Are You Married to a Judas or a Peter?
A Fallen World
Having spoken for more than two decades about Love and Respect and counseling couples for even longer than that, I have heard more than a few complaints from husbands and wives about their spouses, especially in emails:
“This man will never love me the way you talk about! You would not believe what I have been putting up with all these years!”
“Respect me? Ha! My wife has never even heard the word! All she does is put me down and demoralize me. How can I get out of this marriage?”
For sure, Scripture attests that we live in a fallen world where some people choose the dark side. King David describes the wicked person like this: “Even as they lie in bed they make evil plans. They commit themselves to a sinful way of life. They never say no to what is wrong” (Psalm 36:4 NIVR). The Proverbs also speak of evil people and their premeditations: “One who plans to do evil, men will call a schemer” (Proverbs 24:8), and still worse, “Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 15:26).
Scripture also points to how an evil will can destroy a marriage. A husband can love his mate, but deep within her soul, she turns her heart against what is good. She becomes an adulterous wayward wife with seductive words “who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God” (see Proverbs 2:16-17). And in Malachi 2:13-14, the prophet tells wayward men that God no longer honors their offerings, and instead He is “acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (NIV).
I get a lot of mail from spouses who have been the victims of evil treatment by their partners. These partners decided to no longer act in goodwill, and now their spouses are wondering what submission and respect should look like in these unfortunate situations.
As I wrote on page 219 of Love & Respect:
We have already seen that Paul teaches that there are times when wives should submit to their husbands as head of the household (see Ephesians 5:22-23). Does this mean that a wife must submit to something illegal, wrong, or evil? Should she go along with being beaten by her husband or watching him beat the children? Should she submit to his plans to do something dishonest or unethical? The clear scriptural answer is, of course not, because that would be preposterous. When a man acts in this way, he is not a good-willed husband, and he forfeits his right to be head and to be followed. A wife's submission to God takes precedence over her submission to her husband. She is not to sin against Christ in order to defer to her husband. (Read the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.) And, sadly, let me add, a wife may need to physically separate from her husband (1 Corinthians 7:11) or divorce him for adultery (Matthew 19:9).
Alternatives to Evil Will
Now let me address the other side of this issue. Certainly, many of those who write me may truly be victims of what appears to be “evil will” by their spouse. However, it is a serious thing to make the severe judgment that someone is entirely evil willed, and for those I meet or hear from who make this judgment, I like to offer some alternative thoughts.
Often people can pass too severe a judgment on their spouses, convincing themselves they are married to Hitler’s distant cousin. But we must be careful never to label a Peter as a Judas, even though on a particular occasion, Peter did act like Judas. As you recall, Judas betrayed Jesus into the hands of His enemies. Since that fateful act, Judas has been seen as one of the most sinister traitors in all of history. But Peter was also a traitor, denying his Lord three times, just as Jesus said he would. (For an account of both acts of treachery, see Matthew 26.) Everyone knows, however, there is a 180-degree difference between Peter’s spirit and the spirit of Judas. Full of remorse but not repentance, Judas committed suicide (see Matthew 27:1-5). However, Peter matched his remorse with repentance and was restored in fellowship with his Lord (see John 21).
“Everyone knows, however, there is a 180-degree difference between Peter’s spirit and the spirit of Judas.”
To repeat, when a spouse fails to do good and does bad, this does not automatically mean a spouse lacks goodwill. Everyone is going to have regrettable moments in life. King David had as many as anyone, including adultery, murder, and deception. But both before his kingship and long afterward, Scripture calls him a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). David was not evil willed; he just succumbed to some evil things.
One also must be careful not to conclude your spouse is evil willed until you have honestly looked at what you did prior to what you concluded as “evil will” from your spouse. Your spouse may react to something you did that violated them at the core of their being, and so they reacted in a way that violated you. This does not excuse any sinful reaction on your spouse’s part. As I have said for years, “My response is my responsibility.” So even if you are guilty of something that prompted your spouse’s poor reaction, they still chose how to respond and will be held accountable for that. Nevertheless, we must honestly ask ourselves if we did or said something that spurred our spouse in making the poor decision he or she did.
Allies and Enemies
Why do I caution people to withhold judgment of another as evil willed? If you are trying to live out Love and Respect, your spouse’s feistiness, nastiness, or selfishness must be distinguished from evil character. Because once you profile another as evil willed, there is little hope of reconciliation. Once impugning the motives of another, intimacy with that person will disappear. You will no longer be allies but enemies. For all practical purposes, the relationship is over. Observe what happened to David and Michal after his wife wrongfully condemned him for his exuberant dancing as the ark was being brought into Jerusalem. “How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants’ maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!” (2 Samuel 6:20). In verse 23, we learn that Michal “had no child to the day of her death.” That is the last mention of Michal in all of the Bible. Her story with David was more or less finished at that point.
Of course, what David had done to disgust Michal in this instance was far from evil but was, in fact, the opposite. However, real evil does rear itself in many marriages and must be handled carefully, according to Scripture. But as in all things, we must be cautious about looking at the facts and not rush to judgment.
Your spouse may have messed up royally. More than just having a bad day, he or she may have made some decisions in life that have EMOTIONALLY hurt you for weeks, months, or even years. But is your spouse truly evil willed, with evil intentions and no remorse? Or are they perhaps ignorant of some of the EMOTIONAL harm they are causing you? Do they still have goodwill?
A slow and cautious answer to these questions might be the key to preserving “what God has joined together” (Matthew 19:6). Proceed with extreme caution.
Questions to Consider
- Do you know of someone you would consider wicked or evil, according to Psalm 36:4 and Proverbs 24:8? How slow were you to make that judgment? Why?
- Emerson wrote, “Often people can pass too severe a judgment on their spouses, convincing themselves they are married to Hitler’s distant cousin.” Do you agree or disagree? Why? Have you ever made an exaggerated and unfair judgment of someone in this way?
- Why is it important to first look at our own words or actions that preceded our spouse’s actions that we want to judge as having come from their “evil will”?
- Assuming you are not in harm’s way of any kind of physical abuse, why must we be very slow to impugn our spouse’s motives and proclaim him or her as having “evil will”?