How to Get Joy When Your Spouse is Dying (An Answer to Pat Robertson)

Paul Dean
Paul Dean
2011 23 Sep

Perhaps no recent statement has better captured so glaringly the bent of our culture than Pat Robertson’s advice to a man whose wife has Alzheimer’s: “he should divorce her and start all over again.” This counsel has generated great outrage and much scrutinyto be sure. But it’s that same cruel sentiment of self-centeredness that underlies most of the decisions we make and attitudes we take in this culture as a whole and in our everyday lives as individuals. All Robertson has done is to reveal just how much we’ve bought into the spirit of the age without realizing it. If you stand in the rain long enough, you’ll get soaked. And what’s worse, not only have we bought into the self-centered spirit of the age, even if we’re appalled by Robertson’s statement as we should be, it’s our captivity to that spirit that robs us of real joy when we’re going through a tragic time in our lives.

It was a man seeing another woman because his wife has Alzheimer’s that prompted the question Robertson was answering. Such self-centeredness is not unusual when dealing with an ailing or dying spouse. In twenty years of pastoral ministry, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, and there’s a lot of ugly in these kinds of circumstances. This man has abandoned his wife through adultery and Robertson has advised him to abandon her through divorce. But I’ve seen others abandon their spouses by sticking them in nursing homes and forgetting about them, by ignoring them in their greatest moments of need, by getting on with their lives and leaving the care of their life-partners to others, by refusing to spend time with them or visit them if they have to be in a health-care facility of some kind, by expressing anger and frustration at them for things beyond their control, by not seeking to understand what’s going on with their ailing loved ones or how to deal with it in a caring way, and so much more.

I had a woman tell me some time back she couldn’t give her husband his much needed medication during the night because she needed her sleep. How much sleep does a new mother get? A man told me he didn’t want his wife coming home from the hospital for some recuperation before an upcoming surgery because he didn’t want to have to physically help her out of bed two or three times a day. Inability is one thing but unwillingness is something else. And these sentiments are not that uncommon; that’s the cultural air we breathe.

We’re told in the Scriptures that “in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves” (2 Tim. 3:1-2). When a Christian minister tells a man to forsake his vows before God and abandon his wife in her greatest hour of need, we do indeed live in perilous times; we do indeed love ourselves more than God and others. And that is exactly the wrong way to find peace and joy: to focus on self and abandon God and others.

Such focus is the complete opposite of the gospel. Robertson said this man’s wife with Alzheimer’s was dead to him. The gospel tells us that God loved us when we were unlovable. He demonstrated His great love for us by dying for us while we were dead to Him (Rom. 5:8). And marriage is a picture of the gospel and Christ’s love for His bride, the church; He will never leave us or forsake us. To forsake your spouse is to deny the very thing marriage is to display: God’s unfailing love for His people. It is to deny the reality of God Himself.

Think about this: what puts God’s character and power on display more: abandoning one’s wife because he’s not happy (for obviously God wants us to be happy); or giving all you have to care for your wife because she can’t care for herself? But here’s an equally significant question: from where does real joy come? Doesn’t it come from glorifying God; from putting His character on display and finding your satisfaction in Him? Jesus is the true water that satisfies (Jn. 4:10); the true bread that alleviates your hunger (Jn. 6:51); and the true treasure in the field (Matt. 13:44). In Him is pleasure forever (Ps. 16:11).

Does joy come in chasing personal pleasures at the expense of others? Is there ultimate peace in that? Does one lay up treasure in heaven by chasing after a new woman because he’s tired of the old one? Ponder carefully these words: “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Heb. 11:24-26). That’s how you find joy when your spouse is dying: you trust the promises and God and live them out; you know and believe that chasing personal pleasure at the expense of God and others brings only a momentary happiness; you know and believe that even suffering under the providential care of Christ is better than the temporary pleasure of sin; and you keep your eyes on the reward which is Christ Himself and life (joy) in Him long after your momentary suffering is over.

Our culture has sold us a lie. Is it really all about me? Isn’t this self-focus rooted in evolutionary thought; in survival of the fittest (me)? Isn’t abandoning your spouse with Alzheimer’s because, as Robertson says, “she’s gone” the same logic as the promoters of abortion use? They argue an unborn, and depending upon whose making the argument, even a live-born baby isn’t able to operate at the same mental level as you or me and is therefore not a fully-functioning person and is therefore able to be discarded without any moral consequences. If inconvenient babies can be aborted, why can’t inconvenient spouses be abandoned? Such is the lie Satan is selling in clever disguise in the thousand ways we are selfish every day. God says the way to find joy is to do nothing “through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind, consider others better than yourself. Look out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3-5).

My wife told me the other day if I was stricken by something catastrophic that she would not abandon me. If she had to help me out of bed she would do her best. She said we might hit the floor together but she would be there for me. I would do the same for her. Not caring for her would never enter my mind. None of us want to have to go through these things, but if my wife and I have to for one reason or another, and we end up hitting the floor together, what a day of joy that will be – because we’ll be living out the gospel – together.


Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at