How do we apply the Bible to situations of divorce? A pastor recently asked me about this. I’m interested in your response. This is one of the most common subjects I get asked about by my students at North Park.
I’ve got just a few pages left in The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible
, and it raised a question for
me. I resonate deeply with the need to read the Bible as story and that
has always given me a little confusion over how to interact with people
pastorally on the issue of divorce. I can understand and accept that
marital unfaithfulness, as Jesus points out, is grounds for divorce.
Fine. But I’ll never forget the day when a guy in our church asked me
to coffee and then opened the conversation with, “I caught my wife
cheating and the divorce papers are in my hand,” and
here he nodded toward his car, “but before I sign them, I want to know
if you think the Bible says that’s the right decision?” He went on to
reference Jesus’ words on infidelity but he wanted to be sure. I asked
for a week to discern and ponder the text.
So I did. And as I looked back over The Story, I was amazed at what I
found. The marriage metaphor seems to be one of God’s favorite for
describing his love for the world. In a sense he married Israel at
Sinai, and if you think of the Ten words as marriage vows, then Israel
committed adultery before Moses even got down the mountain. And all
throughout the Hebrew Scriptures this story of marriage and
unfaithfulness unfolds. “You’ve prostituted yourselves. You’ve gone
after other lovers. You’ve give your hearts away.” And yet I can’t help
but see that the judgement of the prophets are punctuated, like a
chorus in a song, with this message: “BUT, return to me, and I will
relent.” Then you’ve got Hosea, another picture of God’s relentless
pursuit of an unfaithful bride.
And I guess I see Jesus as just another
chapter in the story of God’s relentless pursuit of an unfaithful
bride, the kind of love that lays down it’s life for the bride, the
kind of love husbands are commanded to show their wives, just as Christ
loved the church. So all that to say, I’m okay with advising people
that divorce for marital unfaithfulness is fine.
But The Story doesn’t
seem that easy. The Story tells reveals a relentless pursuit in the
face of infidelity. So I told him about what I found as I sat with the
Scriptures and suggested that Jesus’ words were open for him to
consider as grounds for divorce, but I asked him to consider the bigger
story as well.
So here’s my question: am I listening to and discerning the story well?
What we “think” about divorce is one thing. People in broken marriages
looking you in the face and asking for guidance is another.