intended. In fact, the Lord makes it quite evident what he thinks of the dissolution of families in Malachi,
“You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth… For the Lord, the God of Israel, says that he hates divorce.”
What is clear is that the view of God, revealed through the Scriptures, is that marriage is a bond of value well above what we put it, and that the dissolution of that bond requires something as drastic as death. Psychological studies have shown that divorce is as equal a stressor on a person and family as the death of a family member!
How do we reconcile the Scriptural view of marriage and divorce with the view of society? (I intend to discuss the “exception clauses” in Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7 in the following post, but as they are specifically exceptions, I’d prefer to focus this discuss upon the value of marriage and the strength of its bond when we compare the Scriptures and society, and why there is a difference.)