…to love, honor, and cherish, from this day forward, so long as we both shall live…
The solemnity and vision of those sacred marriage vows still raise my head a little higher and leave me in a reflective mood every time I hear them. When spoken by a loved one entering into marriage, they bring tears to my eyes, as their voice and expressions convey a solemn awareness of the sacredness of the marriage covenant.
Most of us enter into marriage with an understanding and conviction that although the path will sometimes be difficult, we will strive to do all in our power to completely fulfill these sacred oaths.
Over time, we come to understand how often we fall short of the high ideals of the wedding vows. Too often, we behave selfishly, rather than generously. Too often, we fall short of the level of communication we strive to achieve. Mutual decision-making turns out to be much more difficult than originally anticipated.
Yet, we continue to give it our best effort. When we stumble, we apologize and try to learn from our mistakes. If we hit a really rough spot, we may solicit input from a professional counselor to help us improve the relationship.
And, somehow, as we work together, by the grace of God, we learn to have more grace for one another. We learn to better understand each other’s viewpoints and needs. Over time, it gets easier, and we come closer to actually living out those high ideals we swore to uphold in our sacred vows.
And that is as it should be.
Sometimes, though, that’s not the case…
Sometimes, one of the marriage partners views the wedding vows, not as a sacred pledge to uphold, but rather as a law to enforce on their spouse. Rather than using the marriage covenant as an opportunity to love, honor and cherish their spouse, they use it, instead, as an opportunity to enslave and abuse.
The Bible refers to these individuals as covenant breakers, violators of the covenant, or treacherous (Psalm 55:20, Psalm 89:34, Isaiah 24:5, Malachi 2:14-15).
Today, we call them abusers. They abuse their spouse, and they abuse the sacred covenant.
These abusers behave as though the covenant vows do not apply to them, while continually reminding their spouse that they must honor the covenant.
They intentionally and repeatedly violate the sacred vows, inflicting deep wounds on the person they have sworn to love, honor and cherish. Then they insist that their spouse must lovingly forgive, forget, and restore relationship because of the marriage covenant.
When confronted, they may express words of regret…they may even shed tears of remorse and apologize for their hateful behavior. Yet, their actions do not change. They may become more deceptive, better at concealing, better at manipulating…but their core values have not changed.
They still view the covenant as something that binds their spouse to them, rather than as a sacred oath they must fulfil. They still see the marriage vows as applying to their spouse and not to them.
The only part of the oath they seem to hold sacred is “…so long as we both shall live.”
And, too often, when the faithful spouse turns to the church for help, “…so long as we both shall live,” seems to also be the only part of the vows that the church holds sacred.
I was fortunate. Although I spent 17 years in an abusive marriage, I had the support of wise counselors and a supportive church family as that marriage wound to an end in divorce.
I’ve discovered, since, that many people are not so fortunate.
Too often, the church doesn’t seem want to hear of the years of abuse and torment. The fears and emotional distress are treated as inconsequential.
All they see is one party (the abuser) saying they want to reconcile, while the other party (the faithful spouse…the one who has remained faithful to their sacred covenant vows all those years) says they can’t take it anymore and must leave for their own protection.
So the church joins the abuser’s cause, aiding the abuser in berating the faithful spouse that they must forgive, forget, and reconcile, because of the marriage vows…the very vows that the abuser has repeatedly and intentionally violated over and over again, at every opportunity!
…the sacred vows that the faithful spouse has learned through years of torment, that the abuser has no intention of ever keeping…
So the faithful spouse must either step outside the protection of the church, in order to escape the abuse, or accept a condition of lifelong slavery in a covenant of abusive bondage…
…so long as we both shall live…
How have we reached this point? Why does the church so often behave as though the only part of the marriage vows that counts is “…so long as we both shall live”? Why can we not see that this position plays right into the hands of the abuser?
Our God is a covenant God. God invites those He loves to enter into covenant with Him, then faithfully acts on the basis of His covenant promises. God remembers His covenant promises to His children, and eternally lavishes His loving-kindness on those with whom He is in a covenant relationship. Through covenant relationship, God imparts His nature to us, and causes our hearts to be conformed to His image. All of God’s interaction with mankind is based on covenant.
God created man in His own image. We, as His creation, as His children, as His covenant partners, are to honor and live out our covenants in faithfulness, just as He honors and lives out His covenants.
However, God never uses covenant as a tool to enslave or abuse, nor does He desire for His children to be enslaved in a covenant that has become abusive bondage. For His children who have become enslaved in abusive relationships, God offers redemption from covenants of bondage.
Have you ever encountered an abuser? Somebody who acted as though the rules of loving relationship apply only to you and not to them?