By Charles Colson
April 2000 –I still remember my sadness on hearing that an old friend and someone I believed was a sincere Christian, was leaving his wife of many years. I was shocked and disappointed. I wondered: How could this man, committed to both his spouse and his Lord, fall in love with another woman?
An essay by the late Sheldon Vanauken helps answer the question and reminds us that such temptations are all too common.
Vanauken, best known as the author of the powerful love story titled A Severe Mercy, also published a collection of essays called Under the Mercy, which explores these feelings.
In one essay called “The Loves,” Vanauken describes how a Christian friend named John shocked him by announcing that he was leaving his wife to marry another woman. John explained his sudden change of heart by saying, “It seemed so good, so right. That’s when we knew we had to get the divorces. We belonged together.”
Vanauken then describes a conversation with a friend named Diana, who left her husband for another man. Diana defended herself with virtually the same words: “It was just so good and right with Roger that I knew it would be wrong to go on with Paul.”
As Vanauken explains, both John and Diana were “invoking a higher law: the feeling of goodness and rightness. A feeling so powerful that it swept away ... whatever guilt they would otherwise have felt” for what they were doing to their families.
When Christian couples marry, they often say, “till death us do part.” But what many unconsciously mean is, “till failing love do us part.”
In reality, many people love their spouse, not as a person but as someone who evokes certain feelings. Their wedding vow was not so much to the person as to that feeling.
So when such people fall in love with someone else, they transfer that vow to the other person. And why not? says Vanauken, “if vows are nothing but feelings?”
Vanauken dubs these thrilling emotions “The Sanction of Eros.” When John and Diana spoke of the goodness of their love, they were appealing to something higher than judgment, higher even than their own desires. But as Vanauken points out, “the sacred approval they felt could not possibly have come from [God,] whose disapproval of divorce is explicit in Scripture. It is Eros, the pagan god of lovers, who confers this sanction upon the worshipers at his altar.”
“The pronouncement of Eros that this love is so good and so right that all betrayals are justified is simply a lie,” Vanauken writes. But worst of all, few people are prepared “for the amazing sanction of Eros.” Those caught in its thrall are convinced that their love is different, even sacred. They do not dream, the writer says, “that every other lover has the same assurance.”
And that’s why pastors have to work hard to warn engaged couples about this deadly appeal. At some point, Eros will almost certainly beckon with an exciting new love – and the feelings of rightness, and even sacredness, may be overwhelming.
Couples need to know that it is only when Christ is at the heart of their marriage that they will be able to resist this ancient pagan call.
Copyright© 2000 Prison Fellowship Ministries. This article is a transcript of Breakpoint with Chuck Colson, a radio ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries. It is reprinted with permission.
Working to restore marriages
The institution of marriage has been under intense assault for four decades, and its sanctity has been staunchly defended by Christians during that time. Unfortunately, when it comes to the biggest threat to marriage – divorce – Christians are just as susceptible as nonbelievers.
In 1976 Mike McManus, a Christian man, had a marriage that was in danger of failing, and he didn’t even know it. Persuaded by other couples at church to take his wife to a weekend marriage encounter, McManus felt it might be a way to make a good marriage even better. Little did he know that his wife had been considering divorce, due to his workaholic nature and seeming indifference to his wife and family.
That experience inspired McManus to start “Marriage Savers,” a program that assists local churches in establishing a “community marriage policy” that includes intensive marital training for engaged couples. McManus’ book – also named Marriage Savers – has helped countless people protect their marriages from failure.
From across the country come success stories where entire communities have seen their divorce rates drop following the initiation of the program. In Kansas City (both in Missouri and Kansas), for example, divorces plunged 35% in only two years. While certainly exceptional in terms of overall success, Kansas City represents the impact that such community marriage policies have had elsewhere: declines in 24 cities over the past 19 years have been between 20 and 300 times the national decline in the divorce rate.
For information or to order the book, write to: Marriage Savers, 9311 Harrington Dr., Potomac, MD 20854. Make your check payable to Marriage Savers ($15 for the book, plus $3 for postage and handling).