Practical Christian Theology
God meets us where we are—in the human condition.
“For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14 NKJV).
Deal with another as you’d have
Another deal with you;
What you’re unwilling to receive,
Be sure you never do. ~New England Primer
The other day a televangelist captured a headline when he said that a husband (already dating, no less) could legitimately divorce a wife suffering from Alzheimers. Evidently he agrees with Carl Young that “We need to alter the wedding vow. Till death do us part or until you become an inconvenience.”
I suspect the “religious broadcaster” wanted attention—like entertainment personalities: “Say anything you want to about me, just make sure you spell my name right.” So I won’t call his name. Or maybe he himself has Alzheimers or dementia, and it is about time someone got him off the air.
Strangely, the Bible does not say a great deal about some of the things people most want to hear: specific sins, vice, divorce, remarriage, tithing, giving …
What the Bible does say is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart … Fear the Lord your God, and serve Him … Do that which is right and good in the sight of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:5, 13, 18). “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). For “what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). If those few verses were all the Bible you had, it would be enough to understand the heart of God: love God and love others.
I have known many families suffering with catastrophic situations in their own household: birth defects, cerebral palsy, handicaps, bodacious wheelchairs, Downs Syndrome, physical and mental retardation, housebound, crippling circumstances. These are not people I read about in the newspaper or see on TV; these are people I know personally. I could not live with their dilemma—so God never asked it of me.
A husband and father, a businessman, institutionalized his firstborn, and only son, because he saw what having one mentally handicapped child in the home was doing to his other five healthy children, all daughters.
For seventeen years a minister’s wife never left the house, because she was stuck 24/7 with a bedfast son. During those same seventeen years she had to watch horrified while another child, a little daughter, died in a kitchen fire.
One family had not one, but two, sons with cerebral palsy, strapped into wheelchairs, barely able to breathe, must less live.
One couple had two sons and a daughter. The older son grew to young adulthood, but died without issue before he had a chance to marry. The younger son graduated from college, became an engineer, and married well, but he too was without issue. The senior couple were never to have grandchildren. The couple’s daughter was born with Downs Syndrome and, for decades, required a full-time caregiver: the mother. Sometimes the couple would go on senior trips together, and enjoy themselves, but the now tired and aged mother would return home sorrowfully. “Back to my burden.”
One well-connected minister and his wife reared three highly successful sons. Just when the wife thought now that her children were grown, she would be able to do the things she wanted to do, she was confronted with an unplanned midlife pregnancy. She gave birth to a severely retarded daughter. For the next three decades she lived a nightmarish existence caring for that child.
… The list goes on. You would not want to hear all these heartbreaking stories …. Which of these families, do you suppose, would not welcome escape? If they could, they would gladly divorce themselves from the inconveniencing situation.
In the Gospels, when people had such trials, they brought them to Jesus, and He healed the afflicted persons. Maybe the reason we suffer so much today is that we do not bring our mess to Jesus. He is still here, you know. Just not in the flesh.
Suppose you could eject unwanted family members because they were too much bother. Where would you send them? The preacher-dad with the severely-retarded daughter, at long last—the girl was now thirty—decided to build a center for retarded adults and was taking an offering. Having worked in an adult rehab center myself and knowing firsthand what families like his were going through, I gladly contributed.
Suppose the offending family member was your spouse. What would you do? If a person were terminal, you would call home health or place him in hospice care, wouldn’t you? If he were elderly and incapacitated, you would put him in a nursing home, right? If she were mental or afflicted with Alzheimers, perhaps it would be appropriate to find a place for her—if you could not cope with her yourself.
But divorce? I don’t think so. Family is still family. “Yet is she your companion, and the wife of your covenant … Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth” (Malachi 2:14-16). God repeats, “Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously.”
What is the problem here? Not the sick spouse. The problem is you. Your spirit. That you are behaving in an unloving way. Not loving your neighbor (another human being) as yourself.
“I am saddened when I hear these words—’This is not the person I knew’—because those words objectify the person suffering from Alzheimer’s. When you objectify a person, you also dehumanize them. Once dehumanized, the person becomes a villain.” ~Bob DeMarco
It was privately to the apostles that Jesus connected adultery with divorce and remarriage (Mark 10:2-12). The Pharisees said that Moses permitted divorce, meaning it was part of the Mosaic Code. But Moses did not write the Law—God did. It is the law of God, not the law of Moses. God gave the words, Moses spoke them, and Joshua (his scribe) held the pen. So God instituted divorce. In the Mosaic Code.
If a husband became disenchanted with his wife, he could write her a bill of divorce and send her away (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Nothing about adultery in that passage. Nothing prohibiting remarriage. However, if the second husband divorced the wife or if the second husband died, then the first could not reclaim her. If after she had remarried, a woman returned to her first husband, it was an “abomination.”
“Abomination” is the same word God used for homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; cf Romans 1:26-28) … adultery (Leviticus 18:20; 20:10) … incest (Leviticus 18:6-18; 20:11, 12, 14, 17, 19-21; Deuteronomy 27:20, 22, 23) … bestiality (Leviticus 18:23; 20:15, 16; Deuteronomy 27:21) … infanticide (Leviticus 18:21). “Defile not yourselves in any of these things … the land is defiled … and the land itself vomits out her inhabitants …. For all these abominations have the men of the land done … [Be careful lest] the land spew … you out also … as it spewed out the nations that were before you” (Leviticus 18:24-28).
After the Return, Ezra, the priest, made the men send away their foreign wives—some couples had children (Ezra 10:2, 3, 10-19, 44) —even as Abraham sent away Hagar (Genesis 21:12-21) and the sons of the concubines (25:6). The Israelites had been commanded of God not to intermarry with heathen (Deuteronomy 7:1-11). A high priest could not marry a widow, a divorcee, a harlot, or a profane woman; he could marry only a virgin (Leviticus 21:10-15). The point was that God’s people were to be a separated people, a holy people. “Be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy … Therefore observe all My statutes, and all My judgements, and do them: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:2, 37). Again and again in Leviticus 19 God punctuated His statements with “I am the Lord.” So, these mixed marriages, contracted while the Jews were living in Captivity, were illegitimate marriages and had to be annulled.
Under Moses, if a man laid an unmarried woman, he had to marry her, even if he had to pay a dowry (Exodus 22:16, 17).
If a master wanted a servant girl for himself or his son, and changed his mind, he could sell her within his own country, but not to foreigners. If he took a second wife, he could not diminish her food, her clothes, or his duty to her; if he did, then she could “go out free without money” (Exodus 21:7-11).
If a man captured a slave girl, and desired her, she was to bathe and groom herself before he could have her. If later she found no favor in his eyes, he could send her away, but he could not sell her because he had humbled her (Deuteronomy 21:11-14).
If a man had two wives, he was not to favor the firstborn of the preferred wife over the firstborn of the nonpreferred wife (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).
The pattern is “Love your neighbor.” “Whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
“Personally, I hold that a man, who deliberately and intelligently takes a pledge and then breaks it, forfeits his manhood.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
Can’t you hear some of the excuses people give for breaking up? “It was all a mistake” … “We never should’ve gotten married in the first place” … “We were young. We didn’t know what we were doing” … “God doesn’t expect me to live like this” …
Maybe it was a mistake, but it is a little late now—the deed has been done. Maybe God does not want you to live like this, but you are trying to take care of things without consulting Him.
When you married, you promised “I do.” God took you at your word. Your wedding vow was a sacred oath. Hence, the expressions “broken vows” … “going back on his word.”
“If a man vow a vow to the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Numbers 30:2).
“When you vow a vow to the Lord your God, slack not to pay it: for the Lord your God will surely require it of you; and it would be sin in you [not to pay] … Keep and perform that which is gone out of your lips” (Deuteronomy 23:21, 23).
“When you vow a vow to God, defer not to pay it … pay what you have vowed. Better is it that you should not vow, than that you should vow and not pay. Suffer not your mouth to cause your flesh to sin; neither say it was a mistake” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6; cf Psalm 76:11).
God takes vows seriously. Do you want to be in the position of lying to God?
“Your capacity to keep your vow will depend on the purity of your life” (Mahatma Gandhi).
“An elderly Christian woman began losing her memory. She had once known much of the Bible by heart. Finally only one verse stayed with her. ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day’ (2 Timothy 1:12).
“By and by, part of that slipped its hold, and she would quietly repeat, ‘That which I have committed to Him.’
“At last she hovered between this world and the next. Her loved ones noticed her lips moving. They bent to hear. She was repeating to herself: ‘Him, Him, Him.’
“She had lost the whole Bible but one word. But in that one word she had the whole Bible.” ~Adapted from Samuel Dickey Gordon
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee