Book of Mark

Oh boy, this is a tough one (Mark 10, Part 1) #BibleStudy

Pray

Lord, your word tells me that someone who delights in your law and meditates on it day and night is like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in season and flourishing in all ways. As I approach your word today, let it nourish my heart and edify my mind, so that I might glorify you and be a source of life, hope, and love to those around me.

Read

After spending a week or so meditating on Psalm 1, I’m back in Mark today, beginning a new chapter. So read Mark 10:1-12 a few times, circling words and phrases that strike you and noting anything that comes to mind as you read.

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:1-12 ESV)

Reflect

So I’ll say right off the bat that this is a hard one. This passage directly deals with (or even confronts) some of the hardest topics of our day: marriage and divorce. It is a hard passage for me, because I know and love many people who either don’t fit this passage’s definition of marriage (a man and a woman, united by God) or are divorced and remarried. But a faithful reading of scripture means that we have to deal with everything we read—the parts we like and agree with, and the parts we struggle with. So that’s what I’m aiming to do here.

The first thing that strikes me is this question asked by the Pharisees: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” This question is the very epitome of legalism: rather than seeking what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8), they want to know what is “legal.” Notice that Jesus does not answer “yes” or “no.” Instead, he points to God’s original intention from the very creation of man and woman:

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

So from this passage, I conclude that when God brings two people together in marriage—a man and a woman—they are meant to stay married as long as they are both alive. The prophet Malachi captures a bit more of God’s passion for divorce, saying, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? …So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 2:15-16)

If the question we are asking is, “Is it lawful to divorce?” we are missing the very heart of God and are more closely aligned with the legalists. As Paul wrote (twice) in 1 Corinthians, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful,” and, “All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” The question we should be asking is not, “Is it lawful,” but rather, “Is it helpful? Does it build up?”

Yet read on. Jesus’s response when the Pharisees asked him about divorce must have surprised his disciples, because, “in the house, the disciples asked him again about this matter.” I wonder why? Is it possible that some of them had divorced their wives? The only apostle we read of having a wife was Simon Peter. But in that age, it would not have been common for all of these fishermen and tax collectors and others to be single. Marriage was the custom; it was the norm. Are we to conclude that others beside Simon Peter were not married? I don’t necessarily think so. Is it possible that their curiosity was piqued by personal experience?

Or perhaps divorce was then, as it is now, a cultural norm. Today, 45-50% of first marriages end in divorce. The divorce rate actually increases with second and third marriages. (Click for source.) I have been in at least three weddings of friends whose marriage later ended in divorce. My husband has a friend whose wife just filed for divorce. I have had conversations with at least six people in the past week who are divorced and remarried. Perhaps in the first century AD, divorce was as common as it is today. Something had to make the disciples ask Jesus about this again!

And how did Jesus answer this question? By saying one of the hardest things he has ever said for me to comprehend: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

This is just a really, really hard passage to deal with, because I know and love people who have left—or been left by—their spouses for various (sometimes good) reasons and are now married to others. Honestly, I’m tempted to just skim past it here and not even talk about it publicly. It is possible that some of the readers of this blog are actually in really hard marriages and are contemplating divorce themselves right now. And I hope if that is you, you’ll read this whole post and not stop at the hardest part. I promise, there is encouragement, even in the midst of the difficult verses. As uncomfortable as I am publicly commenting on something that is so intensely painful and personal, my commitment on this blog is to read the Bible and reflect on it—publicly—with the hopes that it will encourage others to do so also.

Even the hard parts.

So here goes.

First, when a man and a woman make a marriage covenant before God, to break that covenant is sin. (Of course, this raises questions: what about two people who marry, but are not believers, and their marriage is not one made as a covenant before God? What about if God didn’t bring the two together, but rather they married against God’s  will? I don’t have answers to these questions, but they come up when I read the nuances of this passage and the one from Malachi.) But God allows sin; God allows his people to make sinful choices every day—and to bear the consequences of that sin. And there are always consequences. Even with the beautiful hope of grace and redemption, sin bears consequences. In the case of divorce where there are children involved, the consequences are multiplied. There are also financial, relational, and, yes, spiritual consequences to sin.

Second, when one spouse who has made a covenant of marriage before God leaves and re-marries, in God’s eyes, he or she is committing adultery. Because while God allows a person to break a marriage covenant with God, God, it seems,does not break God’s covenant. If a covenant was made before God, and “a portion of the Spirit was in their union,” that covenant stands, whether both people involved honor it or not. From this passage and others, I conclude that God still looks on that original marriage as a covenant, and when a husband or wife leaves and takes another woman or man as his or her spouse, if we’re just taking what Jesus says here, that is adultery.

I do find it interesting that in this passage, Jesus seems to differentiate between the man/woman who leaves and the man/woman being left. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” This seems to suggest that the person who initiates a divorce and remarries is the adulterer.

Either way, there’s no getting around that God hates divorce and it’s a reflection of human brokenness. One of many reflections of human brokenness, I might add. And this is where the hope is: the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to all human brokenness—yes, even divorce. This is the very essence of the gospel: not that it permits or excuses sin, but that, in our sin, there is hope. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5-10 ESV)

The thing we cannot do—and this is the tempting part—is to justify our sin. If a man leaves his wife because he is unhappy, or, as Jesus put it, has “hardness of heart,” and takes a second wife, this passage says that he is an adulterer. There is no sugar-coating it, at least as far as Jesus was concerned. But the thing that we must remember is that no sin is justified. No matter what we have done, or what we will do, if we are in Christ, Christ alone is our justification. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

And of course it raises more hard questions. What about an abusive situation? What if a woman is being abused by her husband, either emotionally or physically or both? What if her children are? Should she simply stay and take it? My take is that, no, of course she shouldn’t. She should get out—and fast. But removing yourself (and your children) from abuse is not the same thing as immediately filing for a divorce. Is it possible that, after a time of separation, an abuser may have a change of heart? It’s possible… and worth a try.

But what if he or she doesn’t repent? My husband and I were talking about this, and he pointed out that a person might have to choose between two “less than ideal situations,” one being an abusive marriage, the other being divorce. We know people who have faced those two choices and have chosen divorce, and that was the better choice. (If those are the only options a person has, surely the better choice is to divorce? After all, hasn’t a spouse who is abusive already broken their marriage covenant first?)

In another passage of scripture dealing with divorce, from 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.” If a spouse, even one claiming to be a Christian, behaves like an unbeliever and seeks a divorce, doesn’t that free a believer from being “enslaved?”

I would love to hear your thoughts. How do you deal with this difficult passage? Pastors and elders, how do you counsel people whose marriage is on the rocks? What do you say about this passage?

I guess at the end of the day, when I read a hard passage like this, with the many (many!) other questions it raises, my main encouragement is not that there are times when divorce is the absolute right answer for a couple, but rather that the gospel means there is hope. Yes, even in the wake of divorce. Through repentance, forgiveness, and the cleansing of all unrighteousness that comes only through Christ, there is hope. Regardless of your marital status, regardless of your past or even present, your future righteousness can be found in Christ alone. And God can do a tremendous work of redemption in the face of divorce. I have seen and experienced with my own eyes what can happen when, following the aftermath and fallout and hard consequences of divorce, over time, there is forgiveness and restoration. I have seen God do beautiful things years after a bitter divorce. He is powerful and merciful that way. And even when there is not reconciliation, when the brokenness remains, when we turn to God, he will comfort and heal and bring new life to all who seek him in humility.

So no matter what, there is hope. Because of Christ, because of the gospel, there is always hope.

I’ve wrestled with this passage here, and I know there is a lot more to say. I would love to hear from you. You may comment anonymously if you like, but I welcome your thoughts. When a marriage is falling apart, there are no easy answers. But if we are going to walk through scripture, hard questions will come up.

Apply

For this passage’s application, I would simply ask that you join me in prayer for those marriages that are in trouble. Pray for God’s mercy and kindness for those who are facing the hard decision of whether to stay or whether to go. I reiterate that just because this passage seems to make a clear and conclusive statement, the many layers of human sin and brokenness force us not to settle for easy answers, especially when we’re not the ones walking through it. As in all cases where human sin and brokenness causes destruction, our only option is to throw ourselves on the mercy of God.

And with that, I welcome you again to please share your own thoughts in the comments below. I want to learn from you, even as I share with you how I wrestle with hard passages like this.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Oh boy, this is a tough one (Mark 10, Part 1) #BibleStudy

  1. Thanks for tackling this passage and not being afraid to share your perspective. Thanks also for pointing out that we humans are broken in so many ways. In some churches, there’s a tendency to point the finger at divorce while ignoring anger, bitterness, or gossip. And there certainly are no easy answers in the middle of a struggle. But if we want to follow the Jesus, the question in any decision cannot be, “Is there a way to justify this?” The question must be, “What does Jesus want in my life?”

    1. That’s a great question to live in to, Rachelle—”What does Jesus want in my life?” In fact, it’s the reason for my push for daily Bible meditation, both in my own life and for others. I’m glad you’re with me on this journey! Blessings on your day today.

  2. Yes, it’s a tough passage. I’m glad that you tackled it.

    Eight years ago, my husband and I converted from evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism.

    I would like to encourage you and others who are interested to take a look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1621-1658 to read the teachings about marriage, and also paragraphs 2382-2386 for the teachings about divorce. (You can find the CCC online.)

    The Catholic Church takes this passage in Mark completely literally. Yes, I do realize that many Catholics pay no attention to their Church’s teachings, or they don’t know the teachings of their own Church. That[‘s why it’s important to look at the official teachings rather than relying on word-of mouth or media interpretations.

    I personally appreciate the 2000-year-old teachings of the Catholic Church regarding marriage and divorce. In many of the evangelical Protestant churches that I was part of, all kinds of attempts were made to “wiggle out of” or “explain away” this passage in Mark and the parallel passage in Matthew 19: 1-9. At the same time, many of these denominations forbade divorced people from being part of the teaching ministries of the church, and/or the denomination forbade a divorced man from becoming a pastor. It seemed that they were all trying to have it both ways, and this caused quite a few hurtful situations and even attrition from the faith.

    Briefly what the Catholic Church teaches is that marriage is a sacrament and cannot be broken, ever. However, in the event that the marriage wasn’t a true sacramental marriage, a couple may ask for an annulment of the marriage, and the Church, which speaks for Jesus Christ (God), may grant that annulment, which would enable the two people to date and re-marry others. The annulment basically states that the marriage never happened.

    As for the reasons that a marriage isn’t a true sacramental marriage, they are many and varied. You mentioned a few reasons in your blog; e.g., abusive situations. Another example would be a couple who got married when they were too young or inexperienced with life to understand exactly what a marriage means. Annulments are not granted willy-nilly, but they ARE granted.

    One problem that a lot of people have with the concept of annulment is that they think that any children from the marriage would be illegitimate. This is not true.

    Another rumor is that annulments are expensive. Again, not true. They do take a long time and many hours of investigation. We know couples that waited a year or more for their annulment to be declared.

    I hope that you enjoy reading these paragraphs from the CCC.

    Thanks for sharing your meditations about the Scriptures.

    Sharon

    1. Thank you, Sharon, for reading and taking the time to share from your faith tradition.

      For any others reading who want to follow up with Sharon’s suggestion, the paragraphs from the Catechism of the Catholic Church she referred to can be found here: http://www.catholicdoors.com/catechis/cat2331.htm#2382.

      I respect your journey and that of others of my friends who have either grown up Catholic and continue to practice faithfully or have converted. It probably won’t be surprising to hear that I don’t share your belief that the Catholic Church speaks for God (that is my biggest point of contention with Catholicism—the belief that the Roman Catholic Church has a special divine authority.) I believe in the priesthood of all believers, and that the Holy Spirit ordains men and women to lead the church of all believers, which come in many forms, none of which are perfect. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away… For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12 ESV) I don’t believe any Protestant or Catholic Christian leader has total and irrefutable divine authority. There is sin and corruption in every human heart, and to place too high a trust in any person (i.e. the Pope, a bishop, a priest, a minister, etc) is at best unbiblical and at worst dangerous. Every person needs accountability, and I see that happening best in a model of leadership that is horizontal, not vertical (i.e. top down).

      This is, of course, just my opinion. I attended the first communion of a family of friends who have recently converted to Catholicism, and while I respect their journey and what has taken them there, it did prompt me to really think about this, and that’s where I’ve landed. Obviously many others do the same research and land on the side of trusting the divine authority of the Catholic Church. Someday we’ll all see perfectly, but not this side of heaven. Here, we can only walk by faith—informed faith, yes, but faith nonetheless. And some will have faith in the Catholic Church, while others have faith in the priesthood of all believers.

      As I reflected on this section from the CCC, there is much in this passage that is absolutely irrefutable: That divorce “introduces disorder into the family and into society, …brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.”

      And I really appreciate the last paragraph, which says, “It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage.”

      But I take issue with the statement in this passage that says “Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation.” Salvation cannot be broken once it has been sealed in Christ: he does not return that which has been given freely, by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. Just as we don’t earn salvation through any sacrament, but rather the sacraments are signs of having received a gift from God, so breaking these sacraments doesn’t make salvation null or void. Again, this is my belief, and I realize that it is contrary to yours. I hope we can still journey together here and find common ground on which to spur one another on toward love, good works, and faithfulness, even seeing only in part as we do. I have been challenged and edified by what you’ve shared, and I welcome you to continue chiming in when you feel led to do so!

      One last comment: you criticized Protestant churches that try to “wiggle out of” or “explain away” the passages in Mark and Matthew, but when I read through this, it seems to me that the Catholic church does it’s own “wiggling,” making allowances for divorce in some interesting cases and likewise explaining it away. (If a marriage is not between two people who have been baptized in the Catholic church, or is the only “way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.” The Catholic church will allow a divorce if it is the only way to protect an inheritance? That was very surprising to me!)

      I appreciate the opportunity to flesh these things out more, and I hope you’ll continue to share from your tradition and perspective on future posts. There will be things we agree on—and things we don’t. Regardless of how we practice, the bottom line is that all of us who are in Christ—be we Catholic or Protestant—will be worshiping the same Lord for all of eternity. I look forward to that day, and I hope we will stand together, side by side, singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12 ESV)

      Grace to you, my sister.

  3. I just have to say, I love that this blog is generation spiritual dialogue like this. It is through DIALOGUE and discussion that true change can occur – and true understanding of each other in efforts to live and love more harmoniously!

    Christy, I am amazed by your generosity of spirit and what God is revealing to you in Scripture. You are such an inspiration to me and I want to publicly acknowledge in this forum, that since you have started this blog, I’ve spent more time with my Bible in the past month than I have in a WHILE. And mama, I am amazed by your staunch and unwavering faith in an authority that I will admit, I often have trouble understanding and have no other choice but to trust in God’s grace – as Christy says in her response to you.

    It’s interesting to be having this conversation surrounding divorce. When I visit protestant churches now (with my grandparents, or for other friends), I often find myself feeling something of what a divorcee might feel – an intense pain and separation for something I was once a deep part of and loved very, very much, that was all I knew for the better part of my life. I am now 4 years Catholic and have never looked back or regretted it, but I still feel such a deep longing and sense of loss when I visit a protestant church – often I can’t even sing along on songs I grew up with because I am so choked up by tears for what I was an integral part of for so many, many years.

    I’m not trying to liken my conversion to catholicism to a divorce from a protestant church – and I absolutely love being Catholic now and wouldn’t go back on my conversion or decision for anything….I’m just reflecting on the fact that these conversations, about divorce and about the catholic/protestant divide, seem to mirror each other.

    Christy, thanks again for tackling such an intense portion of Scripture and I look forward to continuing to stay in God’s word thanks to your efforts.

    love
    evangeline

    1. Of course the dialogue will continue and I’ll continue to follow the study.

      In response to the comment about the Catholic Church “wiggling” out of various marriage situations: 1) a lot of Catholics would agree heartily with you that in the U.S, annulments are handed out by the Church much more readily than they are in other countries, but these critics are NOT the appointed authorities over marriage and annulments and it is important that we trust the authorities who ARE appointed by the Church and support the decisions they make for couples in the U.S. 2) keep in mind that the Marriage Tribunal works for many months (frustrating for those couples who are waiting) to investigate a request for an annulment, and everyone gets their own investigation; there is no “blanket” pronouncement about annulments that applies to all situations.

      In response to my daughter’s comment–I miss some of my Protestant “lifestyle” and the evangelical Protestant “culture” which included such amenities as “no alcohol” and lots of good music and lively singing. But I don’t miss the teachings, which differ from church to church and from Christian to Christian according to what they sense that the Holy Spirit is teaching them about the Bible. It seems to me that if the God the Holy Spirit is truly teaching Christians, there would be agreement at least on the major issues like eternal salvation.

      What Catholics do is read the Bible and compare any teachings to what the Church teaches.

      1. Thanks Sharon. As I said before, I really do respect the journey that has brought you to this place. Clearly you have been a passionate seeker of truth for many years! This is to be commended and praised!

        Interestingly, the thing that you miss the least is something I appreciate most about the different streams of churches: the various teachings. I find that I am sharpened by various perspectives, even those I don’t agree with. They drive me to scripture, to read, pray, and meditate.

        What can a Catholic believer do if something scripture teaches is out of step with something the Church teaches or practices? Is there an opportunity to question teachings, doctrines, or practices if they seem not to line up with Scripture?

    2. Evangeline, thank you for your continuous encouragement to me, in several ways, but especially when it comes to this blog. It really delights me that what I’m doing here is serving you and helping in some way to keep you pressed in to God’s word.

      I think you are making a really great point about this conversation echoing some of the same emotions as some who change from one tradition to another. I have friends (many, in fact) who have either grown up Catholic and converted to Protestantism, or vice versa, and while some seem to want to shake the dust off their feet from their old tradition, there are some—a few—who share your sense of loss for something that they loved but just found was not home for them, for one reason or another.

      I’d love to someday hear about why you converted. I’m sure, as my character Truvy said in Steel Magnolias, “there’s a story there.” I’d love to hear it. The long version, if there is one 🙂

      C.T.K.

      1. Oh there’s a story….and it’s definitely long….someday when we’re together, making REAL coffee stains on our bibles, yes, I will definitely share!!! Love to you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s