When I was 22, my parents divorced. They told me about it the day after my college graduation party. It was also the day before I was to leave for a summer working as a student minister in Grand Teton National Park.
I didn’t see it coming, although I probably should have. I lasted two weeks out in Wyoming.
But it was several years before I came to grips with my parent’s divorce. I was hurt, confused, and mostly angry with my father.
That is, until I came across this Scripture passage.
3And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?" 4He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." 7They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" 8He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (Matthew 19:3-9ESV)
This seems pretty straight forward to me. There’s really only one reason for divorce – sexual immorality. But that isn’t all Jesus said at this time in His earthly ministry. Look what He says immediately after this teaching.
13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." 15And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15 ESV)
It was about 1991 or so when I read this and something clicked in my mind and heart.
Divorce is not God’s plan for a husband and wife. But then again, neither was sin and death. Yet they are all the reality we have to live with (if “living” is the right word).
The Good News is that God deals with our reality. He dealt with sin and death – and yes, divorce – by sending Jesus Christ to be our savior from sin and death – and yes, also divorce.
Divorce still happens. Yes, it isn’t what God intends. But Jesus tells us to “let the little children” come to Him for healing and love. A marriage could be saved. A soul certainly will be saved.
Divorce is not the unforgiveable sin. It took me years to come to understand that. When a husband and wife divorce God doesn’t hate that husband and wife. He still loves them and wants what’s best for them. Jesus “calls and draws” them closer to him during this very painful time.
And if the disciples in Matthew 19 represent the “one Holy Christian and Apostolic Church” (and I believe they do), then the Church needs to let even these children – divorcees – come to Jesus for love and healing.
My thanks to Anne Jackson who reminded me today that this is a neglected topic in the Church.