Some Pharisees came to him to test him [Jesus]. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
-Matthew 19:3, NIV
Jesus’ response (summarized): NO. Divorce is only permissible for sexual immorality (see Matthew 19:9).
It is healthy to extend grace to our spouses for their foibles and shortcomings…to a point. I see that as the truth by the typical evangelical pastor joking about how he is glad about his wife putting up with him. The problem is when this mentality is applied to situations involving marital infidelity and divorce.
Jesus could have affirmed this sort of mentality regarding divorce–i.e. the idea that a spouse doesn’t have to put up with the usual spousal imperfections.
But He didn’t!
He could have agreed with the Pharisees that any reason is a good enough reason for a man to divorce his wife (or vice versa in a different social context).
She fails to give him children. Divorce her. She gets fat and old. Divorce her. She is a nag. Divorce her. She burns supper. Divorce her. Jesus treated none of these reasons as acceptable grounds for divorce in the eyes of God. None.
And this brings me to the frustration I have with Christian leaders and pastors joking or hinting that marriages end because a wife gets fed up with her husband’s shortcomings or foibles (e.g. not fixing the washing machine like promised, being grumpy, etc)…I’m so glad she puts up with me!
When these pastors encounter a divorced man (or woman), they are bound to assume this divorced spouse drove the other away by being a miserable lout. They didn’t put up with them anymore, and hence, this person is now divorced. Do you see how offensive and hurtful such assumptions can be to a discarded, adultery victim?!
Let me be clear in my application of Scripture on this point:
If the other spouse divorced them because they were a boor of a spouse, then that filing spouse sinned as Jesus does not cite poor spousal performance as a legitimate reason to get divorced.
And spousal performance was certainly part of the Rabbinical discussion in Jesus’ day on the matter of divorce that Jesus explicitly rejects in Matthew 19. He did not make getting divorce easy…just ask his disciples (see Matthew 19:10)! However, Jesus also did not teach in such a way that would trap adultery or abandonment victims in a marriage to such a spouse perpetrating such evil (see Matthew 19:9 and I Corinthians 7:15).
I am thankful Mrs. DM puts up with my shortcomings and foibles as a husband. However, it would be pastorally inept of me to bring up that point while speaking with an adultery and divorce victim regarding the now defunct marriage. It is important we do not equate the two situations…even unintentionally. Such statements implicitly support “The Shared Responsibility Lie,” and it is best not to support lies as followers of Christ.