I had a friend say to me that divorce is more emotionally heart-wrenching than death. Death is clean pain. Divorce is dirty pain. Divorce takes the pain of loss and compounds it with feelings of betrayal, resentment and regret. Everyone knows something of this.
Here’s the spoiler. This is hard and the problem is not understanding the how/when/why of Christian divorce - it's your heart and it’s my heart. This isn’t really even about divorce.
Given this, the question of divorce in Mark 10:2 is a particularly barbed question for the Pharisees to lob at Jesus and pin him to the wall. Will he deny the law, choose between competing interpretations, or risk the ire of Herod for indirectly condemning his divorce and remarriage? I see familiarity in the Pharisee’s positioning in my own life as I regularly seek answers from Jesus on my own terms and for my benefit. “Jesus, here’s my problem and desire, now tell me which of my options you will bless, please.” A barbed lob of my own.
Jesus instead speaks of divorce as a result of hardness of heart. Divorce is not God’s design but he doesn’t forsake us for not keeping the rules. Instead, God provides a concession through Moses to live within the chaos of a broken world, but everyone still doesn’t get it. Jesus says marriage is shattered because of our hard heart. While we look for loopholes to get divorced, Jesus responds with a picture of marriage restored. He takes us to Genesis and speaks of covenant, promise and a new joint identity in God that should not be dissolvable by man. Then as now, we mistake God’s gracious provision in allowing divorce as His approval of it.
The disciples are scratching their heads next to the rabbis on this. Is Jesus saying divorce is not allowed? Is divorce and remarriage always sinful and always adulterous? What about experiences of loss, betrayal, resentment, and regret? Adultery was different in the first century right? I’m uncomfortable, aren’t you? Mark’s passage here is one of 5 New Testament texts that discuss divorce and I encourage any of us to push into this further with a pastor so long as we don’t miss Jesus’ point:
Divorce is not our problem, our hard heartedness is.
Our hard heartedness is lacking sorrow over sin, choosing self over others, responding with defensiveness, rightness, refusing to forgive or humble ourselves, lies and deceit of all stripes and a million others. It’s in marriage and divorce because its at the core of humanity’s brokenness writ large.
How do we change the condition of our heart? Hosea 10:12 says we need to sow righteousness and reap love, till the ready earth and dig in with God. We need to break the fallow ground of our heart and choose God.
Perhaps the reason Mark then transitions to Jesus speaking of entering the Kingdom only like a child is to give us a contrasting picture of a softened heart.
In Lent, we seek repentance, renewal and restoration. Jesus came not with a new rulebook but to reorient our affections to love the things he loves and cling to him in faith and find our deepest longings in him. That’s the good news of the Gospel and also of marriage. Our problem is deeper than divorce, it’s our hardness of heart and Jesus came to eradicate it.
Zach is a recovering Kansan and lives in Cleveland Park with his wife and her omnipresent instagram feeds of puppies. He enjoys 90s nostalgia, watching so-bad-it’s-good action movies, and can often be overheard because he does not possess an inside voice.