Broken Heart

Autopsy of Divorce

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Bill Fowler, YTI Church Relations and Professor of New Testament and Practical Theology

March 29, 2019


Ducky Do…

My wife and I discovered NCIS late in life. Cutting the cable and living on Netflix made us desperate. One of my favorite characters is Ducky, Dr. Mallard, the Englishman who does the autopsies on victims who turn up in the series. Ducky is brilliant. He can look at a corpse and give the approxi­mate time of death with uncanny accuracy (it helps to have a sympathetic writer for your character) and, given a little more time, he can pinpoint the cause of death from the slightest clues. I like Ducky. But Ducky is no match for the incredibly wise and understanding Great Physician Jesus!

Hidden Agenda

In Mark 10:1ff Pharisees show up in the crowds with a hidden agenda for Jesus. They come “to test him” asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” In the background to this question lay an ongoing debate among the Pharisees as to the grounds for divorce. The leading rabbinical schools were Shammai who argued that only immorality on the part of a wife was adequate grounds for divorce, and, at the other end of the spectrum, Hillel who would legitimize divorce for practically any reason, however trivial. Perhaps the Pharisees had sensed in Jesus such a strong call to love and faithfulness that they suspected he would deny the thought of divorce when even the Torah (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) made provision for it. In some way they intended to engage him in a debate and cause him to lose favor with the crowds.

Changing the Topic

Jesus quickly turned them back to Scripture, “What did Moses command?” Basically, they respond, “Moses said it was okay as long you submit the proper paperwork, give her a bill of divorce.” And then Jesus unloaded, “Yes, he did, but only because of the hardness of your hearts. Divorce was never God’s intention from the beginning. God’s intention is leaving, cleaving, and becoming one flesh. People shouldn’t be looking to break up what God has joined together.” Instead of looking for a way out, folks need to be looking for a way forward.

Never Say Never

Before I say another word, however, let me assure you that I am NOT a “NEVER DIVORCE” guy. I have seen numerous situations in my 30 years of pastoring and almost 50 years of ministry where divorce seemed to be the best solution (or dissolution) given the circumstances. As devastating as divorce can be, sometimes staying in a bad marriage can be even more damaging. At that point, all the debates about grounds for divorce are meaningless. Divorce may be the best option.

God’s Intention

But divorce was never God’s intention. That is the point being made by Jesus. God intended marriage to be a place where a man and a woman love and serve one another to the point that their relationship becomes a representation of His own love and fidelity to a broken world.

Read the Autopsy Report

How can we guard marriages and preserve God’s intention? How do we prevent the circum­stances that might render divorce inevitable? Is there a clue in the text that would guide us? I believe that there is. I think we need to read the autopsy report. Jesus, the Great Physician, looked at dead marriages lying on the cold, steel tables of divorce, and rendered his verdict on cause of death…hard­ness of heart! When causes of divorce are discussed it is common to see money, sex, conflict, infidelity, substance abuse, and physical abuse as contributing factors. I think that it is much simpler. According to the autopsy report it is hardness of heart. Somewhere, on the part of one, or both, partner/s in the marriage, the heart quit being tender toward the other. It may have been precipitated by issues of money, neglect, or conflict, but the cause of death in marriage was hardness of heart!

What Do We Learn?

The key to marriage, it would seem, would be for both parties (and let us be emphatic on the BOTH) to guard their hearts. My observation in dealing with troubled couples is that the Great Physician is right. One of the partners in the marriage (and often both) had ceased to maintain a tender heart toward the other. Bitterness, unforgiveness, shaming and blaming, isolation, unrealistic expectations, infidelity—all flow from hardened hearts. Another thing I have noticed is that the hardness of heart happens more than just toward the other spouse, eventually it becomes hardness of heart toward God. So, however troubled a marriage may be, if both parties (and let me again underscore the necessity of it being both parties for this to work) maintain a tenderness of heart both toward one another and toward God, then the marriage has the greatest opportunity to survive and to thrive, to recover and to mature, to be blessed and to become a blessing. How do I know that? It’s amazing what you can learn from reading an autopsy report, especially one by the Great Physician. Ducky got nothing on Jesus!!!