In discussing Biblical matters with non-believers, I sometimes get questioned regarding why God instituted divorce, whereas Jesus condemned it. Does this not represent a contradiction? And, given that many believers fail in this department, what does this say about the state of Christianity?
The only thing Jesus contradicted was the conventional dogma of the day; in fact, what He articulated was perfectly consistent with what the Old Testament provided.
From Creation, we see that marriage is a covenant. Covenants are binding as long as the parties lived. Jesus proclaimed marriage in those terms.
That divorce was permitted at all was an act of grace on God’s part, as this was merely an orderly provision that allowed parties to separate amicably, allowing a woman–who had very little recourse in society–a chance to remarry. In those days, a woman tossed out of a home was not able to go out and get a good job: her best career opportunity was prostitution. I hope we all can agree that remarriage for such a one is a more preferable alternative.
That Jesus proclaimed that a divorced woman–and in those days women could not choose divorce, as it was forced upon them–was forced to commit adultery, and even proclaimed that the man who married her–saving her from dishonor–was an adulterer, was a devastating blow to the audience.
In fact, the disciples’ response was understandable: “…it is expedient not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10) Jesus’ response to them on that was tantamount to “Well…if you can’t stand the heat, then don’t get in the kitchen!” In this case, a “eunuch” was a person who chose not to marry, or–for reasons beyond his control–could not marry.
The expectation for believers was indisputable: a man who divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman–no matter how noble the intentions–commits adultery.
The calling for believers is a higher one.
That believers fail does not invalidate the Christian faith; rather, it merely affirms our very humanity and underscores why we need a Messiah. (Like I said, this is not about condemning those who have been divorced and/or remarried: this is about the importance of covenant.)
By the words of Jesus on this, we all would otherwise stand condemned. There is no getting around that fact. To that extent, John Piper is on the money.
The way to deal with this, however, is on the front end–BEFORE THE WEDDING–rather than after the damage has been done.
The Christian who aspires to marriage aspires to a covenant heritage that goes back to the second chapter of the Bible. God, seeing that it was not good for man to be alone, made a wife for him out of the man’s own body. To celebrate marriage is to celebrate that first covenant.
Jesus has called believers to revere that heritage. Both bride and groom ought to stand at attention at the severity of such a covenant. If that realization does not spur the believer to embrace maturity, I don’t know what will.