He would have left me by now…

… if our marriage was based on how well we keep our vows.

I was thinking the other day about some of the things we promised each other on our wedding day, so I went and looked them up:

I, Blake, before God, family and friends receive you, Jessica, as my wife.

I promise to faithfully love and cherish you, to nurture you spiritually and provide for you, for better or for worse, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, loving you sacrificially as Christ loves the Church.

I promise to be united with you in serving God, our family and others as long as we both shall live.

I will not depend on my own thoughts and emotions, but will ask for God’s help in fulfilling these promises each and every day.

 

I, Jessica, before God, family and friends receive you, Blake, as my husband.

I promise to faithfully love and respect you, to strengthen you spiritually and care for you, for better or for worse, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, submitting to you joyfully as the Church submits to Christ.

I promise to be united with you in serving God, our family and others as long as we both shall live.

I will not depend on my own thoughts and emotions, but will ask for God’s help in fulfilling these promises each and every day.

Yes, there’s no way either of us have kept those promises perfectly in our marriage.

I still remember when we wrote them together during our engagement –  sitting in that darkened Thai restaurant, hashing out exactly what we wanted our marriage to be about.

It’s hard, when you’re young and idealistic, to know all the twists and turns that you will encounter along the journey of marriage. But maybe that’s a good thing. Because if we knew, would we want to promise these things at all?

If we knew about chronic illnesses that can turn your beloved into a shell of a person for years on end, would we promise to stay with them in sickness and in health?

If we knew about the times when a husband’s requests seem impossible, would we promise to submit to them?

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Maybe someone more cynical would think – why even write vows if you aren’t going to stick to them?

And I wonder if that’s what the many young people who are shunning marriage these days are thinking – that they don’t want to make promises they will just break later. They don’t see the point of “committing”, when they know it is an empty commitment.

 

But there is a bigger story here. Because marriage is not primarily about our faithfulness to our vows or to each other. If that were it marriage would not be such a great story after all.

Humans mess up. We sin against each other, even those we love. We break our promises. We hurt each other.

Don’t misunderstand me here – there is so much great stuff about marriage! There is the friendship, the intimacy, creating a family together, the in-jokes, the warmth and service, and more.

But still… if that was all marriage was, why even write vows? Why commit at all? For the piece of paper? For the rings?

 

No, the bigger story here is about God’s faithfulness to the church He loves. It’s about the deep love of Jesus that lead him to the cross and his resurrection to take his rightful place as Head of the church. It’s about His bride – the Church – enjoying the warmth and protection of that Headship, and the restored relationship between the two.

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This is what drives our commitment to each other. This is what gets us through the rough patches. This is what keeps our eyes on the road – OUR road – instead of glancing at the greener pastures surrounding us. This is what keeps us from building a nice little idol out of our marriage.

The story of marriage is bigger than us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “He would have left me by now…

  1. I saw your comment on Deepstrength’s post about marriage where you said this:

    “It makes me think of the book, A Severe Mercy. It’s about a couple who had a wonderful marriage and love for each other, but this was an idol for the man that kept him from loving God fully, so God took the wife home early. That’s where the book title comes from – the idea that her death was a severe mercy from God in order to reach this man.”

    It really made me wonder about this topic, since I’d never read the book or heard about this idea (God killing another human being just so that he could save *you*) as being spiritually correct. I’m actually writing a short post on it using your quote to try to see if it holds up with scripture.

    *****
    “This is what keeps us from building a nice little idol out of our marriage.”

    Given you must believe that God kills people due to their spouse idolizing them, that must be a scary existence that keeps you or your husband from making your marriage into an idol! What a sad way to live though… always combating your passion and love and tempering it down so that you don’t force God’s hand to kill one of you for the other’s sin.

    It’s really interesting to me that people think like this about God and their personal journeys of faith – that He kills one person in a marriage just to save the other, so yea, definitely will link back to you and use your quote for the basis of it all.

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  2. Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for stopping by!

    A Severe Mercy is one of my all-time favourite books – one of those books that just impacted me so deeply! But I haven’t read it for at least 8 years, so please don’t use my little quote as the basis for your post. It would be more accurate to find a synopsis online somewhere, if you are wanting to discuss the content of the book.

    Everyone dies at some point, and this is all up to God. When someone dies as a two-year old, when someone dies at 45, when someone dies at 100 – these are all in God’s timing.
    I don’t think it’s really fair or helpful to say that God is “killing” those people. People die. That is a result of Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree (that God told them not to).
    In the book, it is not as simple as “husband idolizes wife, so wife dies”.
    Sometimes it takes drastic things for God to get our attention. And this is ultimately more merciful for Him to do, rather than leaving us to our comfortable earthly life, but then condemning us to eternity in hell. Now, He could do that and be perfectly justified. We all deserve to go to hell, after all. But in His great love and mercy, He sometimes allows us to suffer horrible things (like the death of a spouse) so that we will turn back to Him.
    (And in the book, the wife had already become a Christian when she died – so she was going to be with God anyway.)

    “Given you must believe that God kills people due to their spouse idolizing them, that must be a scary existence that keeps you or your husband from making your marriage into an idol!”

    I don’t believe God does this in lots of cases, but I do believe He will do it if necessary. And it’s not a scary thought – it’s a comforting thought. To know that God so loves us that he goes out of His way to call us back to Him! I never want to make an idol out of anything (which is to love or want something more than God), and I am so glad that he would do whatever it takes to break any idols I may have!

    What a sad way to live though… always combating your passion and love and tempering it down so that you don’t force God’s hand to kill one of you for the other’s sin.”

    I’m not sure where you got this from at all, to be honest…
    I didn’t say anything about combating our passion or tempering it down. 🙂

    I look forward to reading your post on this topic!

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  3. Yes, definitely – I’ve read a ton of reviews both positive and negative, and more than a few synopses since it sounded so odd to me to think of God that way. I really did want to try to understand how people thought that way.

    You said yourself that God “called her home early,” that means He ended her life, or “killed her.” You’re not alone in how you chose to describe the book in just a sentence linking his idolatry and her death together, and God being the one who you view as responsible for it. Many of the positive reviews see it that way, too! Your quote actually does represent the book well… he admits it himself in the sections I’ve read online when he comes to the conclusion of why it happened that way (his tendency to idolize her and their love). Even though when you really look at C.S. Lewis’ letter saying it was a “severe mercy,” he isn’t linking it to idolatry at all, but is actually saying that their love would have died in one way or another eventually, and that it was a “severe mercy” that it ended this way for him perhaps. Even C.S. Lewis isn’t definite about it that I could tell. Maybe he was in some other letter that I didn’t see though. I know for sure the author did link the two (his idolatry and her death).

    I saw Sheldon later explains that he thought he would have eventually ruined their love turning it to hate (and maybe he was right since he really was jealous of her love for God). He started coming to a place where he was accepting that being a Christian meant putting God first, and was even willing to do that, but then that’s when his wife’s sickness starts to be revealed and then she dies fairly quickly.

    I’ve definitely seen a lot of death and the families that are left afterward, especially this last 2 years. So I totally understand God allowing evil things and evil murders to happen to good people – He is still a good God and it’s no reason to be afraid, but this book is very different from that it seems. I would never make someone feel like they even *potentially* lost their wife or husband due to their idolizing them, but that’s the message of this book to grieving people if they read it at the wrong time expecting answers. At the very least, if this was something he privately got from God, he may unknowingly burden people with this false guilt that they somehow caused their spouse’s or child’s death by their own sin. Maybe in some cases that’s how they truly find peace in the loss, and maybe it’s really true for some, but I still think God usually just allows death, it’s very hard for me to view Him as actively causing it. Even with Job, he allowed Satan to kill his family, but it wasn’t actually God taking them away. That and Job was called “perfect” in integrity, so it’s not like God was allowing punishment to come to him for some kind of sin (even though his awful friends kept insisting that’s what it was), if anything, the story proves how innocent people can still have things happen to them. So Sheldon linking his wife’s death to his idolatry… maybe it was God taking her purposefully out of this world to punish or save him from idolatry, but maybe it really wasn’t. It’s a little weird to me that he jumps to that conclusion so decisively, or thinks God was so limited that it was the only way Sheldon could be saved.

    So two mentors I asked about this agreed with me and thought the book was spiritually off and didn’t like it. But one mentor actually does agree with the book that God DOES kill innocent people sometimes to punish someone else’s sin (or to save them from their sin), and they showed me quite a few references in the Bible that actually supports that harsh of a view of God – mostly Old Testament stuff, but it makes sense with the book. So I can see better how people believe that, but again, that could lead to people living in fear or walking on egg shells afraid of God’s wrath on their life.

    A lot of the reviews I read from older women or men said how much they adored the book when they were in their early twenties and first read it, but that when they got older, they came to see how narcissistic the author was and infatuated he was with the whole scenario being about him – even to the point of making his wife’s death about himself and his salvation. It’s kind of shocking… but that was a frequent response I’ve seen from older Christians who re-read it and came to the conclusion it was off theologically. One even pointed out that his other later books had even wider theological gaps that they didn’t agree with. I haven’t looked into them though so I’m not sure, but it *sounds* like he got even more off spiritually in the years after he wrote ASM.

    I’m sure it has many great moments in the book though, and that C.S. Lewis’ letters are amazing… a lot of reviews pointed that out that his letters make up for the author’s extreme self-absorption and pride that was hard for them to read throughout the whole thing. … who knows? With two mentors who really dislike the theology behind it and one who I really respect that *does* believe God is that harsh, I probably won’t write anything afterall lol!

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  4. Good on you for doing your research! It is so important to see how any idea or doctrine measures up with the Bible. And as Proverbs says, “there is wisdom in the counsel of many”. 🙂

    Here is another resource, if you’re interested, a reflection on ASM from an older Christian: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/book-review-severe-mercy-40th-anniversary

    And here is a blog post from April Cassidy about the danger of making our husbands into idols: https://peacefulwife.com/2013/05/13/how-to-make-your-husband-an-idol/

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  5. I like April’s posts, she makes things so easy to understand and doesn’t jump to extremes. I think I linked to that idol post last year, contrasting loving your husband passionately (what some falsely describe as idolatry) to what it really is, what April describes so well.

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  6. Yea, but usually when people are trying to warn about it, they link it with God being vengeful, or how you linked it immediately with her death caused by God due to her husband’s sin.

    It reminded me of a book written in the 1800’s Stepping Heavenward. I guess this dialogue perfectly captures why I don’t like the attitude of giving that warning out with the end result being death, or “happiness” that God would “do anything” to keep you from having an idol when you’re implying it’d be your husband’s life or your child’s.

    “Father is in one of his gloomiest moods. As I sat caressing baby today, he said to me, “Daughter Katherine, I trust you make it a subject of prayer to God that you may be kept from idolatry.”
    “No, Father,” I returned, “I never do. An idol is something one puts in God’s place, and I don’t put baby there.”
    He shook his head and said the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.
    “I have heard Mother say that we might love an earthly object as much as we pleased if we only love God better.” I might have added, but of course didn’t, that I prayed every day that I might love Ernest and baby better and better. Poor Father seemed puzzled and troubled by what I did say, and after musing awhile, went on thus:
    “The Almighty is a great and terrible Being. He cannot bear a rival; He will have the whole heart or none of it. When I see a young woman so absorbed in a created being as you are in that infant and in your other friends, I tremble for you, I tremble for you!”

    “But Father,” I persisted, “God gave me this child, and He gave me my heart, just as it is.”
    “Yes; and that heart needs renewing.”
    “I hope it is renewed, ” I replied. “But I know there is a great work still to be done in it. And the more effectually it is done, the more loving I shall grow. Don’t you see, Father? Don’t you see that the more Christ-like I become, the more I shall be filled with love for every living thing?”” (p175)

    I have more of Katy’s personality and relate to her frustration that anyone would imply that you’re doing something *wrong* by working out what God’s placed in your heart that is *right.*

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  7. “I guess this dialogue perfectly captures why I don’t like the attitude of giving that warning out with the end result being death, or “happiness” that God would “do anything” to keep you from having an idol when you’re implying it’d be your husband’s life or your child’s.”

    And I say this fully admitting that I’m glad you say you don’t struggle with that thought or that you’d be happy if God “did anything” to prevent you from having an idol. You’re definitely better than me, as I just don’t view God as that “terrible,” even though maybe He is. 🙂

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  8. And better than me in that you don’t seem to struggle with that at all, whereas I can barely even imagine God acting that way and me being “happy” about it.

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  9. “Yea, but usually when people are trying to warn about it, they link it with God being vengeful, or how you linked it immediately with her death caused by God due to her husband’s sin.”

    I have never warned anyone against idolatry by saying that God might kill their spouse or kids. I warn people against idolatry because of the damaging effect this will have on their relationship with God.
    The Bible tells us that “the wages of sin is death”. The natural end of idolatry is death – one’s own death, for all eternity. That is to say – if we refuse to have God as our rightful king, we will not come in under His loving protection on Judgement Day. Instead of eternal life, we will get eternal death.

    So in the case of A Severe Mercy, Davy (the wife) had already committed her life to Christ and was following Him wholeheartedly. But Sheldon (the husband) writes that he was “lagging” in his commitment – perhaps this means that in his head he knew that he should follow Christ, but his heart was not convinced.
    The reason CS Lewis called it a “severe mercy” for God to allow Davy to die when she did, was because the death of a loved one is severe, but it was merciful to Sheldon because it was meant to keep him from eternal death. And while Davy’s life on earth was shortened, she went on to eternal life with God in heaven.

    Do you see what I’m getting at? It was not God being vengeful or terrible or harsh. It wasn’t “punishment” for Sheldon’s sin of idolatry, it was a signal flare lighting the way to hope (in spite of his sin)! It was God being merciful, albeit in a very severe way.

    Do you think it would be more kind of God to have let Sheldon keep his beloved wife until a good age of 87 or so, if it meant that he never gave his life to Christ?

    “I have more of Katy’s personality and relate to her frustration that anyone would imply that you’re doing something *wrong* by working out what God’s placed in your heart that is *right.* “

    I see what you mean with that dialogue. I certainly don’t relate to the father in that passage. And I did agree with Katy’s comment that “the more Christ-like I become, the more I shall be filled with love for every living thing”.
    But let me ask you, regarding your comment I quoted, do you believe it is possible for someone to idolize their husband or child?

    “And better than me in that you don’t seem to struggle with that at all, whereas I can barely even imagine God acting that way and me being “happy” about it.”

    While it is not a pleasant thought, I don’t struggle with thinking of God like that because 1. I believe that is truly His character and 2. It is not my place to make value judgements about the character of God.
    “Where else have we to go?” as Peter said.

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