Nobody goes through divorce without getting hurt. If you have been hurt that way, it is understandable if you feel judged by Jesus’ blunt teaching about divorce (See: Handle with Care). If you want to argue with Him, if you want to say, “Yeah, but…” you are not alone.
““Why then,” they [the Pharisees] 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 marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”” (Matthew 19:7-9)
Moses didn’t command people to divorce, but permitted it as an accommodation to their hardheartedness. And, once again, Jesus points us back to the original design of God for marriage: a lifelong oneness between a man and woman, formed by God, and protected by a mutual covenant of faithfulness.
Right after “You shall not murder,” the seventh commandment is “You shall not commit adultery.” Although we tend to equate adultery with a sexual act, adultery, at its root, is any act that violates the marriage covenant of faithfulness. Adultery goes against this solemn command:
“…Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”” (Matthew 19:6b)
Divorce is an act of adultery, Jesus taught, because it breaks the covenant of faithfulness, that is, unless it has already been broken. Jesus wasn’t being judgmental. He was teaching an important truth to help people stop hurting themselves. He showed the same attitude when He spoke to the woman who had been caught in adultery:
“Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”” (John 8:10-11)
Think of marriage as a fertilized egg. The shell is part of the egg, the part that protects the living and growing part and holds it together. If you break the shell, you destroy the egg and it stops growing. The mutual covenant of faithfulness pertains to much more than sexual behavior. And faithfulness, like the shell of the egg, protects the living and growing part of a marriage. If you break faithfulness, you damage and likely destroy the marriage. Divorce certainly breaks it.
In effect, Jesus said, “Don’t do that to yourself; don’t break faithfulness with your spouse.” I am convinced Jesus understands why people choose divorce. He certainly knows the pain of betrayal. But He does not back away from advocating the importance of living by God’s original design in marriage. He knows it’s better.