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Wedding Vows, Presidential Oaths, and Promises to God

Does it make sense to make promises to one another and to God that we know we can’t keep?

Started thinking about this again after reading an article by David Lapp in the Wall Street Journal Opinion Section. Lapp wrote about engaged couples who want to write their own wedding vows, or to have someone else do it for them. He mentioned an online service that advertises “Instant Wedding Vows” and offers to have ghostwriters “capture your personal voice while encompassing the appropriate etiquette and emotion.”  Lapp acknowledges that this probably reflects a desire to say something more honest than traditional wedding vows that promise to love, cherish, and to honor one another until death.

But Lapp also sees problems with customized vows– honest as they may be.

To support his point Lapp talks about what it would be like to have incoming presidents of the United States say in their oath of office “I will try as hard as I can to the job of president” rather than “I will faithfully execute the office the president of the United States.” Again, Lapp acknowledges that such words might come closer to reality but assumes most of us would not like to see such a compromise.

As I read what Lapp said about the merits of marriage vows, and presidential oaths of office, got to thinking again about something we find in the unfolding record of the Bible. At a number of points the people of Israel promise God that they will do everything he tells them to do.

For instance, the 24th chapter of Exodus says, “And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do” (Exod 24:3).

Looking back we see how quickly those good intentions unraveled. Within a few days of promising to be faithful to God, the people of Israel were worshiping a golden calf at the foot of Sinai, even as Moses was meeting with God at the top. The Bible tells the same kind of story over and over ( Joshua 1:16, and Joshua 24:24).

The same thought struck me a couple of weeks ago as I saw a new believer in Christ baptized and led by the baptizer in a promise to follow God in a way that none of us ever do.

Sure seems to me that one of God’s purposes in telling us Israel’s story was to show us how futile and naive our commitments can be– while also reminding us of the seriousness and gravity of the consequences of not loving and being faithful to him and to one another.

So how do we handle important commitments that deserve the highest level of devotion–with all honesty, and without sounding naive? Do we lower the bar and water down our responsibility and accountability in the process?

Does  saying at the end, “So help me God,” solve the problem?

Is it worth thinking about to increase our sense of dependence upon the Lord in everything, knowing that–in one sense– Jesus reminds us that, by our own words we will be “justified or condemned (Matt 12:37).

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27 Responses to “Wedding Vows, Presidential Oaths, and Promises to God”

  1. ttl7praz says:

    Wow, I am excited to be one of the first to leave a comment :-) Some of us don’t need much to get us going! I for one am so grateful for God’s grace and His mercy because without it none of us would stand an inkling of a chance. I remember (and I am sure I am not alone) when I used to think how stupid of Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit and if that had been me I would have given that serpent a resounding NO. But it does not take long to realize that God has given us everything we need to live justly while here on earth and by golly, though we know better, we still mess up, In essence each of us represent both Eve and Adam. I am thankful that God “keeps it real” throughout His word that even those who had a direct encounter with Him or one of His miracles still can and did mess up. Oh but because of his precious grace, mercy, patience and long-suffering, we who are but filthy rags in His eye can still come to His throne and ask for forgiveness and know that according to His word, if we are sincere, He will forgive us over and over again. To lower the bar and/or water down our committment to Him would demean His power and ability to love and forgive us in spite of ourselves and dilute the significance of sending His Son to die for our sins.

  2. afranz says:

    I had to check with Phil. 3:13, but I’m thinking that without the “mark” to strive for, we would be in a sorry state. Thank the Lord we can turn over our failures to Him and keep “pressing on”. Let’s keep the bar set high.

  3. Charis says:

    Numbers 30:2
    ” If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”

    The Lord led me to renounce unbiblical wedding vows I had made: unilaterally and without my husband’s permission. I did not divorce my husband nor renounce ALL my vows; I did not throw my husband out along with the bad doctrine.

    First I repented with God for making a bad vow and I renounced the vow out loud with God. When we repeated the vows at our 25th anniversary, I read them without the bad doctrine.

    My personal experience with bad wedding vows is my words had power, and the bad vows had the power of death to the marriage. When I believed that my husband was “in charge” of me and I attempted to walk in obedience to him, I was committing the sin of idolatry.
    I was rendering lordship and masterhood to my husband instead of God.

    There are times when “obeying” was literally impossible because his “commands” had me in two different places at once or required 48 hour days with no sleep, so I made a vow which was IMPOSSIBLE to keep- and that is LAW, BONDAGE, AND DEATH!!!

  4. paulruppert says:

    Promises are words; we create them as vows go with a sense of love and a wanting of commitment to the other. In a sense, our promises are to ourselves also, a reminder of what we need from ourselves and also our better half, or maybe our job whatever it is. Yes we will answer to Jesus in the end for every word said; I have some that will knock to my feet, and others I may be praised for. All in all, we must always remember God’s word of “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Commitments, we all need them; otherwise we will go through life with no goal to achieve. God made us to have a goal, a goal He Himself has set for us. To strive for anything less is failure. Yes we will fail, and then we ask Jesus to show us the way. We do this sort of thing all the time. God Bless to all.
    Paul Ruppert

  5. Loretta Beavis says:

    I bought car insurance, but never read the policy in detail … until, yup, I had an accident!
    I’ve accepted jobs because I needed the money, signing contracts promising to work in adverse conditions and ended up leaving for reasons sensible people wouldn’t have tolerated in the first place.
    I’ve made vows and never put value on the details until … guess what?

    So I had to learn that I have to renew myself daily with God, through my relationship with Him-prayer-and ask the Holy Spirit (I do a lot of begging) to help me do what I can’t do by myself, though I try to–waaaay too much. I probably hold the world record for reading and following “self-help” and “how-to” books…

    Hebrews Chapter 6:4-6 (KJ) says to me that once I have received God’s heavenly gift (tasted) that if I fall away ( not keep my promises ) I’m going to WANT to RENEW my spirit, repent (turn toward God, away from my sin). It also says to me, that when I have “fallen away” that Jesus is crucified in me “afresh, and put Him to an open shame.” Eeeeyuu :( why do I do that !?!

    Jesus paid for my sin, past, present, future. I will fail at keeping promises; but, each time, I have the hope that I will get better at evaluating the details of my vows, comparing them to God’s Word and if I LISTEN to the Holy Spirit, my accident record will improve!

    I love my Jesus!

  6. su says:


    I’m not able to read all the comments but as I struggle/d with this very conundrum over the years, the best the Lord has shown me is:

    Commitments/promises are to be made with a/n ability/intent/desire to keep such oaths or vows / to follow God in so much that these sentiments (and the outcome) is dependent on Him.

    Sorry, I’m not the best at writing. If you choose some the word selection choices offered, it maybe made more clear.

    Even as I do share, though, I realize that maybe this was God’s plan all along — we must lean on Him continually, constantly and completely (giving even our reservations to Him)..

    FFT (Food for Thought).

  7. su says:

    additional thoughts:

    Drawing near to Him, wherein He draws near to us.

    He’s given us His Word / Spirit / Prayer and other means to grow closer in Him. Always knowing / trusting He paid the earnest for His children and will not forget to come for them (because not only was a down payment made but we are bought in FULL)!!!

    Now, living this out on a daily basis is the crux we carry everyday. But God. He is The Faithful One.

  8. su says:

    Last(ing) note (because it is from God:

    Ps. 16:5
    Ps. 28:7
    Ps. 31:24
    Ps. 57:7
    and the one I often grasp/ed as tightly as possible,
    and you reminded me of:
    Psalms 73:26

  9. dependent says:

    Mart glad you included the term ‘accountability’ in your question. It seems to me that a vow is only as good as the accountability surrounding it–both the integrity of those who hold us to our public vows, as well as our willingness to submit to same. And accountability is only as good as our willingness to submit.

    Within the family of God, we would all do well to transparently let our nays be nays and our yay’s be yay’s. All the while submitting one to another and being careful not to consider ourselves better than our brother or sister. It is in this spirit that true accountability can flourish and the gentle rebuke and restoration of our loved one can/should be a healing salve and a buttress to our vows.

    Unfortunately, pride gets in the way despite our good intentions to honor our commitments–and a poverty of trusting relationships hinders healthy accountability.

    But thank God, we can freely give and receive grace as we walk humbly before our Lord who extends the same to us when we fail to reach the mark.

    Thanks for the reminder to think more carefully before vowing promises to others or to God–lest I allow a creeping, casual attitude dilute my integrity before God and man. My conscience is pricked–thank you!
    1Pe 5:5 In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
    Rom 12:10 Be devoted to one another with mutual love, showing eagerness in honoring one another.
    Eph 5:21 and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
    Php 2:1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy,
    Php 2:2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose.
    Php 2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.
    Php 2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.

  10. sjd says:

    This is just a quick response without much time in thought, but, are we told to make vows or commitments to God in the New Covenant?

    I am to told to repent and believe/receive/trust Christ. I do not see where I make any promises to Him. I simply need to live by faith, the same way I came to Christ in the first place. Even He was the One that drew me to Himself.

    He has done everything for me and I receive Him and His finished work. Out of gratitude I long to serve Him.

    And even then, it is not by my effort but by allowing Christ to live through me. “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” He has supplied me with everything I need for life and godliness. He is the One who has made the promises to me.

    The fruit or lack of fruit in my life is evidence of how I am trusting in the LIFE within me. I do not have to worry about making a promise to God or not, since I am unable to keep them.

    In this world we live and work in the world of contracts. That is part of this “life”. I depend on Christ to live up to my responsibilities in the midst of those contracts. I think these are different than vows.

    I need to be careful to enter into those commitments that are Scriptural. Then I continue to live a dependent life on Christ.

  11. SFDBWV says:

    Ecclesiastes 5:4 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed
    :5 Better it is that thou shoudest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

    When I first started going to church as an adult, the Pastor would have us read from the back of the Hymnal. People all read aloud as instructed to do ( responsive reading). I read what everyone was promising God that they would do. Clearly no one intended to actualy do any of this stuff, so I questioned the Pastor on the Matter. He responded by having more responsive reading.

    I for one do not make promises to God, other than through my actions. This is one guilt trip I am not going to hang on myself.

    As far as wedding vows. Where in scripture is the ritual of a wedding outlined and the wording presented as to what promises we are to make to God?

    I think we should be very careful what we say…Maybe, think first.

  12. steffer says:

    Our Bible Study teacher, when he got married, said that it’s unwise to make vows that you know are going to be broken. He and his intended approached the ceremony as a covenant relationship where both covenanted before God to, with the Holy Spirit’s help, carry out His purpose for their marriage and their lives together. My husband and I are approaching retirement (though we’ll never retire from serving our Lord) and we’ve learned a lot over the last 31 years of marriage. Yes, we do need to take a look at what we’re doing and weigh it with Scripture and ask ourselves, honestly before God, “Are we carrying on the traditions of men, or are we doing something that really pleases our Lord?”

    I was glad to read many of the posts, recorded in March of this year, in response to “Feeling Down.” I’ve wrestled with depression most of my life and consequently much rejection from Believers because they thought I was rejecting the ministry of the Holy Spirit, to feel that down. At present, I’m struggling very much. I lost my precious mother a year and a half ago to leukemia and emphysema. I know she’s with Jesus, but I still miss her and ache over the suffering she experienced. I’m dealing with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and the ensuing horrific nausea that comes with the medications that “help” the two illnesses. But, at least I’m finally losing weight! (but I could still use your prayers for the trimming down efforts, thanks). I have tumors on both ears, constant ringing in my ears (will I be able to hear the shofar when it sounds?), in addition to a growth on my thyroid. I’ve told the Lord Jesus that He can heal me any time He wants to. When we feel very ill, we tend to call on Him more…at least, I feel like that’s true of me. When everything’s going well, it gets too easy to take my focus off our Lord and Savior and place it on the rising waves. And, honestly…as depressed as I am now (not trying to bog anyone down, just being frank here), I find it hard to concentrate on what the posts are saying. I’m sure the “Feeling Down” people could probably relate to that. It would be nice to sleep through the night and feel better. The phrase, “How long, O Lord?” comes to mind here. This is extremely difficult to plod through. What makes it tougher is that I’m a witnessing Christian. I sent a tract to my niece who recently graduated from high school…a two-day drive away, too far for me to ride as sick as I’ve been. She’s such a sweet girl and I pray for her daily, but her parents take her to a church that celebrates the blueberry festival on Christmas morning. Nothing like a blueberry to make us all remember the Birth of Christ! In other words, no–I’m not that important, but if we’re obeying Christ, we’re a threat to the enemy. This makes what I’m going through even harder. I’m sorry to ramble. Please pray for me, and for those to whom I’ve witnessed.

  13. phpatato says:


    I too have struggled a long time with depression. It’s a horrible horrible thing to have to live with. I can relate to finding it hard to concentrate on what the posts are saying…I find it hard to concentrate, period.

    My thoughts are prayers are with you.

  14. phpatato says:

    This is off topic but I just received this via email. I wanted to share it with you……


    I liked the old paths, when
    Moms were at home.
    Dads were at work.
    Brothers went into the army.
    And sisters got married BEFORE having children!

    Crime did not pay;
    Hard work did;
    And people knew the difference.

    Moms could cook;
    Dads would work;
    Children would behave.

    Husbands were loving;
    Wives were supportive;
    And children were polite.

    Women wore the jewelry;
    And Men wore the pants.
    Women looked like ladies;
    Men looked like gentlemen;
    And children looked decent.

    People loved the truth,
    And hated a lie;
    They came to church to get IN,
    Not to get OUT!

    Hymns sounded Godly;
    Sermons sounded helpful;
    Rejoicing sounded normal;
    And crying sounded sincere.

    Cursing was wicked;
    Drugs were for illness;
    And divorce was unthinkable.

    The flag was honored;
    America was beautiful;
    And God was welcome!

    We read the Bible in public;
    Prayed in school;
    And preached from house to house
    To be called an American was worth dying for;
    To be called a Christian was worth living for;
    To be called a traitor was a shame!

    Preachers preached because they had a message;
    And Christians rejoiced because they had the VICTORY!
    Preachers preached from the Bible;
    Singers sang from the heart;
    And sinners turned to the Lord to be SAVED!

    A new birth meant a new life;
    Salvation meant a changed life;
    Following Christ led to eternal life.

    Being a preacher meant you proclaimed the word of God;
    Being a deacon meant you would serve the Lord;
    Being a Christian meant you would live for Jesus;
    And being a sinner meant someone was praying for you!

    Laws were based on the Bible;
    Homes read the Bible;
    And churches taught the Bible.

    God was worshiped;
    Christ was exalted;
    And the Holy Spirit was respected..

    Church was where you found Christians
    on the Lord’s day, rather than in the garden,
    on the creek bank, on the golf course,
    Or being entertained somewhere else.

    I still like the old paths the best!

  15. HEY REV says:

    Hey phpatato I like the “e” you got. I believe I can use that someday (your approval.) I feel sory for those who knock down about the “GOOD OLD DAYS” At this time the good old days would look very good.

    Now about promise’s/commitments. Every one seems to be in aggreement that we cannot keep them, no matter how we say or do it even with hands on a Bible.
    During the pre-marital time together I do about a 1-2 hour teaching about what vows and promises mean. We than all write up what is going to be said and heared by others. It must be Bible based or it’s not said at all. Some want to say some things to each other with again Bible based.
    None of them want to speak any evil on that very special day, because we talked about Jesus teaching about vows in Matthew 5:33-37
    But now a Covenant is so strong God will hold that to us. Yes of course God keeps all covenant’s and commitments.
    Mart finished his questions and input with the verse BY OUR WORDS WE’RE CONDEMMEND OR JUSTIFIED” (Mat: 12:37)
    I shared with God one day (many moons ago) it didn’t seem fair that Adam & Eve only had one commandment to follow and we have ten. His reply was so simple and to the point that I cannot even keep the FIRST COMMANDMENT (and that’s only one) TO LOVE HIM WITH MY WHOLE HEART, SOUL AND MIND.
    Being guilty for one makes me guilty for all in James 2:10
    None of us can do it so we’re all in the same boat. Completly trusting in the Work of the Holy Spirit through ourselves. Oh I do what I can to love Him back as best as I can, and as I always told my children in school work, “do the best that you can”
    I maybe only a “C” average with my Lord but I’m his. Not because of me but because of Him.
    Mart keep up, keeping up by keeping us on our toes to look inside of ourselves. Don’t know how God has it worked out but if possible you and I will spend eons of time together up there just talking about our walk down here. (well it’s a thought anyway)
    Hey Rev.

  16. chalice says:

    It seems to me that the traditional vows of marriage are worth saying, and making a promise to God is a good thing. I may end up breaking both of them from time to time, but at least I am aiming high when I make the vow to my betrothed and the promise to God, and I am honoring both of them by giving voice to my commitment.

    Fotunately, Jesus’ finished work on the cross covers all sins – even my occasionally broken vow or promise.

    I am already commanded to be holy because God is holy. There is no higher standard than that. So I say, aim high with my marriage vow and my sincere promise to God. At least my betrothed and my God will know that at that moment I intend to honor both of them. They both know I am human and will fall short from time to time. No need to advertise it by dumbing down the language of commitment.

    God didn’t command me to be sorta O.K. with a streak of piety now and then because he is holy. He told me to be holy because he is holy. I lump vows and promises in with that kind of standard. …and I recognize the need for a sense of humility while I am at it.

  17. foreverblessed says:

    Soemone already wrote: let your yes be yes and your no, no.
    This is qouted from what Jesus said in Matthew 5:33-37:
    33″Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

    Especially the last verse: anything beyond this comes from the evil one. As somebody wrote, she had to renounce her vows.

    But we have more then enough help, as the first writer wrote:
    “But it does not take long to realize that God has given us everything we need to live justly while here on earth and be godly.”

  18. chalice says:

    “Is it worth thinking about to increase our sense of dependence upon the Lord in everything, knowing that–in one sense– Jesus reminds us that, by our own words we will be “justified or condemned (Matt 12:37).”

    Whether I say a wedding vow, take an oath of office, or make a promise to God on the one hand, or simply let my yes be yes and my no be no on the otherhand seems to me to make little difference when it comes to the notion that by my own words I will be justified or condemned.

    A lie by vow and a lie by saying “yes” is still a lie. A failure to live up to a commitment that is an oath and a failure to live up to a “yes” is still a failure. And a promise broken is no better or worse than a “no” betrayed.

    In so much of Jesus’ teaching, it is the underlying heart that is the litmus test. The forms and illustrations serve primarily to illustrate the underlying “heart” issue. If I make a wedding vow to love, cherish and honor my betrothed, only to break that vow some evening because I wrongfully get angry about something we are discussing, is the sin greater than telling someone “yes” when I intentionally plan to do just the opposite as soon as the first opportunity arises? Both are sins. The vow doesn’t make one worse than the other.

    On the other hand, if I make a big deal by publicly posturing and making a vow or oath rather than simply saying “yes” or “no” to a given issue, I am likely running afoul of the Biblical teaching on oaths and vows. It’s still the underlying “heart” issue, though, that matters, it seems to me.

  19. foreverblessed says:

    I agree that it is a heart matter, when we lie by a vow or lie by a yes. It is wrong.
    But what Jesus added: anything beyond the yes is from the evil one. In fact He warns us here, that with a vow we add the power of the evil one, and so than we are being held hostage maybe without even us knowing about it.
    And so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to think over what unhealthy vows we have made in the past.
    Pray about it, and let the Holy Spirit show you what unhealthy ties you have made in the past, renounce them, and be free of them.
    The freedom that you will experience in doing so is tremendous.
    So we can be free as a child of God, and can call Jesus our Lord and Master.

  20. Your Love Inspires says:

    I have pretty much walked away in disgust from any organized Christian community because my wife and I both feel like sheep among wolves. Keeping one’s vows is only a bare essential to faith. Left is right, up is down, black is white, and always with a “greater good” attached seems to be the order of the day, always steeped in self righteousness while hiding agendas. Lawyers prosper in such a climate.

    Forgive me for raining on your parade, guess I just had to give voice to what appears to be in the bigger scheme of things. Shall we blame it on Satan or “God’s people?”

  21. lilu1314h says:

    When I first accepted Christ, I was so excited that I promised Him that I’ll do this.. do that… etc. Along the way I find that the nature of my sinful nature has drifted me to another way instead of His way. (Though the will is strong but the body is weak)

    But Thank God, He sent Jesus & the Holy Spirit for us. We do not need much “effort” but if “willing” to let go our own way, then He can work in us.

    As a new Christian, I’m still learning very hard on this. Depending on Him & not myself in a daily basis. And able to praise Him even in my stormy time.

  22. poohpity says:

    I only know one person that was able to live a perfect life and fulfilled every vow that was made and that is the person of Jesus Christ.

    The only vows I can make is that I am going to mess up. I will give it my best to not let the sun go done on my anger. I will not hold anyone to a higher standard than I am able to live which as I said before I mess up a lot. I will look at my own sin while trying not to look at others but I will. I am responsible to Christ Jesus to serve as He has given me an example to do although I will do it in an imperfect way. I will not strive for perfection because it is impossible but I will stay in process to do the best I can do.

    If I ever get married I will put God first and my husband second and ask my husband to do the same. I will give my husband permission to mess up and ask that we never go to bed angry which I know will happen. I will give my husband the right to be who he is and not want to change him to something I would like just as the Lord has given me permission to be who I am. I will not talk behind his back and gossip about him but try and work out all our problems and ask for help if we need it which I am sure we will. As old as I am I will probably never get married but I can dream.

  23. pegramsdell says:

    Amen, poohpity…..amen sister. :)

  24. Carmen Cortes-deBosques says:

    July 10,2009 at 2:07PM

    This is my first time to log in. Hello to everyone.

    It has sound alwayskind of bizarre to me the way I behave and make promises to the Lord and then do just like the people of Israel or maybe worst: I come out of my Egypt and promise God all kinds of promises and it doesn’t take days but maybe seconds that I’m worshiping the golden calf not at the foot of Sinai but at the foot of the Cross now…Yes, I seem to tell the same story over and over again…
    Nevertheless, I will continue to make promises and I’ll continue to say at the end, “So help me God”. You see I have to depend on my God more and more every day to help me solve the problem. I don’t want the Lord to lower the bar what I want is that my reponsability and accountability in the process riches up to the bar…
    So help us Lord!!!

  25. ygp says:

    18 years ago I married to a man from Myanmar. I am from Indonesia. We met in Malaysia. We have our weeding in Indonesia. Due to the visa status, he had to leave Indonesia without me, back to Malaysia. Then he came to USA as a student. I followed him 6 months later, leaving my family and my career as a physician and lecturer in a medical school( I work for my church’s charity clinic). For 2 years we were jobless, while my husband were still paying his foreigner tuition fee. Life had been treating us merciless during those early years of our marriage. On our first anniversary, I cried and prayed and talked to my gracious Lord, that I could not bear it any longer.I suffered from poverty, job rejection, missing my family and experiencing culture shock.I planned to go back to Indonesia without my husband. And yet the wedding vow I declared before Him and the conggregation reminded me that I have to be with my husband for the better and the worse. I thank God that He not only reminded me of my role as a wife, but He gave us strength to endure the adversities and He provided help in due time. Now we have been married for 18 years, living in the USA. God never forsake those who trust Him and depend on Him. The wedding vow is one of many ways of God’s guideline for my husband and I to work together on maintaining our holy instituion.

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