Here are some powerful and refreshing words from David Instone-Brewer’s book on marriage and divorce in the church. This will make you want to get your hands on the book for sure. And by the way – ANY pastor or counselor or Christian who fancies that they are competent to counsel on this subject but who is still ignorant of what Instone-Brewer presents and proves here – is not competent to counsel at all. [The boldface highlighting is mine]-
We will see in later chapters that what defines a broken marriage is broken vows: the vows that marriage partners make to each other in God’s presence. We will find in chapter three that the Old Testament describes God’s relationship with Israel like a marriage that ended in divorce because cause of Israel’s adulteries. So God is a divorcee-and he hates it as much as any victim of divorce. A victim?
Yes, God is a victim of divorce, even though he actually carried it out; in the same way, many victims today are actually the ones who initiate proceedings to bring the marriage to an official end. They call in the lawyers to stop the mockery and pain of constant adultery or the anguish of abuse. But as we will see, the Bible does not regard the victim as the sinner. It is the person who is guilty of causing the marriage to break up whom Jesus addresses when he says, “Those whom God has joined, no one should separate.”
In other words, his warning is not to the person who finally tidies up the legal mess after the marriage has broken down but to those who would violate their marriage vows and, in so doing, cause the marriage to break up. Jesus says that divorce should never happen because when two people marry they are joined by God, who is a witness to the marriage vows and is there to bless the marriage. These vows should never be broken-especially especially since they are made before God. But of course people do break them, just as they break God’s other commands. Jesus never says that these vows are impossible to break-as if God ignores the reality of sin-but but he teaches that if a partner breaks the vows and is then repentant, we should forgive that person.
If the vows are continuously broken, without repentance, then the marriage will be left in shreds. Therefore although the breakup of a marriage is always due to sin, it is not the divorce vorce itself that is the sin; the sin is the breaking of the vows, which causes the divorce. In later chapters we will look at the biblical marriage vows closely We will learn that the Bible allows only the victim to initiate a divorce-that is, it allows them to decide when enough is enough and, if their partner remains unrepentant, to decide that the marriage is over.
Jesus’ main complaint was that the Jews had abandoned this principle. They allowed a man to divorce his wife even when she hadn’t broken her vows-that is, when he had no grounds for divorce. Paul similarly condemned a Greco-Roman groundless divorce. Later on in the book we will look at the Old Testament’s teaching on divorce and remarriage-which allowed divorce on the grounds of neglect or abuse-and discover that Jesus and Paul both affirmed this teaching.
David Instone-Brewer. Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities (p. 18-19). Kindle Edition.