Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mark 10:1-12

By Josh Taylor

The Pharisees try and catch Jesus out by asking him a hard question about divorce. Jesus turns it around and goes even deeper by getting back to God's intent:

"male and female he made them, and that's why
the man must leave his father and his mother
and cleave unto his wife; so that the two
become one flesh."

Jesus is good at this. They know that he will probably give them a conservative answer, an answer that would get him in trouble politically with Herod who was himself divorced. But Jesus knows better than to fall into their trap, he quickly unveils their hearts. What is this law about? It is about God's intention for marriage.

Divorce is a topic that comes up in Scripture a few times, so let's take a quick tour of this issue in other places in Scripture...(this is a topic deeply personal to my own journey and hence there are fair amount of words to follow!)

In Ephesians 5:22-33 we find Paul’s picture of marriage. This picture is a positive one that affirms mutuality, equality and love. Genesis 2 affirms the relational bond that God created between men and women. Stanley Grenz writes on human relationships and insists that human relationships can reflect God’s triune nature, he says:

Personhood, then, is bound up with relationality, and the fullness of relationality lies ultimately in relationship with the triune God. Creating this relational fullness is the work of the Spirit, who places humans “in Christ” and thereby effects human participation in the dynamic of the divine life.[1]

Humans are made for relationship with one another. The marriage bond that displays mutuality of love which is beautifully expressed in the act of sex (as described in 1 Corinthians 7) can reflect the nature of God. Marriage is affirmed in the Bible, that man and woman are made as equals and called to exist as one flesh.

Divorce is a sad reality that Scripture teaches on in various places. Jesus teaches on adultery and divorce in Matthew 5:27-32. Jesus’ words in 5:31-32 are of particular relevance here.

A Covenant theology reading offers much insight into Jesus’ words on marriage and divorce. Stassen and Gushee in their book “Kingdom Ethics” explore Matthew 5:31-32 from a Covenant theology reading. They highlight that marriage is a covenant and that there is significance in the covenant language of marriage.[2] This covenant requires faithfulness, trust and honesty. Too often it seems that the question that one asks when facing Matthew 5:31-32 misses the point. It seems odd to ask the question of when is it possible for a couple to get divorced. The issue should not be questions of how to wriggle free from a covenant relationship. The truly important theological question that arises is what does God intend for marriage? Christians are to be new creations in Christ. The whole created order groans for restoration. Part of this restoration is the creational intent for marriage being restored. The Bible speaks of marriage and in the Genesis account speaks of man and woman united as one flesh.[3]

The reason the divorce teaching itself exists is not to give people the room to get out of a marriage that they do not like. The reason Jesus teaches on divorce is because people’s hearts are so hard and sinful that divorce is in fact a reality.[4] People’s marriages break down for various reasons. Jesus sets the boundary for what was acceptable in his 1st century Jewish context, however that does not mean that Matthew 5:30-32 gives us prescriptive rules for today. The central theological message that one can take from Jesus’ teachings on divorce is that broken marriages are not the ideal. What God intended for his creation were faithful marriages.

Divorce is a major issue for pastoral practice. It is important that the Church affirms that divorce is not God’s intention. Every option ought to be explored before divorce is considered. Falling out of love or drifting apart is not a good reason to get a divorce. Perhaps an understanding of love such as the self sacrificial and giving picture found in 1 Corinthians 13 is important in terms of this issue. On the other hand, divorce is a reality and in some cases proves to be the only way to resolve a situation. It is important that the Church does not adopt a ‘one size fits all’ legalistic approach to divorce. Just as Paul applied Jesus’ teaching to his context, the Church today is to do the same.

The Church ought to be a redemptive place that encourages healing of relationships and hurt from broken relationships.[5] Imagine if we at Cashmere could be such a redemptive place: a place of healing and love that displays and supports God's intention for marriage. Maybe then if we were asked tough questions about this issue, we would have a ready answer at hand displayed in the love of our community.

[1] Stanley J. Grenz “The Social God and the Relational Self: Toward a Theology of theImago Dei in the Postmodern Context” in Personal Identity in Theological Perspective, ed. Richard Lints, Michael S. Horton and Mark R. Talbot (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 92.

[2]Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 276.

[3] Genesis 2:24.

[4]David P. Scaer. The Sermon on the Mount: The Church’s First Statement of the Gospel (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 2000), 119.

[5] Stanley Grenz, Sexual Ethics, 141-142.

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