Pastoral Responses to Marital Failure
Dr. David Kendall
In the gospel records the opponents of Jesus attempt to drag him into the controversy over grounds of divorce. They put the question to Jesus, is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason? (Matthew 19:3). Clearly these Pharisees, conservative by bent, observing what they perceive to be Jesus’ rather low or liberal view of law based on His treatment of people and apparent violation of the traditions of the elders, put the question in terms of the liberal interpretive view: Are they correct to say that any offense can be grounds for failing to keep the marriage covenant? Jesus refuses to go there. He cites the Genesis-Creative design and supports the permanence of the marriage covenant. He does so over against the liberal view of the law. But Jesus does not stop with a critique of the liberal view. He implies that even the conservative view may be suspect. He does so when the Pharisees respond by citing the Mosaic provision for a certificate of divorce. Why did Moses make this provision, if not to be used? Jesus answers that Moses conceded to the hardness of human hearts. The provision was made to clean up the relational and social mess created by hard-hearted refusal to keep covenant in relation to wife and God. But it was never God’s intent that marriages should end. So, Jesus concludes that one who divorces his wife forces her to commit adultery, except in cases where the wife has already violated the covenant on moral grounds.