If this were a Christmas gossip column in Biblical times, I might title it, “Test results show Joseph not the father; parents of alleged Savior considering divorce.”
Yes, embedded in the Christmas story is a line from Mathew 1:19 not usually emphasized in candlelighted church readings. “Joseph, her (Mary) husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace; he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
As a chaplain I’m often asked the difficult question: What does God think of divorce?
I wish I were asked easier ones like, “What does your wife of nearly 28 years think of divorce?” While I might facetiously reply, “That depends on the hour of the day she’s asked,” I’d likely recount the plan my wife spelled out long before our wedding: “Never joke about divorce and never threaten it.”
In the beginning, God had some plans, too.
Nearly 28 years after Jesus’ teenage mother escaped a likely stoning, he risked a similar fate by recounting God’s plan to some religious leaders who were asking what God thought of divorce.
Jesus quoted the original specs for the human race in saying, “God created this organic union of the two sexes (and) no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart.”
These leaders challenged Jesus by noting that Moses’ teachings allowed for divorce. “Moses provided for divorce as a concession to your hard heartedness,” Jesus retorted, “but it is not part of God’s original plan.”
The key words here: “as a concession to your hard heartedness.” Divorce isn’t a part of creation, but because we all experience a hardening of our hearts, divorce can happen.
“Hard heartedness” is a way of describing resentments. Maybe these resentments took place during the marriage, or long before you met your partner.
These resentments cause infidelity and all relationships will break under the weight of infidelity. However, don’t be too quick to settle with the sexual definition of infidelity. I think God’s definition is much bigger than that.
Infidelity happens when one or both people stop working the vows, not just the vows to be sexually true, but the vows to be truthful, the vows to work with each other throughout difficulties and the vows to share each other’s hurts.
When one or both people stop working these vows, divorce will most often be the result. So what happens then? I think it pays to remember two things.
First of all, God feels the hurts from all broken relationships. God hurts with our strained relationships at work as well as our strained relationships with countries like Iran. God hurts when he sees broken relationships with children as well as weakening relationships in our places of worship.
Seeing God as one who hurts with us gives us more perspective, because instead of seeing us as locked in our own battle of hurts, we realize we are also hurting an innocent party. We are hurting the one who has created us to live in loving relationships.
I think this perspective gives me energy to do my best to heal those relationships, whether they be at work, home or in world politics.
Second, and most important, God works with us to heal relationships. The healing may take place in our current relationship or it may take place while we are inside another relationship, but healing will always be God’s business.
After all, when I see what God did through the scandalous birth of a child named Jesus, I become more and more convinced that restoring and healing relationships is what God has always been about