I am no expert on how to succeed in marriage, but I do know failure. Nobody made me vow to love my wife Hope for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, but I did so swear. When I have failed in love, and I have failed love, at least I had a standard to note my failure.
Forgiveness, the medicine of marriage, has given me chances to make my words real. If my vows are ever to have meaning, it will be in sacrifice to love of the beloved.
This brings me to Pat Robertson. By now Christendom knows that this man whom fame outran and so the name died before the man makes news only when he says something offensive or absurd. This time he suggested that a man quietly put away his wife, caring for her body, when she was senile and can then remarry.
His needs, such as they are, must be met.
Evidently singleness is so horrific that vows must give way to them. What of the men and women with no chance at marriage? They seem happy, but if Robertson is right, this is only an illusion. They cannot be happy, because they are not married to a person who can meet their needs.
Oddly cool-headed rationalists might agree with Robertson. One can anticipate all sorts of exercises in what-iffery from the thinking class: What if a spouse went into a lifetime coma on the honeymoon? What if aliens abducted a spouse and he was gone for years?
Against the pharisaical desire to find a way stands only love, but but love is very powerful. A great author stood against Robertson and the vow benders in the Christian romance: Jane Eyre.
Love says, with noble Jane, that though Rochester may have a mad wife under care in his attic, he must keep his vows. Jane runs away from illicit love and finds happiness without Rochester.
Family, good friends, and work fill the place of a lover. She need betray no vows to serve God and her fellows.
Against what Jane wants stands only the laws of God and the vows of the man she loves that he made to a mad woman. Jane gives dignity to Rochester by honoring his word when he would dishonor it and so shows she really loves him.
Robertson would advise Rochester to divorce Bertha Mason and start over with Jane, but that would begin a new set of vows with an escape clause. It would cheapen love by refusing its absolute demands.
We can be glad that Jesus loved us enough to die for us in our decay, our senility, and the horrors of the world. We could not meet any of His needs, but He loved us and love was enough.
Robertson’s mistake was to forget love. Love is demanding and has its own rationality, its own calculus. It demands “until death do us part” and then hopes for more in eternity.
Who then would get married? Perhaps men for whom work or ministry will come first should give up one happiness to buy the security of being single. But if love vows, then must keep its vows or it will cease to be love. We are warned by the marriage ceremony not to enter into this holy estate lightly for this very reason, lovers will marry, because lovers must marry. If they allow love to mature and grow, they will regret this choice at times, but make it again and again.
When love grows, no man needs to be made to keep them.
All selfishness must be burned out of a lover in any marriage centered on love, because the absolute romance love desires holds nothing back. Marriage is a bloodless martyrdom said the Fathers. Divorce might make it bearable, but God hates divorce.
Marriage is a holy thing, but so an awful thing. I have watched grandparents suffer and die while a spouse cares for them right to the end. I have heard well meaning Robertsons “comfort” them when death finally came by pointing out that after all: “now they were free to move on with their lives.” I saw a grandmother straighten her back and declare that she would suffer and serve her husband for twenty years, if it would give her five more minutes with him.
Her love had burned through her selfishness and in her vow keeping I saw the face of God.