Without prejudice to other beliefs, my focus today is fully on Christian marriages. Many of us have heard the saying that marriages are made in heaven and celebrated on earth. What does it mean and how true? For respondents in one school of thought, it means the couples are perfectly matched; “that the couples were predestined to meet and marry before they were even born.” (Jeremiah 29:11). “This means that when God created (the) two people (man and woman), he created them specifically for one another…”
I belong to this school of thought. I believe that since God created us specially and knew from the beginning that we are going to get married someday, He has also created somebody specially and specifically for us. That is why the Book of Proverbs tells us that, houses and wealth can be inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from God ( Prov. 19:14). It is our responsibility, relying on God, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to find that person.
God is the author of the first marriage; he was intimately involved in every aspect of it. He created Eve specifically for Adam and “brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:22). Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca (Genesis 24) had all the trappings of a marriage made in heaven: God’s presence, blessings, joy, harmony, signs and wonders. These days, there are still many marriages made in heaven. You see couples who are obviously well matched and happy in their marriages (not pretenders). God is still very much in the business of match making, only that many just do not seek his services.
The next question is: Are all marriages made in heaven? If yes, why are so many marriages hellish, not heavenly? Why is divorce rate so high? No force on earth, except death, can end a marriage made in heaven. That is why the marriage of Hosea to Gomer survived with all the turbulence (though it was a metaphor for the Israelites’ infidelity to God) (Hosea 3).
Everybody should say where his/her marriage is made. Maybe not all marriages are made in heaven. But whether your marriage is made in heaven or on earth, it is recognized in heaven because it was solemnized in the church. All parties, therefore, have a responsibility to make it work. I have said it before; only one spouse cannot make a marriage work, no matter how good he/she is. It takes the man and woman in the marriage to make it work. A working marriage starts from the mind and manifests in daily conscious efforts and nourishment. Like your body, if you starve it of nourishment, it will die somehow.
A Christian marriage is indissoluble. That is why ordinarily there can be no divorce as you have in civil marriages. The church can only annul marriages, not dissolve them. Annulment simply means that the marriage never existed because it was based on falsehood or misrepresentation ab initio. For instance, if one of the parties conceals information that would have fundamentally influenced the judgement of the other party, the marriage can be annulled at the behest of the other party. Such information includes impotency and absence of a womb. A marriage that has not been consummated (no sexual intercourse between the couple after the marriage) can also be annulled if there are compelling reasons. That was what happened when a man who travelled for official duties immediately after his marriage ceremony came back months later to meet a pregnant wife (she was not pregnant before the wedding).
I believe in, and I am irrevocably committed to, the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage. But I am also an advocate of annulment of marriages where the life of one or both couples is threatened as a result of domestic violence. Marriage, as I said before, is not a death sentence, but a sacred union of man and woman. There is nothing heavenly about violence in marriages.
In time past, there were couples that stayed together because of the “till death do us part” vow. Today either their families or the victims lie in ruins, beaten and battered over time. Many of these victims were hardworking spouses whose productive years were wasted in, and stolen by, violent and unproductive marriages. Today, they are suffering in old age because they did not make prior provisions and the products (children) of the marriages are too badly formed (they are without good education, vocational skills and good value orientation) to fend for themselves not to talk of taking care of aged parents.
Now that a heavy weight in the person of Pope Francis has lent his voice, I hope there will be a shift in position in the Christendom, especially within the Catholic Church. He said: “There are cases in which separation is inevitable…Sometimes, it can even be morally necessary, when it’s about shielding the weaker spouse or young children from the more serious wounds caused by intimidation and violence, humiliation and exploitation.”
The question now is if the violent spouses are unrepentant, can the separation the Pope referred to become annulment? That way, the victims can have a fresh beginning and still be entitled to all the rights and privileges of married people within the church. That is, they do not carry the tag of divorcees. I know that what God has joined, man must not put asunder (Matt 19:6). But I also know that whatever the church binds on earth is bound in heaven and what it looses on earth is loosed in heaven (Matt 18:18); the powers of the keys of Peter can be exercised to bring relief and fullness of life to God’s children.
There is controversy within Christendom about who exercises this authority, but we, at least, agree that God gave the church the authority. This is the authority I expect the church to use to save victims of domestic violence, as a last resort, without compromising the indissolubility of marriage.
Written by Francis Ewherido