Picture a man and woman dancing like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers in those old movies. The man is snappily dressed in a tuxedo; every button polished, every hair in place. The woman is glowing in a flowing gown. Arm in arm they glide across the floor as the orchestra plays something smooth and inviting. They are a couple, living something together that they couldn’t do apart. Hidden in the movement are the little things required in ballroom dancing. They are content with each other, neither of them straining or pushing outside of the ability or willingness of the other. They are committed to each other and to what they are doing together. Lastly, there is something that can only be described as Christlikeness – a willingness to forgive missteps, the humility required to move together, and the sacrifice of self for the sake of the other.
The third impossible possibilities in this series of articles is Jesus declaration concerning divorce. In this section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount He declares, “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31–32, NASB95) In a later passage the question of marriage, divorce, and remarriage comes up again. Jesus’ response is the same although with an added explanation. “Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”(Matthew 19:3–12, NASB95) Even Jesus’ own disciples were aghast at the high standard Jesus was setting.
In our day and age divorce is about as easy as it was in Jesus’ day. It is also just as ugly, just as confusing, just as damaging, and just as sinful. God made it very clear – “I hate divorce”. (Malachi 2:16a) Divorce violates a covenant made before God. It means that the promises to love, honor, and cherish in sickness, in health, in poverty, in plenty have been broken. Sometimes this happens very suddenly, but more often than not it is something that builds over time. One unforgiven offense leading to another, and another, and another. Divorce is not just one big sin, it is the accumulated debris of many smaller, seemingly insignificant unconfessed and unforgiven sins.
There are three “mores” necessary in order to leap over the high standard set by Christ, contentment, commitment, and Christlikeness. Being content with one another is vital. The context of God’s declaration – “I hate divorce” – specifically talks about being discontented with the “wife of your youth”. Spouses are not to be traded in for a newer model. Contentment requires that we forgive the faults of each other and that we ground our expectations in reality. Commitment is the anchor that sees a marriage through the times when the waves are high and the wind is contrary. Even if battle lines have been drawn commitment declares that we will see this through until healing and forgiveness can be found. The final “more” is Christlikeness. Loving each other in the same way that Christ loves us – a sacrificial love based on hope-filled truth. Quick to forgive. Filled with grace and mercy. Patient. Yoked together in peace.
It is not impossible! I’ve seen and experienced it in the love and care my dad lavished on mom in her last days. I’ve watched it in the lives of both sets of my grandparents have they loved each other through seventy plus years of good times and bad, plenty and poverty, wartime separations and peacetime struggles, and through times of health and sickness. In all of these examples, they were content with each other, committed to each other for the long haul, and loved each other with Christ-like love. What God had joined together no one could separate.