“Do you promise to love, to cherish, to honor, to obey, forsaking all others, in sickness as well as in health, in adversity as well as in prosperity, for better or for worse, and to cleave only to him/her so long as you both shall live?”
These are beautiful words, but they convey more than sentiment. This a solemn promise of commitment to one person for the rest of your life. While this vow does not mean there will be no struggles, this promise includes working together through the difficulties, holding fast, and seeking the good of one another no matter the circumstances.
These vows are positive promises to do something. To love, cherish and honor… However, if you look at the flip side, these vows are promises to not do as well. Do you promise to not demean, to not forsake, and to not abuse? Do you promise to not abandon your spouse physically or emotionally? Do you promise to not pursue another person instead of your spouse? These “nots” are not explicitly stated but implied because they are the antithesis of what the marriage covenant should be.
I don’t think anyone goes into marriage, especially a professing Christian, with the intent to break these vows. This was certainly never God’s intent.
“But the fact that in the original plan of God, marriage was not intended to be broken, and that a command was given against breaking it, does not mean that it cannot be broken” .
We may have on our parlor table a beautiful and costly vase. It ought to be handled carefully. It ought not to be broken. It was not made to be smashed; it was made to exist as a thing of beauty and grace. But it is not impossible to break it. And if a member of the family breaks it through carelessness, or in a fit of temper smashes it deliberately, there is nothing to do but sweep up the broken fragments and dispose of them.
We will not say, ‘This vase was not intended to be broken; therefore it is impossible to break it; the vase is unbreakable; therefore in spite of the fact that it lies in shattered fragments on the floor, we will not throw it away; we will keep it forever.’ No one would say that about a broken vase; yet that is substantially the argument of those who say that the marriage bond is ‘indissoluble’ and unbreakable’Geerhardus Vos .
There has been much effort in the church-at-large to strengthen marriages and families, which is of great importance. But how do we minister to those who are standing in the middle of the fragments, the spouses and children of the person who smashed the “vase?”
What do we do when there is abuse, abandonment, or adultery? You can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist. This may be your situation or that of a friend or family member. I fear that “we will not throw it away; we will keep it forever” offers no real comfort but only “go in peace, stay warm, and be well-fed.” (James 2:15-16) This denial does not bind the bleeding wounds of those who have been cut by the fragments of a broken covenant. This does not help heal those who carry those scars.
The Bible speaks against those who honor God with their lips but their hearts are far from him, who are content with outward sacrifices but no inward repentance, and who wash the outside of the cup while the inside is filthy. This verdict against hypocrisy and deception reflects the character of a holy God who does not turn a blind eye to sin. He does not lie and call evil, good.
If this is our God, then we should not minimize the sins of abandonment, abuse and adultery or the damage they inflict. Neither should we pretend broken vows still portray a picture of Christ and his Bride. This honesty is necessary for the safety and welfare of hurting families in the church.
We are unable to help real people in real situations if we are unable to acknowledge the reality of their circumstances. Only then can we practice religion pure and undefiled by looking after widows and orphans in their distress. (James 1:27)
1. Divorce, Loraine Boetner, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1960, pg. 13.