Earp Takes Aim | Faith, Culture, Life

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Really, Pat?

As a husband who served as the primary caregiver for his spouse during her battle with metastatic breast cancer— a battle that ultimately claimed her life— I think I have probably earned the right to at least comment on the latest Pat Robertson flap. 

For the seven of you who haven’t heard, Robertson has said something so stunning, so at odds with God’s Word and our Savior’s heart— I had to confirm it twice before I was convinced he wasn’t just being misquoted or, maybe, misunderstood.


He said that a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman.  The dementia-riddled wife is, Robertson decided, “not there” anymore. 

His inane and thoroughly unbiblical advice follows on the heels of a young husband who recently left his wife [our church has been partnering in her care]— that because her cancer treatment has become too much of a burden for him. 

Both Robertson and the young-unnamed runaway have a deeply troubling understanding of the meaning of marriage.  Marriage is not just a hormone-infused playground for romantics— it is the self-sacrificing and life-crucifying decision to give to another my all-encompassing ME.  In fact the Bible even says that the husband is commanded to so love his wife so much— that he gives himself up for her.   

Just like Jesus died for his bride.

I get that a wife [or a husband] with Alzheimer’s [or cancer, or whatever tragic illness or disability] may no longer be able to do anything for the other.  Sometimes there are even seasons where there is no longer any romance, no sex, no collaboration, no companionship.  

But that’s exactly the point where a true soul-based marriage becomes a thing of rich beauty.  Precisely because marriage is an earthly snapshot of Jesus [the husband] serving his Bride [the church], no man has the option to simply sever ties with his ailing bride just because she isn’t useful to him anymore. 

I’m heartsick that a man who claims allegiance to God’s Word would so say something so vile and disgusting.  And I’m equally heartsick for a young woman who has been ruthlessly cast aside just because she’s too much trouble for her Peter Pan boy-man. 

As I fumbled for how I could speak to this [without violating at least 3 or 4 Commandments], I realized, after two days of trying— I probably couldn’t.  So I decided to do the next best thing:  I’m going to let two other people speak.  {And I thank Randy Alcorn for sharing these insights with me so that I could share them with you.}


My first guest commenter is Robertson McQuilkin, who resigned as President of Columbia Bible College in 1990 to become the full-time caregiver for his wife, Muriel, who also had Alzheimer’s.  Robertson did this, he said, because Muriel was much happier when he was with her.  

Years later he was asked if he had any regrets about the transition from college president to caregiver.  McQuilkin said,

“I never think about ‘what if.’  I don’t think ‘what if’ is in God’s vocabulary.  So I don’t even think about what I might be doing instead of changing her diaper or what I might be doing instead of spending two hours feeding her.  It’s the grace of God, I’m sure.”

“But do you ever think about what you may have given up to care for her?”

McQuilkin replied, “I don’t feel like I’ve given anything up.  Our life is not the way we plot it or plan it… All along I’ve just accepted whatever assignment the Lord gave me.  This was His assignment.  I know I’m not supposed to have that kind of reaction, but you asked me, and I have to be honest.  I never went to a support group.  I had enough of my own burdens without taking on everybody else’s.  Sometimes I have accepted an invitation to speak at one of these.  A lot of angry people.  They’re angry at God for letting this happen—‘Why me?’  They’re angry at the one they care for, and then they feel guilty about it because they can’t explain why they’re angry at them… I say, ‘in acceptance there’s peace.’”

Wow.  If I could tattoo four words on the hearts of some hurting people I know and love— some even in my own family, it would be those words:  In acceptance there’s peace.  I not only believe that, I depend, daily on it.


My other expert is Joni Eareckson Tada, who, as a disabled person, can speak to this Pat Robertson fiasco with particular insight:

“Any marriage has its challenges, but add a serious disability and they can, at times, seem overwhelming.  This is why God instituted marriage as a lifelong commitment– Heaven knows it requires vows, solemn and serious, to weather a couple through the demands of disability.

I was dismayed when this week Pat Robertson said to a nationwide audience that Alzheimer's disease is a kind of death that makes divorce justifiable.  When a Christian leader views marriage on a sliding scale, what does this say to the millions of couples who must deal daily with catastrophic injuries and illnesses?

At the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, we encounter thousands of couples that, despite living with serious disabling conditions, showcase the grace of God in their weakness every day.  Marriage is designed to be a picture of God’s sacrificial love for us.  Alzheimer’s disease is never an ‘accident’ in a marriage; it falls under the purview of God’s sovereignty.  In the case of someone with Alzheimer's, this means God's unconditional and sacrificial love has an opportunity to be even more gloriously displayed in a life together!”


I haven’t paid much attention to anything Robertson has had to say for a long, long time.  But this week’s insanity requires more than a roll of the eyes and a cluck of the tongue. 

Why?  Because the faithful, loving, and giving husband is a picture of Jesus Himself.  It’s one of the few ways that we still know that He is the God of all love. 

So next time an aging man bends over to wipe some food away from his beloved wife— except she flinches and brushes his hand away and maybe even scowls at him as though he was a stranger— in that moment when he softly reassures her and kisses her forehead— that’s when Jesus is best seen. 

You may not find Him in the mammoth giga-church with her 75 campuses and Starbucks lattes.  You may not see Him in a lot of the places you think you might find him.

But when a husband gives himself fully to his wife [even though she can no longer give anything back to him], that’s where Jesus is.  


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