Strictly speaking, the appropriate word for the issue of divorce is serious. We are serious about divorce because we strictly adhere to the Word of God. The seriousness of divorce is not determined by “our church,” but rather by what God has said in His Word. God is serious about His institution of marriage, and therefore He is also serious about that which tears apart what He has joined together. Just as one cannot murder without setting himself above God, neither can one tear apart a marriage without setting himself above God.
In Genesis 2:28, God said of Adam, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Marriage was instituted by God for the benefit and blessing of man. Divorce is the result of man spurning that benefit and blessing for his own sinful appetite. For the Christian, marriage takes on an even higher status as it becomes an opportunity for the Christian husband to reflect the love of Christ toward his wife, and for the wife to reflect toward her husband the submission of the Church to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33). Divorce mars that beautiful picture of marriage that compares it to the mystery of Christ and the Church.
Still, we haven’t gotten to the heart of the issue which, of course, is the heart. Divorce, as well as the sins that lead to it, is the product of a heart that has been corrupted by sin. Jesus tells us, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23 ESV). What this means is that no divorce has ever occurred except as the result of some sin that has been committed by one or the other spouse, or even by both. Divorce is serious business because sin is serious business. The Church is serious about sin because the Lord is serious about sin.
Please don’t misunderstand. The Church is not in the business of getting rid of sinners, but rather of calling sinners to repentance. The Church doesn’t make herself holy and without spot or blemish by getting rid of sinners. Christ makes the Church holy by forgiving sinners. The Church, in respect for her Head, calls her children to repentance in accord with her Lord’s Word. Just as the Lord does not desire the death of the wicked, neither does the Church. It is sin that brings death, and the only remedy for sin is the forgiveness that comes through the cleansing blood of Christ.
Sadly, there are two views of divorce in the world today that are contrary to the Gospel. One is that divorce is a “mortal sin,” leaving one without the grace of God. The other is that divorce involves no sin at all so that the grace of God is unnecessary. In either case, the one who commits the sin that leads to divorce finds himself in the same boat—without grace. The truth, though, is that while divorce is serious business to God, inasmuch as it occurs only because of sin, with God there is forgiveness in Christ Jesus. For the one who turns from his sin and trusts in Christ as his Savior, God promises to remember the sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34). So we, too, are serious about divorce because we are serious about preaching the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ.
There can be many side issues that come up on the topic of divorce, so you may have some other questions not answered in this brief response. If so, be sure to contact your pastor and he will help you, through a study of God’s Word, to find answers to your questions.
Frank Gantt is pastor of St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lemmon, South Dakota.