Marriage Vows: What Are We Really Vowing to Do? (by one of our readers)
I, (name), take you, (name), to be my [opt: lawfully wedded] (husband/wife), my constant friend, my faithful partner and my love from this day forward. In the presence of God, our family and friends, I offer you my solemn vow to be your faithful partner in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, and in joy as well as in sorrow. I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals, to honor and respect [opt: obey] you, to laugh with you and cry with you, and to cherish you for as long as we both shall live.
Above is a traditional wedding vow. It is said on a day usually filled with happiness and love, shared between two people and their family and friends. Although several today in the Family Integrated Churches movement are adding much more to these vows, the above vows are pretty typical. There is also a section below, that is sometimes included in Jewish wedding vows. It reads:
Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you, For where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. And where you die, I will die and there I will be buried. May the Lord do with me and more if anything but death parts you from me.
I highly doubt, that in this quote from the book of Ruth, anyone would mean that they would follow someone into abuse and destruction or stay with them and die with them in that abuse and destruction. That of course, would not be what God would have us do, even with a spouse. We are called as Christians to follow Christ and when a spouse takes us down a godless path of destruction, we are told often in Proverbs, not to follow them. So this quote is taken to indicate that in the faithfulness of a spouse, the other will follow and stay, live and die and be buried alongside them, with joy and steadfastness. That’s all good and what God expects from a godly marriage.
We here at A Cry For Justice have most likely taken the above vows or something very similar, and we have typically endured years of abuse at the hands of our spouses. With that in mind, I would like to just go through these vows and ask the all important question, exactly what are we vowing before God to do in our marriages by taking these vows, and then see if these vows make any allowance for abuse in marriage. Many people accuse the victims of abuse, who decide to divorce their abuser, of not upholding their vows to the marriage. So let’s pull it apart. Let’s define some of the aspects of the basic vows taken at the marriage altar.
1) I, (name), take you, (name), to be my lawfully wedded (husband / wife). This means that by law, you are marrying the other person. It is lawful and governed by civil laws, as well as biblical law.
2) My constant friend. We are assuming that the person we are marrying will remain a constant “friend” to us. So ask yourself what kind of friends you would keep around you. Friend defined means a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations, companion, intimate, confidante, second-self, playmate, ally, kindred spirit, bosom buddy, pal, chum, side-kick.
3) My faithful partner (husband / wife). This means that the individual will be faithful in all areas of life, not just the bedroom. Faithful means to be loyal, constant, steadfast, true, devoted, dedicated, committed, unswerving, trustworthy, dependable, reliable; strict or thorough in the performance of a duty; true to one’s word, promises or vows; steady in allegiance or affection; reliable, trusted or believed. There is more that could be added, but for the sake of this post, this is enough.
4) My love. To define love, as Christians, we need to use our Bible and God’s standards for love and what it means for a husband to love his wife and a wife to love or respect her husband. But for starters, we will use a basic definition. Love means to have an intense feeling of deep affection; fondness, tenderness, warmth, intimacy, attachment, endearment, devotion, adoration, doting, passion, desire, yearning, compassion, care, regard, solicitude, concern, friendliness, friendship, kindness, charity, goodwill, sympathy, humanity. Therefore, love is not dependence or control that sucks the life out of the other spouse. Real love is selfless. There of course is more, but again for this post, this shall suffice.
5) From this day forward. From this very second that you hear my voice, until you hear it no more and with the same friendship, faithfulness and love, you bury me in the ground.
6) In the presence of God, our family and friends, I offer you my solemn vow. This means that I am publicly making a profession of my love and commitment and vows to all present and also God.
7) To be your faithful partner (husband / wife). See definition of faithful above. Partner defined means, a person who shares or is associated with another in some action or endeavor; a spouse.
8) In sickness and in health. This would mean that if your spouse becomes ill, whether with a short or long-term illness that affects any part of the body, soul or mind, that you will remain faithful to them, as defined above. To be in health, means exactly that, in body, soul and mind. Although abusers can be mentally ill, the vast majority of them are not. Abuse is not a sickness.
9) In good times and in bad. Remember what the basic reflection of the vow is. Good times would mean when there are good things happening in the marriage and bad times are when bad things are happening. Let’s talk about that. Most people would define “good times” as happy non-problematic times, consisting of a variety of things. Again most people would define “bad times” as things such as arguments, communications issues, money problems, sickness, problems with children, job loss, bereavement, external persecution, etc. Most people would not define “bad times” as abuse or persecution by the other spouse. Why would you ever make a vow to allow someone to abuse you?
10) And in joy as well as in sorrow. Again, happy and sad times. No real defining needs to take place here. Joy is happiness, things going well, and sorrow is sad times, things are not going well. However again, I do not think anyone is consciously taking a vow here, meaning that joy is when there is a day with no abuse and sorrow is that the counseling bill for the abuse is sky-high and climbing.
11) I promise to love you unconditionally. Love is noted above. Unconditional means not subject to any conditions; wholehearted, unqualified, unreserved, unlimited, unrestricted, unmitigated, unquestioning, total, entire, full, absolute. Promising to love unconditionally is potentially dangerous in this fallen world where sin can be so injurious. It would be wiser to say “I promise to love you wholeheartedly.” One can wholeheartedly love an abusive spouse by calling out their sin for what it is, by resisting their attempts to intimidate and control you in ungodly ways, and by putting in place appropriate consequences for their sins. These are some of the most important ways we show love to wicked people. Unconditional love is not even something that God gives. God has abundant love for sinners, but He requires sinners to repent and believe in Christ as offered in the gospel.
12) To support you in your goals. Support defined is, bear all or part of the weight, hold up, carry, prop up, brace, reinforce, undergird, to give assistance to, enable to function or act. Our goals can be a variety of things. As Christians, our goals are to have a life that glorifies God and that we enjoy Him, forever.
13) To honor and respect you. Honor means to hold in high respect and esteem, distinction, recognition, privilege, glory, pride and joy. Respect means to have a feeling of deep admiration for someone elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements, to esteem, regard, admire, reverence, deference.
14) To obey you. This is not the same as submit, but I will define it here for purposes of those who have had this in their vows. Obey means to comply with the command, direction or request of (a person or a law); submit to the authority of, to bow to, give in to, yield to, comply with, abide by, conform to, respect and follow. Biblical submission is simply acknowledging that God has made the husband the head of the home and the wife is to submit to him, IN THE LORD. This qualifies the submission to be only that which brings one to and glorifies God. I do not think here that God was inferring that because the husband demands a certain color of carpeting, that the woman has to just submit to it, but at the end of the day, why would Christian couples argue for very long over the color of the carpeting. The point is that the husband is to lovingly lay down his life and lead and his wife is to lovingly appreciate, respect and follow her godly man.
15) To laugh with you and cry with you. I personally do not remember taking a vow that said this, but in essence, I think it fits in with good times and bad times above, and is qualifying that when something good or bad happens to one spouse individually, the other spouse makes a vow here to, do as the Word says, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. The spouse is to have empathy and share in the joy with their spouse in joyous times, and not leave the other spouse alone in their sorrow, during times of sorrow.
16) To cherish you. Cherish means to protect and care for someone lovingly, adore, hold dear, love, dote on, be devoted to, revere, esteem, admire, think the world of, care for, tend to, look after, protect, preserve, keep safe.
17) For as long as we both shall “live”. To live means to remain alive, to have life, be capable of vital functions, to continue in existence, operation, memory, to maintain or support one’s existence. To be alive means to be full of life, alert, active, energetic, vigorous, spirited, etc.
There are a couple of arguments to be made here. One is that when God tells husbands in His Word how they are to love their wives, that is what He means and becomes our highest definition. Love defined does not state the laying down of one’s life, although it is implied, but the Word does use these exact words. Wives are told to respect, and the wording in the Bible is “see to it”, and it is not qualified, although there is room for argument here as well. How does a wife who is battered by a spouse continue to respect him, except in her tone and style toward him. Does God command that a woman continue to “feel” respect for her abuser?
Also, to most of us, the term “live” means as long as we are alive on the earth, not necessarily the aspect of the definition of what it means to be “alive”. We make vows and we are serious about keeping them and cannot say, because I do not feel alive with my spouse anymore, I will just be on my way. That is not what God would have us do – but I think we all get that. We here know and remember, that there are three biblical grounds for divorce — abuse, abandonment and sexual immorality.
The point is, what is in our hearts when we make these vows before God. What are we actually vowing to do or not do? I do not believe that God expects us to vow for allowing someone to abuse us or commit adultery against us, or abandon us, and that if they do any of those things we will stay true to our side of the vows. People tend to term that under “for better and for worse” but we must also remember here that the vows we are making as Christians imply that we trust the person we are marrying. We believe that they have their own covenant before God, and would not abuse us. What happens when we make vows with someone who has duped us at the altar? Are we bound to their duping? Perhaps we should re-write the vows to include a sentence on abuse, or re-write them to read something like this:
I promise to you, that I am a redeemed sinner, and I vow to you, to behave and live as Christ has commanded me to and not return to a lifestyle of sin. I promise never to abuse, harm or hurt you in an ongoing way of abusive behavior, where I resist admonishments, refuse to tell the truth and acknowledge my behavior as abuse and refuse to repent and be sanctified. I promise to remain sexually faithful to you in all ways, and as a Christian, to keep from any and all forms of sexual immorality. I promise to work through disagreements quickly and respectfully and to resolve and tenderly love you, even in the midst of life’s problems and circumstances that would cause disagreement or discourse between us. If I fail in any of my vows that I make to you today, and refuse to turn from my sin against God and you by repenting and showing forth the fruits of that repentance, then I promise to allow you a biblical divorce from me, for the causes of abuse, abandonment or sexual immorality, so that you may be free to pursue Christ and His will for you.
And now I, (name) take you (name) to be my lawfully wedded (husband/wife), my friend with whom I have had a mutual bond and affection not based on sexual intimacy, but sheer friendship; my confidante; my playmate, bosom buddy, my friend; my true-to-your-word, loyal, steadfast, dependable partner (husband/wife); my one who has an intense feeling of deep affection, fondness, tenderness, warmth, intimacy, endearment, devotion, adoration, desire, compassion, care, kindness, goodwill, sympathy and humanity toward me; who is dependent on God, for life, not me; and who is selfless in their love, from this day forward.
In the presence of God, our family and friends, I offer you my solemn vow to be your constant, steadfast, true, loyal and devoted (husband/wife) whether you are sick or whether you are healthy, no matter how long or how short the duration of your illness; in good times, when things are going well for both of us, and in bad times, when things are not going well, but we are still upholding the previous vows of love, compassion, friendship and not turning to abuse or neglect; and in joyous times and in sorrowful times, times when we are blissfully happy and times when we sorrow over loss of life, or loss of income, sorrow over failed plans or a disagreement; I promise to love you wholeheartedly, [husbands:] to lay down my life for you, my fondness, tenderness, warmth and intimacy given to you, in spite of your weaknesses and given regardless of how I may feel that day; to support you, bear you up, to brace, hold you up and carry you, either in whole or in part as you need me to; to honor you, to hold you in the highest respect and esteem, to take pride and joy in you; to respect you, to cultivate a feeling of deep admiration for you, to admire you; [wives:] to submit (in place of obey), yield to you, conform and follow you, as long as your leading leads me to the Lord and His will for you and for me without abusing me or asking me to sin for you, or lording your headship over me; to laugh and to cry with you – not to make fun of your pain, not to leave you alone in your sadness, problems or grief, to rejoice when you rejoice and be happy for you in your successes in life and not to be jealous or overtaken with my own selfish needs; and to cherish you – to protect you, to care for you with love, to dote on you and hold you dear, to revere, admire and esteem you, to think the world of you; to tend to you, look after you, preserve you and keep you safe always, for as long as we both shall live. I promise not to take life from you, but to give life to you through nurturing you in Christ, so that you may truly live while you are alive, and not be alive, yet dead.
Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you, For where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. And where you die, I will die and there I will be buried. May the Lord do with me and more if anything but death parts you from me.”
The vows may end up lengthy, but they would have real, true and lasting meaning. I hate weddings where the most important part of your life, after accepting Christ, is wrapped up in under two minutes and is just a recitation of what the pastor has had everyone else say in the past thousand weddings he has performed. At this moment, people are giving their lives to each other. Let’s take a little time and cover these vows well.
So, you can see, that the vows we presently take, in no way allow for abuse in the marriage, as defined by the words we say when we take those vows. We are not making a covenant to allow someone to do whatever they wish to us and just stay and endure. We are taking vows and receiving vows, that promise to love, honor, cherish and support each other. God hears these vows as well and knows what we are vowing to do, both verbally and in our hearts. This does not mean that bad times won’t come or that wars won’t break out. But it does mean, that we have not vowed to allow our spouse to abuse us during those times or at any other time. If people wish to make allowance for abuse as part of the marriage vows, then they need to add this to the vows:
I promise to allow you to do to me whatever you wish, even if it means you abuse me emotionally, physically, sexually, psychologically, financially or otherwise and even if you desire or attempt to kill me and/or our children, if we have any. I just stupidly love you that much.