Back in the days when I taught math, I often helped my students with a complicated problem by presenting them with a more obvious problem that was similar. Solving the more obvious problem would usually give them the tools they needed to figure out the more complicated one.
This is the reason I recently re-watched the 1946 movie The Stranger, starring Loretta Young and Orson Welles. The problem and solution in this movie were just so . . . obvious.
Welles plays a Nazi in hiding in the U.S., one who has managed to disguise his identity so thoroughly that he now teaches in a boys’ academy and somehow arranges to exchange marriage vows with a sweet young thing.
But the sweet young thing is actually not a thing but a woman named Mary Longstreet. At some point in the movie she finds out she’s married to a Nazi. Her brother states the obvious solution: (arrest the Nazi and) annul the marriage.
It seemed an open-and-shut case for U.S. citizens of the 1940s that if you marry a Nazi your marriage can and should be annulled. How many Christians would have told Mary Longstreet she should have stayed married to the Nazi and submitted and tried harder and prayed more? How many would tell her she should just be content?
I think even many who “have a high view of marriage” (by which they mean they believe divorce should be available only for physical abandonment or adultery, and in some cases, life-threatening physical abuse) would be able to see that it’s obvious this marriage should be annulled.
(Would the “permanence view of marriage” proponents think this marriage to a Nazi should be annulled? I doubt it. If Mary Longstreet made a vow to “forsake all others” and “keep only unto thee as long as we both shall live,” then I think they would say she should stay married to the Nazi. If they were to say this marriage is allowed to be annulled, I would be interested in hearing their reasoning.)
As it turned out, Mary Longstreet didn’t need the annulment because her husband was conveniently impaled by a wooden sword wielded by a clock angel (don’t ask). But in most states of this nation, even in 2017, in similar cases an annulment would be impossible. In the case of a criminal life before or during marriage, in most states the only solution is divorce. Even in the case of one whose secret life is as heinous as that of a Nazi.
So now, suppose a secret evildoer marries you, one who keeps a convincing front as a kind college professor or a caring church leader or even just an average businessman. His covert reasons for marrying you may include the desire for a cover for his heinous activity, the desire to be “normalized” by you, or even the desire to have a handy object or objects for some of his heinous activity.
From the beginning, this Nazi-like evildoer scorned the vows he was making (and you made your vows under false pretenses that he had taken his seriously). From the beginning this marriage was a fraud.
It’s not very likely you’ll discover or recognize the fraudulence of the marriage or his heinous activity within the first few months of marriage the way Mary Longstreet did. It’s more likely you’ll find out after years of marriage and several children. And it’s more likely you’ll find out not in a burst of revelation, but as a slow dawning over time, as little bits of information force themselves into your awareness against your will. After all, you don’t want to see them because you vowed to love and honor your husband “till death do us part.”
But now let’s say a revelation occurs.
Maybe it’s a discovery that he’s dealing in child pornography. Maybe it’s the revelation that he’s been with countless women all these years, since even back when you were engaged. Maybe it’s the discovery of his involvement with a secret organization. Maybe it’s the discovery that he is sexually abusing your son or daughter.
In cases like these (and many others), you might feel almost as if you were married to a closet Nazi, so little do you know or understand him, so deep is the evil you fear he may be involved in.
But in most states in the U.S., you won’t be allowed to annul your marriage—you have to divorce. And then there’s the very real possibility you’ll be shamed and blamed by your church. Who will understand your concerns about the evil? Who will even listen to you and believe you? For them, it’s not obvious.
And what’s more, the teachings of many in our churches, though they claim to stand against wickedness, point us Christians to continually turn from recognizing the evil in our midst in order to keep on focusing on the sins in our own hearts. (More about that here.)
So they may turn away from you. They may tell you your marriage is designed to kill you anyway. They may heap on you betrayal upon betrayal.
Unlike Mary Longstreet’s marriage, yours may not be ended with the vindication of a crowd watching the evildoer being impaled by a wooden sword wielded by a clock angel.
But if this almost-like-a-Nazi account reflects your experience, I just want to remind you that you’re doing the right thing.
You never imagined it would be like this, that your dreams would turn to such nightmares. You didn’t know you were living in a world of such hypocrisy. But as painful as it may be, standing against evil is the right thing to do.
And there are those of us praying for you, that the Lord of Hosts will fill you with the strength of His Holy Spirit, to be able to strongly face each new day with its new challenges in facing off with evil.
We’re praying for you that He will bring stalwart friends into your life, friends who love you and hear you and believe you. Friends who stand with you in the warfare. Friends who will not turn away.
We are, after all, the church. It’s just so obvious.
With much love,