Living by religious rules is a poor substitute for living the principle of loving others as ourselves. Let’s consider the example of divorce.
Divorce is looked upon as a despised condition among some Christians. The pastor I grew up under refused to marry couples if one was divorced. However, my next denomination had an ‘innocent party’ clause. If a person was the innocent party in an adultery that resulted in divorce they could remain members and remarry; but that implied, too simplistically, a guilty party who took all the blame, the shame, and the consequences.
So when a divorce happened there was an attempt on both sides to prove that the other was the guilty party; it added pain to an already painful process.
Why Does God Hate Divorce?
I grew up to the thundering refrain, “God hates divorce!” The source of this thought is Malachi 2. There are difficulties in the Hebrew text; some translations, including the KJV, follow the alternate reading, foot-noted in the NIV as:
“I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “because the man who divorces his wife covers his garment with violence.” [NIV footnote]
But other translations follow the reading:
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect.”
Why would God hate divorce? I suggest it is because of the harm it creates, particularly to women, as indicated by the second reading. This is why I hate divorce too! It destroys relationships and causes great suffering for individuals.
In most societies women are very dependent on men; in some they are little more than property. And in many societies it is rather easy for men to divorce a wife they no longer like. This can be financially and socially devastating to divorced wives who are suddenly on their own.
Even in today’s world, divorced women find it difficult to support themselves, and often their children, as single mothers. On the other had, divorced men face handicaps as well.
Divorce destroys relationships and creates suffering.
What Jesus Says about Divorce
In Matthew 19 people asked Jesus’ opinion:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Jesus rejects casual divorces, but I don’t think he means for us to never divorce. At times divorce is the most loving option.
Sometimes Divorce Prevents Harm
Divorce destroys relationships and causes harm, but remaining married can cause greater harm. In these situations, the couple must consider carefully the harm of divorce to all parties. But at the same time, the harm of staying together is an important consideration.
For example, an abused wife should consider divorce; there is no way we can require a wife to tolerate a husband’s abuses. A sad, and frequent, result of legalistic insistence against divorce is that it condemns women to remain in abusive relationships. Church leaders demand that the wife forgive her husband repeatedly, even though he continues to abuse her. The abused can never escape, and it isn’t right.
This situation is not isolated; it happens all the time in some circles. It is legalism gone rotten, and it is certainly not living by the ethic of love.
‘Never divorce!’ is a woefully inadequate guideline. One cannot determine a legalistic rule about divorce that applies to all situations. Couples must evaluate the harmful effects in their particular case, and authorities have no standing to dictate what they should do. Thinking about divorce is certainly a case of considering the best for all involved instead of following a rule.
Preparing to Live the Principle of Loving Others
Potential divorce is only one difficult issue that requires careful choices based on the good of everyone involved, but we have to understand ahead of time what it means to love others. We can’t just wait, unprepared, until we are faced with a moral decision.
Fortunately, there are ways we can prepare, so that we can make good decisions and continue to grow in showing love to others. We will talk about those things next time.
Image credit: By Original (Anillos.jpg): Musaromana; this one: Tangopaso (Adaptation of File:Anillos.jpg on Commons) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The purpose of this blog is to support those re-evaluating traditional religious beliefs.