The Christian world has been "buzzing" since "The 700 Club" host, Pat Robertson commented on a viewer's question asking if divorce is OK for one whose spouse suffers from severe Alzheimer's disease. You can watch the full response below.
Robertson tells the viewer that he could justify divorce in this situation because the wife with Alzheimer's is "gone" and "this is a kind of death". What a statement!
What about someone who is chronically ill? Someone who is so ill they can't get out of bed? They can no longer have sex with their spouse, no longer enjoy mutual hobbies and interests with their spouse, and they are so heavily medicated it's difficult to even have a conversation with them at times. Is it justifiable to divorce in that situation? They have surely experienced a sort of "death" in their spouse, haven't they?
What about in my situation? While I am still able to intellectually connect with my husband, on most days, there are still many limitations on our physical and emotional relationship, and we aren't even 30 years old! Our dreams have been "shattered" and many days we strive to just get through the day thinking very little about the "romance" many equate with marriage. Would it be OK for my husband to leave me in this situation? Many do. I know men and women who suffer from pudendal neuralgia whose spouses have left them. It was too hard to care for a sick spouse with a rare, almost untreatable, condition and their "needs" just weren't being met so they gave up.
Robertson says to "get some ethicist besides me". So let's take his advice and see what the Bible, the ultimate moral standard, has to say about marriage and divorce.
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church" Ephesians 5:31-32 (see Ephesians 5:22-33 for a complete reference)
When people marry they become one flesh. One spouse's burdens and suffering become the other spouse's suffering. Marriage is to be a picture of Jesus Christ and his church. Jesus served and gave His life for the church (Philippians 2:7-8). Surely we can commit for life to a spouse, even if that life includes great suffering.
Dr. Russell Moore, Vice-President and Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, gave a wonderful response to Robertson's comment. He said,
"A woman or a man with Alzheimer’s can’t do anything for you. There’s no romance, no sex, no partnership, not even companionship. That’s just the point. Because marriage is a Christ/church icon, a man loves his wife as his own flesh. He cannot sever her off from him simply because she isn’t “useful” anymore.
Jesus tells us he is present in the weak, the vulnerable, the useless. He is there in the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46). Somewhere out there right now, a man is wiping the drool from an 85 year-old woman who flinches because she think he’s a stranger. No television cameras are around. No politicians are seeking a meeting with them.
But the gospel is there. Jesus is there." (source)
Jesus told us this life would be difficult (John 16:33) our finite human minds cannot understand how Alzheimer's or cancer or pudendal neuralgia could possibly be in God's plan for our loved one. But we know God is sovereignly working all things for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20) and He often uses suffering to advance His kingdom. A husband who loves and serves his wife with Alzheimer's faithfully to the end can be a beautiful picture to a dying world of Jesus' love and plan for His people.