This question was asked of me most recently by a young woman who tragically lost her husband at an early age. I wrote my response, and I share it now with others:
On that hopeful, joyful wedding day, none pay too much thought to the implications behind the lengthy vows of ….richer and poorer, sickness and health… and especially the concluding… “til death do us part”. As we start out our marriage, we are focused on the strength we will need to navigate the years ahead – which is a good way for us to begin.
I have met with couples before their the wedding day who have been honest enough to ask me if it is not contradictory to quote 1 Corinthians 13 “Love never ends” while at the same time take a vow “til death to us part.” I appreciate this question because it does hold us in a peculiar tension of our faith. Love is indeed everlasting. So why put an "end cap" to the marriage vow?
I can personally testify how I know for certain that love never ends. Love doesn’t stop when two people are separated by geographical space or time. Love doesn't end when we say goodbye. Love doesn't end when death separates us. That is a tenet of our Christian faith: Nothing can separate us from the love of God. The veil between heaven and earth is a holy mystery where love crosses both ways. Indeed, love has no end.
So why take a vow at marriage that defines an ending? The reason is not to declare an end to love – but rather to give blessing to your spouse that if we are parted by death, our earthly commitment to fidelity is released with a blessing of peace and freedom. Old Testament law and New Testament scripture permits (and in some cases encourages) widows to remarry.
The question becomes not a legal one “Am I allowed to marry again” but really becomes a more personal one regarding the spirit of love that is everlasting – Our question becomes “Am I able to love again? Am I able to remarry?”
To answer this I would invite you to consider two things: (1) what scripture tells us about heaven (2) the blessing behind the words of the marriage vow.
Regarding Heaven, this is a lengthy one but I will pull together some basics.
- Heaven is the place where everyone will be in close relationship to God. We will not have sorrow or pain. Revelation 7:17 and Revelation 21:1-4
- Our loved ones in heaven can see what we are doing. Those who love us are cheering us on as we live out our days on earth. Luke 15:7, Hebrews 12:1
When a loved one dies, we know their love remains, but scripture shows that they continue to be aware of the loved ones who are still on earth. This was a hard one for me personally because when my mother died, my siblings turned against each other. All I could think of is how this woman who sought peace could now see the bitter fighting of her children. I concluded she must certainly be upset. But then I realized that in heaven, she doesn’t weep for us, rather like it says in Hebrews 12, she is joined with others in heaven who “cheer on” us still living out the days we have. Like watching us run a race, she is on the sideline encouraging us to do right, to chose love, to turn from fighting. She can indeed see, but she knows that the finish line is peace and reconciliation with God and one another.
Take some time to consider heaven and the life that your spouse now has in this place. It is a place where the earthly obstacles that kept us from loving fully are gone. He has no more sorrow, guilt, shame, struggle – so he can love you more widely and from a place of everlasting love. At the same time, consider that he wants you to “run the race that is set before you” – to believe that life is worth living, that love is worth finding and hope is worth seeking even in the darkest of days.
Finally, I go back to that day when you stood before one another and took the traditional vows. That vow is a powerful source of strength. We know it is the vow that kept us yoked through difficult times – but it is also a vow that gives a blessing of benediction. By saying “til death do us part” it permits our spouse to indeed live the life that is set before them in the event that one person dies first. What a gift you gave each other - that if one of us is left on earth, we may have a blessing to live out our days with wholeness and peace while at the same time proclaiming that our love is everlasting.