Russell Moore powerfully critiques Pat Robertson’s comment that a person with Alzheimer’s disease is essentially dead, so their spouse would be free to divorce them and remarry. I would add that Robertson seems to subscribe to a Platonic (and Cartesian) dualism, assuming that a person’s mind is essentially them, so that if their mind is no longer functioning properly then they are already dead. Is there no essential role for our body, or is it only a shell that houses the real us?
It also seems that Robertson has opened the door wide for euthanizing the elderly who suffer from dementia. If they are “dead” enough to divorce, then on what grounds should we keep them alive?
Robertson’s remark reminds me of recent comments on marriage made by the actress Olivia Wilde, which I turned into a devotional for Our Daily Journey. I wasn’t going to post it here, because I thought it would be too obvious for readers of this blog, but Robertson’s comment makes me think that I can’t assume too much.
Here it is:
Olivia Wilde is a movie star who divorced her Italian prince because their marriage was requiring more effort and returning less fun. “I don’t think love should be work,” Olivia told an interviewer, “My parents have been married for 35 years. They said, ‘You have to work at it. That’s what it takes.’ But we tried, and it wasn’t making us happy.”
Olivia’s comments reflect a misunderstanding of both the meaning and the motivation of love. She wrongly thinks that love is nothing more than a feeling. Worse, she thinks that the purpose of love is to please herself. She suggests that love exists to make her happy, and if she isn’t happy then she is no longer in love.
Olivia believes her problem is that “I’m a ridiculous romantic. I have very high standards for every part of life—my work, my relationships, food, love. I can’t just pretend.” Actually, her standards aren’t too high but too low. She doesn’t even know what love is.
The Apostle John declares that true love is most clearly revealed on the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice proves that love isn’t a feeling, unless you count the feeling of despair that welled up in his cry, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34). Love does not seek its own happiness, but requires the cross work of sacrificing ourselves for another. Paul explains that love “never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:7). In other words, it often feels a lot like work.
Love isn’t guaranteed to bring us happiness, but it is guaranteed to hurt. C. S. Lewis wrote: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.” Love anyway. It’s worth the hurt.