Who is Responsible to “Fix” a Broken Marriage Covenant?
“Why is it that when he is wrong, I am the one who always feels guilty?”
That’s a pretty good question, isn’t it? I heard that in a movie once. It was made by the sister of a sociopathic family member who kept everyone else in chaos and confusion by her selfish antics and blaming. The movie was a comedy. Real life isn’t.
This morning I came across a couple of very, very common statements that we find in books and articles and sermons about marriage and divorce. And it struck me – these statements are actually putting the burden of responsibility for preserving the marriage onto the INNOCENT party! Here they are. See what you think – (find them on page 2546 of the ESV Study Bible),
“In the case of adultery, divorce is allowed but not required. In fact, forgiveness and reconciliation, restoring the marriage, should always be the first option.”
And again –
“But it must be emphasized that, if reconciliation of the marriage can at all be brought about, that should always be the first goal.”
We hear this stuff all the time, right? Now, I want to make some observations here:
1. Isn’t the FIRST option/goal in cases where the marriage covenant has been violated, REPENTANCE on the part of the offender?
2. When we say that forgiveness and reconciliation are the first goal (slap me to my senses here if I am wrong), are we not bypassing the guilty party and running right to the victim and saying “OK, now it is YOUR duty to fix this marriage. YOU must forgive and reconcile”?
Is it not more in keeping with the nature of marriage as a covenant to say, “This marriage covenant has been destroyed by adultery/abuse. Mrs. Victim, you have the right to divorce. Mr. Perpetrator, Christ calls you to repent. But even if you do repent, she does not have to remain married to you. She will forgive you. But it is her legal, covenantal right to divorce you.”
Is it really true that restoring the marriage should always be the first option? Abuse victims who have sorted it out will answer, “No way!” In fact, that is probably the worst thing to do.
Think about it. When we talk about forgiveness and reconciliation, whom are we addressing? The VICTIM, obviously. The abuser isn’t going to be forgiving anyone – though he will try hard to make you think he is really the wronged party. And he sure isn’t going to be the one working to reconcile the marriage. He has been doing just the opposite and he will continue to do so.
What is the first priority in cases of abuse, or other situations where the marriage covenant has been destroyed by horrendous sin that smashes the vows? The first priority is to tell the victim what her rights are. A civil judge would do that. An attorney would do that. But the church? Well, we don’t seem to be doing this. We lay the load on the poor victim. And that is just wrong.