For As Long As We Both Shall Love
“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of
Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves
in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” Malachi 2:16 ESV
Dear Church Family,
Rhoda was an old t.v. sitcom that was a spinoff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It ran from 1974 to 1978 (yes, I’m dating myself). In one episode, Rhoda got married. As the bride and groom proclaimed their vows, something odd happened. Instead of committing to each other “for as long as we both shall live,” their commitment was “for as long as we both shall love.” So what’s wrong with that? It’s just one little word, right? Well, that one change throws the meaning of commitment out the window. To say that I’m committed to you for as long as I love you is like saying, “I’m committed to you for as long as I’m committed to you.” That’s meaningless.
The Rhoda episode appeals to the popular notion that marriage is based on romantic feelings of love. Now, my wife will tell you that I’m not the most romantic guy in the world, but I do have loving feelings for her. I’m delighted to say that. On the other hand, after a quarter of a century of marriage, I can’t honestly say that my feelings for Myra are the same as they once were. That, however, has nothing to do with my commitment—my vow to love, honor, and cherish her.
The problem of commitment in marriage is nothing new. Sometime after the rebuilding and dedication of the temple (516 B.C.), Malachi explained to the people why God was not accepting their sacrifices. In plain terms, he told them it was because they had broken the marriage covenant with their wives. The phrase “for the man who does not love his wife but divorces her” does not speak of love as a fleeting romantic feeling, but as a commitment to faithfulness. Does it normally include emotions? Sure, and I think a married couple that has lost the feeling of love should probably seek some form of counseling to see if they can regain that important element in marriage. Nevertheless, a romantic feeling of love is a very flimsy foundation for a life-long union. God clearly considers our marital commitments as fundamental to our ongoing relationship with him; when the Israelites were not faithful in marriage, God rejected their sacrifices to him.
Now, I’m not writing a letter here to say that there are no biblical bases for divorce. That topic would take more than a page. I am, however, challenging a common misconception that romantic feelings are a sufficient reason to get married. If that were the case, then the loss of those feelings would be reason enough to end the marriage. Marriage is a commitment between two people to love each other and serve God together. If I were doing premarital counseling with a couple that had no romantic feelings for each other, I would be alarmed to say the least. Still, that doesn’t mean romantic feelings are the foundation for getting married or staying married. Love is a word of sacrificial commitment, and it is fundamental to our relationship with God that we are faithful in our commitments to each other.