Recently in preparing for teaching on 1 Corinthians 7 (marriage, divorce, and remarriage) I ran across some things that deserve reflection. The first of which came from G.K. Chesterton who wrote something to the effect of “to answer the question of what divorce is, you must first answer the question of what marriage is.” This is crucial to understanding the absolute language that the Scriptures use in regards to divorce. Divorce is evil, but why? Many here would point to the fact that it wrecks individuals, and that is true. Many would point to the fact that it sends damaging ripples throughout society, and that is true. But all of this is not the real reason why divorce is evil – the real reason is answered only when we look at marriage.
Marriage is God’s institution. When God wants to get something done He creates an office to do it. So, to fill the earth with children He creates His offices of husband and wife. He then sets qualified individuals into those offices (men for husbands, women for wives). The abomination that is same-sex marriage is in complete rebellion to this, but reflects the ongoing shift away from God’s institution of marriage. We have replaced God’s estate of marriage with mankind’s perverted imposter of it. So God puts men into the office of husband and women into the office of wife. Literally God is the only matchmaker for marriage. As Luther points out in his sermon on the Estate of Marriage, Christians need to look at marriage as something that is God’s work and that He places people together and unites them (just like the first marriage where there could be no doubt in Adam’s mind that God put he and his wife together). The inbred synergism of mankind has of course perverted this view also as we think of marriage as some sort of human work to find each other and pick a spouse.
Marriage has another purpose. It was not good for man to be alone. This “not good” happens in the litany of “goods” that one finds in the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. God’s fix for it is the helper fit for the man. Companionship and mutual support becomes a purpose of marriage as well. The world has of course perverted this as well in challenging and down right reversing gender roles (human phrase for the distinctions which God has given to men and women).
Marriage has another purpose. The first two purposes happen in the perfect creation. This third one is necessary in a fallen creation. It is the idea that St. Paul touches upon in 1 Corinthians 7 that not all are given the gift of chastity so others will need to be married in order that they not burn with passion. This is also of course been assaulted by the world, as terms like friends with benefits and rampant fornication have been accepted and even celebrated ways of life.
Martin Chemnitz in his “Examination of the Council of Trent” deals with marriage in the second volume. In it he not only list these first three purposes for the estate of marriage and the offices of husband and wife, but he lists two more which are wonderful to think about.
The fourth purpose according to Chemnitz is that God is a God who blesses. This is evident of course in the first purpose to bless with children, but there are many more blessings to living in the married estate. There is joy and blessing to found in marriage. Yes, there are trials, but even trials are a blessing from God. Think of the effect that suffering has on the Old Adam and teaching self control and discipline. A good example of this is Jesus blessing the couple at the wedding at Cana in John 2. God is a God who blesses, and He loves to bless in marriage.
The fifth purpose Chemnitz poses is probably theologically the most important. Chemnitz lists that marriage has the purpose of being a mysterious picture of the relationship between Christ and His Church. This is in accord with St. Paul’s words found in Ephesians 5 concerning husbands and wives. Marriage points us to Christ as head and self-sacrificing husband for His bride the Church, who out of respect for His office as head and His sacrificial work subordinates herself to Him. This of course can become a great lesson for husbands and wives in how they should handle the offices which God has given to them. More than that we can see the mystery of Christ and Church behind the offices of husband and wife.
Those five things help describe marriage. So as Chesterton describes things, what is divorce based upon that? Divorce is declaring those things to be nothing. It is to tear apart the estate which God has created, to trash His Word and work. It is to say no to “be fruitful and multiple”. It is to say no to God’s very good fix for “it is not good for man to be alone”. It is to return to the burn of passions. It is to refuse the God who is a God of blessing. It is to mar the image of Christ and His Church.
Do you see why divorce can be called evil? It goes against God’s design and brings offense against His Word. Yes, Jesus allows for the possibility of divorce when adultery is committed. Yes St. Paul says that divorce may happen to a Christian whose unbelieving spouse leaves. In a fallen world sinners are going to sin.
Now the real challenge is this: do we listen to God’s Word on this (or really any great moral issue or controversy) or do we mask our past sins by trying to self-justify our actions. I would encourage you to stop the self-justifications and embrace Christ’s justification. Christ’s justification allows you to call your past sins exactly what they are – sins. His forgiveness frees you from having to serve the past sins with continuing denials or platitudes. His forgiveness allows you to confess that you are a poor sinner. This is a great and glorious thing, for Christ came not for the healthy, but for the sinners.