A Hard Saying
Let us be clear about the point: the teaching of Jesus is that divorce is permissible only in the case of adultery. To that St. Paul adds this: a Christian whose non-Christian spouse leaves is not bound to remain in marriage. And from those two statements we may conclude two things:
· God's intention is that once married, only adultery or death will split the bond between husband and wife.
· There is some sense of exception when one of the partners is not a Christian—but the Christian may not initiate the divorce in that circumstance.
It raises a natural question. What about (for example) the wife who takes up the regular practice of throwing butcher knives in the vicinity of her husband's head? Is one obliged by God to remain in the marriage? (I know of nothing in Scripture which forbids you to duck.)
Just where should the church draw the line? There are many answers to this. It is easier for a husband to deal with his own lust than with an evil woman. Jesus knows that. His answer is interesting both for what it says, and what it doesn't.
· He does say that this is a "hard saying." Not everyone can handle this problem. For that reason, some will find it best never to marry, as if they were eunuchs. In our day the thought of doing without sex for one night seems difficult; a lifetime, impossible. But if you seek first the kingdom of God, and sex is in the way, what else can you do? A hard choice to bear, but an easy one to think through.
· He does not launch into a list of exceptions. That would only start another round of legalism in the church. It seems that Jesus has left us with the problem and the statement that it is a hard one. He had no intention of making divorce easy, and so gave no list of exceptions.
At the very least this should cause us to enter marriage only after grave thought and seeking wise counsel. So few of us do that; we hurry into marriage and hurry into divorce. We should be slow to marry; much slower to divorce. Remarriage after divorce should be even tardier, both for our Lord's words and our experience. Marriage is God's doing; we should be reverent in starting it; remorseful to break it and reluctant to do it again.