A few weeks ago, when I posted Parting With “Til Death Do Us Part, I got an interesting response from Chris Jones that I wanted to reply to immediately, but thought that since others might have the same issues, it might better be done here, in the same venue where I brought up the issue in the first place.
Why do we still say [“til death do us part”]?
Because it’s important to have a right understanding of what marriage essentially is, and a right intention to be faithful not only to one’s spouse, but also to that essential nature of marriage -- even though we know that it is all too possible that the marriage will fail, and the vow will be broken. If the marriage does fail, then that is what it is: a failure. The vow has been broken. But that does not mean that there was something wrong with the vow. It means that one or both of the spouses were unable to keep the vow. A vow is a statement of the intent of the heart, not an enforceable contract. To dilute the vows because some will not be able to keep them is to cheapen the institution of marriage itself and to rob it of its meaning and power.
Of course, there is a difference here between civil marriage and Christian marriage. No one, I think, expects marriage as defined by the State to be a permanent bond. I don’t know that a civil marriage ceremony even includes “til death do us part.” But marriage as defined by Christ is different. The vow “til death do us part” is entirely consistent with His words “let no man put asunder.”
The last thing we need now is any further damage to the institution of marriage.
Now, rather than reinventing the wheel, and taking up precious space in the process, I’m going to refer you to a from four years ago, called Life in an Institution. That post also references a sermon of mine from 12 years ago titled (with apologies to CS Lewis) The Great Divorce. Read those first, and then I’ll continue.
OK, so in his first paragraph, Chris says that a vow is a statement of the intent of the heart, and not an enforceable contract. I don’t know…an awful lot of people seem to take it as being an enforceable contract. I guess I’d feel a little better, Yoda notwithstanding, if we could have the vows say that we will try to do X, Y, and Z; knowing that sometimes it’s just not realistically possible. I guess I’m looking for vows that are realistic, and not idealistic.
In his second paragraph, Chris states that there’s a difference between a civil marriage and a Christian marriage. I would also assume that there are differences between those and Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim marriages, as well as the marriages of other religions and cultures. Using Christian marriage as the de facto standard seems a little disingenuous.
But then he says something that I’d never even considered when he said that he didn’t know if a civil marriage even included those words “til death do us part.”
Whoa! What a concept! I’ve been to many weddings over the past 42 years, and only one of them was a civil ceremony. And quite frankly, I don’t remember what their vows were. However, I took the time to do a little research, and there’s a wide variety of civil vows out there. Some avoid the issue altogether, and others say something along the lines of “now and forevermore.”
So it seems that this “death do us part” thing is pretty ingrained in our culture.
Finally, I want to address what Chris has to say about not needing any more damage to the institution of marriage; but since I’ve run out of room here, that will just have to wait until next week.