Is divorce OK? It’s a question not often asked, especially when our society considers easing the law to allow “no blame” divorces. Yet there are few families not affected in one way or another by relationship failure. Interesting, then, that Jesus is asked the question in Mark 10:2-26.
Of course the question to Jesus is loaded, intending to lose him the sympathy of some of his audience. He knows that the Old Testament Law (eg Deuteronomy 24) improved the position of a rejected wife by demanding that she be given written evidence of divorce. He also knows that there were two views held among the scholars of his time. One allowed divorce for serious matters (such as adultery), while the other allowed a man to divorce his wife for almost any excuse.
Jesus’ answer avoids the trick. He goes back to God’s intentions in Genesis, pointing out that the experience of divorce was not something intended for any couple (or their families and friends) (Genesis 2:24). The breakup of a man and woman bound by vows of lifelong faithfulness is serious. Some will find that hard to hear, but we need to remember that faith is not improved by “leaving out” these, or any other words of scripture, which we find challenging or demanding.
That still leaves the question of what to do about divorce. Christians may be concerned, but have no grounds for judgementalism or superiority. Yes, we should give thanks for, and advertise the goodness of Christian marriage, even more than stable and loving partnerships. It should be a blessing, not only to the couple, but to their children, their friends and wider society (and that includes single people, who matter and should not be forgotten). Christians also need to offer love and practical help for those whose family life has suffered, for whatever reason. Sometimes the protection of the law may safeguard those who need protection – just as the Old Testament required.
Christians fail, and their marriages are not excluded from failure. Forgiveness is offered to all who repent. That is important, but does not cancel the seriousness of divorce, or neutralise the harm it can do. If western society has many children brought up by single or step parents, do we not need to blame ourselves?