Moving on from retained anger and contempt as the #1 way to poison your spirit, according to the Sermon on the Mount, today we look at poison #2: adultery and divorce.
Because the subject is vastly complex, entire books are written on it. So I can highlight here only a few widely ignored points. As it is, this ended up longer than usual, but I hope there’s enough food for thought to make it worth your time. It won’t be what we usually “hear it said,” however.
First, when Jesus addresses this subject, he refers primarily to the spirit of idolatry and dis-union from God, secondarily to physical acts. It’s a broad mind-set, condition of heart, and life-style that cheats on Him, sometimes knowingly, but usually unknowingly.
Connected to this is lust. Many will argue that it’s strictly sexual in nature, but that’s exactly the sneaky mistake Jesus points out. It has more to do with a grabby, hungry desire to treat people as throw-aways.
This unloving spirit is second only to anger and contempt, and, in fact, feeds on them. Thus, Jesus explains that adultery has already occurred in the heart with just a willfully devouring leer. It may or may not be sexual in nature, though it often is; and rape is the ultimate expression of it.
A Spirit of Adultery
Second, Scripture often refers to the mind of the Spirit, renewal of the mind, or the mind of Christ to characterize individual and collective human thinking in line with God’s. Adultery is the opposite, a sinful mind hostile to God’s Law of love (Rom. 8:7). Jesus therefore used the catch-all phrase “adulterous generation” to characterize universal spiritual ruin among people of all time periods, not just his day.
It’s precisely what he was getting at when the Pharisees wanted to stone the woman caught in physical adultery. He replied that those who were without sin, the spirit of adultery, could cast the first stone. “Yeast of the Pharisees” is another phrase he used, and it’s not about literal yeast.
So don’t assume that adultery and divorce are always literal and physical.
The Mysterious Woman
The “adulteress” who lures unsuspecting masses into spiritual death is Babylon, the Great Harlot. Whereas Satan is evil personified as an archetype male, Babylon is evil personified as an archetype female. “She” isn’t merely a city or an end-times figure, as I once assumed. She’s been a force among us since at least the tower of Babel in Gen. 11:1-9, the origin of the ancient, literal city that eventually epitomized hopelessness and dread.
Yet few are paying attention to Babylon today. She slips under the radar because we’re watching for little red devils or a big, black dragon. Her massive, ongoing success comes through everyday habits and thinking that seem desirable, right, and good, but lead to monstrous abuses. From Jesus’ climactic overview in The Revelation, here are just a few observations (but not all) worth noting:
- Everyone’s been drinking the “maddening wine” of adulteries from Babylon’s cup. Jesus offers living water from the cup of his covenant.
- Babylon, the harlot, is a “great city” of multitudes and nations. New Jerusalem, the bride, is also a “great city” of multitudes and nations.
- Babylon is dressed in scarlet and rides a beast. Jesus wears a white robe dipped in blood and rides a white horse.
- Her title appears on her forehead (a mind-set): Mystery Babylon, the Mother of Prostitutes. Jesus’ title appears on his thigh (strength, action): King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
What we’re looking at is a sly spirit that looks, smells, and feels right, thus seducing countless unwitting captives, but isn’t the true Spirit. Scripture cautions that understanding this “calls for a mind with wisdom.”
We can refrain from evil physical acts, but still be evil inside. Therefore, with willful anger and contempt, the point isn’t to avoid “Raca” (you fool!) and use a different word—“dumb-ass,” for example—so we can be properly contemptuous, or to avoid murder yet remain an angry snake ready to strike. The point is the caustic spirit behind it.
So with adultery, the idea isn’t to avoid looking at women lustfully so we can look at men that way, or to stop looking at people lustfully to look at them hatefully instead. The point is the trashy spirit behind it, the figurative woman we lust after in our hearts.
A Spirit of Divorce
Divorce has always has been controversial, even when Jesus walked the earth. Rabbis of his day debated it endlessly just as we do today. The Greek word for it (apoluo) means to dismiss, release a captive or debtor, detain no longer, loosen bonds, or not press one’s claim.
It was used when Jesus “sent the multitudes away” before he went up the mountain to pray, and also when he felt compassion and didn’t wantto “send them away hungry” lest they faint. Divorce is the word when the Canaanite woman cried out for Jesus, but the disciples urged him to “send her away,” and when Pilate asked, “Whom do you want released to you—Barabbas or Jesus?” The spirit of the word is to set free, so my first point is that there’s a surprising context of compassion and grace to it.
Second, we trip over Jesus’ phrase, “except for marital infidelity.” Porneia is the Greek word, often understood as unfaithful or unlawful intercourse. But it actually means all forms of sexual immorality, which doesn’t always involve intercourse. The error is to assume that by using a physical, sex-specific word, Jesus specifically excludes the spirit behind it. It simply doesn’t “count” in marital relationships.
Personally, I think this is an epic fail that divorces God and makes Jesus the heartless beast. It exempts married couples from neighbor love, forcing them to live by a different set of rules. Multitudes thus endure life-styles of withering isolation, verbal lashings, lies, financial irresponsibility, beatings, or other abuses of marriage simply because no sexual sin has occurred. Millions more suffer crippling guilt or condescending remarks when they do divorce.
The Spirit of Un-Love
Third, we’re confused by Jesus’ remark that, although Moses permitted divorce because hearts were hard, “it was not this way from the beginning.” Consequently, we’ve turned individual marriages into worshipped idols (especially in the current uproar over same-sex marriage).
Because we misunderstand the overall premise of marriage, divorce becomes the enemy that must be destroyed at any cost, including life, love, and well-being. (For more on the essence of marriage, see my previous posts here and here.)
So it helps to understand what the “it” in Jesus’ statement refers to. Substitute the word “hard-heartedness” for “it,” and you have the answer to what wasn’t that way in the beginning. Hard-heartedness is a catch-all term for willful anger, contempt, and a devouring, manipulative spirit.
Moses permitted divorce for that reason. Now unless he acted on his own without divine consultation, God permits it for that reason, too. So Jesus doesn’t encourage divorce nor create it, but neither does he forbid it.
I know that many will take offense or simply won’t believe this, but neighbor love takes priority in every relationship, especially marriage, for marriage is the holiest expression of neighbor love, not the exception to it. I also know that Jesus will open a floodgate of fresh air and new life for others who desire a spirit like God’s.
So, between beloved, “righteous” anger and contempt, coupled with spiritual adultery and divorce from God, we’ve now seen the top two ways to poison your spirit. You can happily breathe the noxious gas that says God prefers one spouse dead over getting divorced, or that suffering in a marriage is more desirable than compassion in a divorce. Hold on to these and you’ll passionately embrace a pretty slick temptress!
Next week, we’ll review the #3 way to poison your spirit. Meanwhile, please share this post and feel free to comment.