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. 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 some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others have been made eunuchs; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
In Jesus' day there were two schools of thought about divorce (both interpreting Deut. 24:1-4 differently). One was the school of Rabbi Hillel who said that divorce was allowed for any reason (even a burned dinner). The other school was Rabbi Shammai who said that divorce was only permissible basically for sexual immorality. Jesus saw marriage as a means to protect women and men, and that there was a special spiritual bond in marriage (becoming one) that should not be separated except for rare occasions. Jesus said in The Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:27-28) that "You have heard it said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Jesus also saw adultery (sexual immorality after marriage) and fornication (sexual immorality before marriage) as the things that come from within and defile a person (Mk. 7:18-23). Jesus' first miracle was turning the water to wine- a way of not just upholding marriage, but giving his blessing to it- even though Jesus was not married.
Yet Jesus did not totally rule out divorce. Divorce was clearly not "for any and every reason." Divorce for Jesus was not best, but it was a condescension to human sin. In Mark 10, Jesus was asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" Jesus' response was "what did Moses say?" Moses allowed for it.
There are some Christians today who, I believe, overreact by acting as if divorce is the unforgivable sin. There is one instance where Paul says to "expel the immoral brother" (who was in an ongoing incestuous relationship). But they were not expelled because of divorce itself- there is no instance of scripture that says we should excommunicate the divorced- even those who are divorced for suspect reasons.
But on the other hand, divorce is more prominent today in America than any other culture. It is brought on in part by drug use (16% give this as a reason for divorce), and by adultery (17% give this as a reason for divorce). The most common reason (57%) given is just "incompatability." Incompatability is almost the same as "any and every reason." America has gone from a country that led the world in committment and faithfulness in marriage in 1960 to leading the world in divorce. Divorce has increased 150% since 1960. In reaction, many refuse to get married until later in life (the average marrying age is higher now than it has ever been in our history- 27- the historical average is 22). Yet 90% of our children want to get married when they grow up- and 90% will end up getting married. Marriage has been watered down, but it is still an ideal. The idea of eternal committed love is still around. We all know couples who stay married 50 or 60 years and grow old together, and whose families stay around them. Most would agree that these folks have avoided more heartache than those who go through divorce. Almost all who get married do not intend to get divorced. It appears to me we need to have more patience, more forgiveness, and more grace in marriage. But it also appears that the Church should not condemn or excommunicate those who have gone through the terrible heartache of divorce. Jesus reached out to the woman at the well who was remarried many times and was now cohabiting with someone. He did not condemn the woman who was to be stoned for adultery- but rescued her and then said, "God and leave your life of sin" (Jn. 8).
Prayer: Lord, help me to love my neighbor as myself. Thank you for your example of upholding marriage even though you were not married. Give me grace to be gracious toward those who are hurting.
(Statistics from U.S. Census Bureau and Alan F. Wisdom's study on http://www.theird.org/)