Divorce. What causes us to even consider it? Is it a legitimate option when things aren’t going well in your marriage?
The Pharisees (looking for something to pick on) asked Jesus that very question. In Matthew 19:8, Jesus replied: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.” What is hardness of heart? How do we get it? And more importantly, how do we get rid of it?
What is hardness of heart?
The book of Exodus tells us how the nation of Israel came to the border of the Promised Land. God said, “I’m going to take you in and give this wonderful home.” But the Jews were tired. They lost confidence in God. They were afraid of the giants. God wanted a relationship where love and trust flowed between them. But they gave up on God. Instead of looking for reasons to trust, they looked for reasons to complain. Instead of continuing to believe God when He had given them every reason to believe, they said essentially, “We’re done. We’ll find our own way from here.”
What can cause hardness of heart?
God made our hearts to give and receive love—with God, with others, and especially with our spouse. When our hearts cease to give and receive love, they get hard. Two things might cause a person to harden their heart and consider divorce:
#1. They’re hurt.
This might take the form of a severe hurt, as in the case of their spouse having an affair. The feeling of betrayal is intense. They say, “You cheated. You broke your vow. I’m never going to allow you to hurt me again.” They put a big padlock on their heart to make sure no one can break in and hurt them again. If they refuse to allow their heart to give and receive love, it gets hard.
Or, perhaps the hurt isn’t intense—it’s just repeated. They make a request for their spouse to do something—or stop doing something, (spending long hours at work or on a hobby that takes them away from home or on social media) but there is no change in their spouse’s behavior. The fact their spouse won’t honor their request hurts. The devil whispers in their ear, “It’s because they don’t love you. They don’t care about you.” Eventually, they choose to give up hope.
#2. They decide they’re smarter than God.
They know what God has to say about “cleaving to their wife” and about not committing adultery—physically or mentally—but they decide to do things their way instead. Or, they have a pet sin or addiction and they don’t want to give it up. They know it is destroying their relationship, but they choose to continue doing it no matter what.
How do you get rid of hardness of heart?
Let’s say you have been hurt by your spouse and you are allowing your heart to harden. The way to unharden a heart is to forgive the offender. Remember that you have committed far greater sins against God, and He forgave you. Let your spouse off the hook. Refuse to keep throwing the offense in their face. Let God dole out the consequences, not you.
If hardness of heart comes from continuing to do something you know is wrong, there’s only one way out: Stop doing the wrong thing. The longer you stray, the harder it is to stop. If you are continually reaching for more, learn to be satisfied with what you have. When God’s Word says you’re going the wrong direction, who are you going to trust—you or God? Insisting on continuing in your own wisdom will wreck your marriage. You need to humble yourself and get back on the God-path.
Keep watch over your heart. There are other passages in the Bible that talk about hardness of heart. In Mark 3:5, Jesus wanted to heal a man’s hand on the Sabbath. Jesus wanted to do good. The Pharisees were looking for a reason to accuse Him. The Pharisees were clearly out of line. But it is worth taking note that Jesus didn’t start by getting angry. He was sad—even grieved. But not angry. He didn’t shut them out of his heart. It is important when we’ve been hurt by our spouse that we ask God to help us return love for the hurt and keep a soft heart toward the mate God has given us.