Part 3 of 4 in our God’s Not Dead sermon series based on the movie of the same name.
God is not Batman.
He’s not The Punisher. He’s not Judge Dredd. He’s not Dirty Harry. God is not a vigilante out for some street justice, but there are times that Christians paint him out to be exactly that. It kills me to hear Christian leaders telling the world that some tragedy or event occurred because somebody sinned. How about all the times other people sinned? Does God only do big flashy events? Other times we paint God as being a friend to all humanity filled with grace and mercy. That’s the God we imagine who sits with little children and dies on the cross for us. Why is it we have a hard time believing that God isn’t one-dimensional? Why is it we have a hard time believing that God isn’t one-dimensional? I’m a pastor. But I’m also a father and a husband and a friend. I’m also a Disney fan, Star Wars enthusiast, and I bleed true blue for my Dodgers. But when I go to a game and root for my team, I don’t stop being a Star Wars fan. And I have to admit that attending a game on Star Wars night would simply be the bomb. I don’t stop being a pastor, father, husband, friend, or anything else. I can be all of those things at once. And if we’re created in the image of God, why would it be so hard to believe that God could be both the embodiment of justice AND grace? Why do we try to box God into a corner and demand that he only be one or the other?
Also, the Bible is not a rulebook.
The Bible is not a rulebook. It’s not a document of regulations to be upheld for all of eternity. It’s a way of life that is a living document much like our own constitution. We wrestle with it. We struggle to understand it in light of the world around us. And generation after generation has reinterpreted it for better or worse. Sometimes we take steps forward. Sometimes we take a step back. But the Bible is meant to be a guide for our lives. It is just way too convenient how we pick and choose which rules to follow and which ones to ignore. When Cassie runs her fingers through my hair and it becomes disheveled, is she trying to secretly kill me? Leviticus 10:6 says, “Do not dishevel your hair, and do not tear your vestments, or you will die and wrath will strike all the congregation…” There are a lot of people with ripped jeans out there who should be collapsing on the streets, but somehow THAT doesn’t happen. We forget that the documents of the Bible are actually 66 different books written in different times in different places by different people, and while we believe these are the inspired words of God, we forget the context in which they are written which is just as important as the words themselves.
Which leads us to how the church has often interpreted divorce.
If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please turn to Matthew 19:1-12. Matthew 19:1-12. This morning we’re going to hear one of the most famous passages on divorce and discover how our tendency to see God as one-dimensional and to look at the Bible as a static rulebook instead of a living document has led us to treat one another poorly. Mind you, this passage comes directly after the parable of the unmerciful servant! Jesus just got done telling the disciples about forgiveness and grace and how we need to extend forgiveness as often as Christ has forgiven us. And that we have to do it from a sincere heart. He just got done telling the disciples about not hindering children and about dealing with lost souls. He’s just got done telling them about all of this when a group of Pharisees comes along and brings up this question about divorce.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
Seems very straight-forward to our 21st century ears right?
Jesus said pretty clearly that divorce is only permitted in cases of sexual immorality. He said in verse 9, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” So except for this one reason, “sexual immorality” you cannot get divorced. But conveniently, that term “sexual immorality” is a little vague and so we’ve kind of created our own definition to include spousal abuse, because it hurts us to think that God would be okay with that. But let’s be clear. Already we are interpreting what sexual immorality may or may not be and we’ve already started to include things not expressly spoken by Christ. And for the most part we don’t have a problem with this. There are some who believe that not even in cases of abuse a spouse shouldn’t leave another spouse. But those people are thankfully few and far between. But instinctually, we have a hard time reconciling a loving God with the rulebook God. A loving God simply wouldn’t allow that to happen to one of his children. Would you? Would you be okay with your daughter being abused by her husband? I can tell you now that I wouldn’t stand for it and I’m pretty sure most of you if not all of you wouldn’t stand for it either. Or vice versa. If your sons were being abused or taken advantage of by their wives, you wouldn’t put up with it. Why do you think God would?
What’s happening here is that we are taking this conversation out of context.
When the Pharisees are asking Jesus if people could get divorced for “any and every reason” this was a variation on a translation that said “any cause.” And the quotation marks are important here because an “any cause” divorce was actually a type of divorce like “no fault” divorce or “uncontested” divorce is today. The “any cause” divorce was a type of divorce instead of a blanket statement. What had happened was during Jesus’ time, some rabbis had interpreted Moses words in Deuteronomy as having a different meaning. When Moses allowed divorce for a “cause of immorality” these rabbis decided the word “cause” was significant and believed that you could get divorced as long as you had “a cause.” And that cause could be virtually anything. According to a scholar on rabbinic studies, the rabbis of this particular group would allow divorce for reasons ranging from a burnt meal to having wrinkles. Already, according to Jewish custom a person could get divorced for neglect. Neglect had been a legal means of divorce for a long time and fell into three categories: neglect of food, neglect of clothing, or neglect of love or sexual activity. Food, clothing, and love. Even a slave wife was allowed these things. But when this group of rabbis added this new category, the Pharisees were trying to test Jesus to see what he would say. When he responded, “9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery,” he wasn’t overturning divorce for neglect. Instead he was making an impassioned comment about this newly created divorce for “any cause.” But as it has been commented on, the church quickly forgot about this “any cause” divorce and over the years simply interpreted it to mean that no one can get divorced for any reason at all which it wasn’t intended to be.
If you think about it, it makes sense.
Why would God restrict the rules surrounding divorce to exclude virtually all forms of abuse from one spouse to another? How does that fit in with God’s command to love one another? To allow divorce for neglect or immorality toward each other is far more in line with the overarching story of God. Too often, we reduce God to being no better than ourselves. It’s something the Greeks and Romans did to their gods. If you look at Zeus he was a womanizer. Ares was violent. Apollo was headstrong. Each of their gods had human failings and more and more we attribute the same human failings to our God. When instead, we should understand that God’s primary and overarching modus operandi is love. God doesn’t care about divorce. God cares about people. God doesn’t care about divorce. God cares about people. People make mistakes. People are prone to sin. And that surely extends to marriage as well as anything else. God doesn’t want us to suffer in our marriages. God wants us to thrive. Does that mean that sometimes we get married for the wrong reasons? Sure. It also means that at times we get divorced when we really should have stuck it out. There’s a woman in Japan who supposedly is asking for a divorce because her husband doesn’t like the movie Frozen enough. I don’t know if it’s true, but supposedly she told her soon-to-be ex-husband, “If you can’t understand what makes this movie great, there’s something wrong with you as a human being!” and left the house. She reportedly hasn’t talked directly to him since. So of course there are times when we get divorced when we shouldn’t or perhaps are too immature to get married at all. But as for God? God cares about his children. He wants to see us thrive and grow, especially in our faith and our relationship to him. We need to let God out of the box we’ve created for Him. We need to have faith in Him and seek to better understand God in light of his love for us. It’s doubtful that a loving God who sent his Son as a sacrifice for our sins would really care that much about rules and regulations. Instead he cares about you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.