Sunday, September 6
A Divorcé's Request
Please accept this letter in response to your questions. Although I'm sure they were meant well, many people do not realise that divorce is rated as possibly the one most painful event a human being is apt to endure. The death of a loved one is hard; the death of a spouse can be much harder than most; divorce, to at least half of the people who go through it, mixes the sense of loss experienced in bereavement with the combined sense of betrayal and moral failure even in those who did nothing to cause the divorce, who were possibly blindsided by a sudden revelation that their life mate had developed “other interests” and had launched a vicious attack on their “dearly beloved” to provide a smoke screen for their sin. All kinds of such scenarios happen every day, so to ask someone for details about his or her divorce circumstances, though possibly motivated by a sense of religious obligation, is no less callous than presuming to rip someone's heart scars open to “better understand” the nature of their injury. In fact, the religious angle tends to make the pain all the worse, because the victim feels some obligation “for fellowship's sake” to submit to such probing at least long enough to allow a good grip on the scar in question. I honestly think that to probe in such a way is much more painful even than to ask a woman, with no warning, to describe to all present all the details surrounding a past abortion.
On the religious part of the question, there is a long-accepted belief that it is a sin to divorce. Nowhere does the Bible support this. Malachi describes a man who is abusing and neglecting his wife, while still married to her, and calls his behavior, or attitude, “putting away,” which God does hate. In Exodus we read that divorce is authorised (even) in the case of a slave woman who is not treated with the full entitlements of a wife, so we can easily expect that a wife had such rights if they were spelled out as applying to the slave as well. Before the Exodus there was no such thing as divorce. Men had the right of property over their wives, even to beat, neglect, or starve them. Today, too often, men are the property of their wives in much the same way. Jesus said, “for the hardness of your hearts it was given.” God, not Moses, gave the ordinance as a relief against the hardheartedness of an abusive, neglectful, or adulterous spouse. The point of the divorce was not to “authorise” a lifelong separation, but so there could be remarriage, as it is spelled out in the Law, both in Exodus and Deuteronomy, so to impose a rule against that in the church is to go against what God's mercy has provided. Readings of Jesus' words which seem to be to the contrary overlook the historical / cultural context in which He was speaking, and the fact that, if He had said what many believe, He would have been going back on His promise not to change “one jot or one tittle” of the Law.
If you have any more questions, I will be glad to email you a paper I have done on a pastoral approach to the problem. I would prefer not to be interrogated on this matter: not that I have anything to “hide” but, at the same time, I would prefer not to be dealing with a combination of the divorce trauma and that of being categorised and “lovingly” interrogated as someone somehow unworthy of the grace of God at the drop of a hat.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Posted by Patrick Robert Easter