Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Exception

     In my last post, I explored the scriptural idea that Christian marriages should parallel the gospel story, as outlined in Ephesians 5. I'm convinced that this idea only becomes more beautiful as you unravel it in your mind.  Think about this parallel coming to fruition. Our marriages can become illustrations of grace and redemption to a world that desperately needs it. Our relationship with our spouse is a witness of Christ in itself. That's powerful.

   Despite the wonder and mystery of this grand idea, we have to face the grim reality that the Bible also reserves a place for divorce under certain conditions. Our marriage is meant to reflect the love story of God and His people, but there is an exception. In Matthew 19:9, we learn that divorce is permissible in the event of sexual immorality(adultery).  How does this play into the idea of the gospel parallel?

   Before we answer that, I have to reflect on how this concept in Matthew 19:9 relates to my personal story. There's no doubt about it -- Hannah has ample grounds to leave me if she chose to do that. I believe that repentance includes accepting the price you should pay. I should be alone. I don't deserve the grace I've been granted, and I never could. My failures should carry the price of separation, but she has chosen to forgive me regardless. In my observation, it can be easy for transgressors to fall into the trap of making excuses and statements such as "it was just a one-time mistake!" or "I've been a good husband... aside from this". Comments such as these do not indicate deep, thorough repentance.  Instead, they demonstrate that the tendrils of pride are wrapped around your heart, defending yourself from the depth of your own guilt. 

   If these attitudes exist in the wake of an affair, they must be uprooted. For healing to occur, we must freely and willingly accept the potential cost of our errors. But back to the question at hand: if God commands us to reflect His gospel of love in our marriages, why does He permit divorce in the case of adultery?  Unfortunately, I think this is a question with no clear answer, but there are a few possibilities we can consider.

   First of all, God refers to His people as the Bride on several occasions throughout scripture. He is preparing his Bride, and as Ephesians 5 states, He desires to present her as spotless, righteous, and without blemish.  He sacrifices Himself  to accomplish this, but the Bride must accept this in order for redemption to occur.  Repentance is the key to renewed purity. Just like in our marriages, a calloused spouse who feels justified in their affair creates an obstacle to recovery by their attitude. Living in denial, making excuses and concealing the facts do not display a broken spirit. In the aftermath of infidelity, the heart posture of the one who's strayed has a tremendous influence on the marriage's trajectory, and this seems to be true in the spiritual as well.

   Perhaps God has permitted this exception of divorce because He understands our sorrows, and He comprehends the profound challenge of recovering after adultery. After all, God understands the feeling of rejection. In The Bible, we see that God makes concessions for mankind over and over, and maybe this is one of them. Though He does not prefer for a marriage to be dissolved, He concedes out of compassion for the human experience. This concession speaks to the severity of damage that an affair can do.

   Although there is no clear answer to why God permits divorce, we know that He wants to demonstrate His forgiveness towards us in all circumstances.  We've learned that God considers His people to be His Bride, and a curious thing happens in the book of Hosea. God commands one of His prophets to marry and bear children with a prostitute as a symbol of His people's unfaithfulness and His commitment to them anyway. Wrap your mind around that -- God sees us as the unfaithful spouse, and He embraces us.  Furthermore, He didn't wait for us to confess before He decided to suffer for redemption's sake. He took the first step, wanting us even when we don't want Him. On the cross, Christ was pursuing his Bride despite the fact that she had already rejected Him. She wasn't sorry yet; she had not accepted her guilt. That's heavy.

      So, whether it's in a successful marriage or the turbulence of relational misery, the fingerprint of God's grace can be seen. God sees us as the Bride, and even in our moments of calloused wandering, He desires us. By reflecting on how divorce fits into the gospel parallel, we can learn more about His love for us.

     Lastly, I want you to know that, even if your marriage has been marred by transgressions as grave as unfaithfulness, you can still reflect the gospel through your relationship. God does not command us to have perfect relationships, He desires redeemed relationships.  Even in our willingness to forgive one another, we can reflect the love of Christ to the world around us.

You are reading The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about The Hartsfields and their journey to recovery from infidelity. We urge you to subscribe via e-mail and consider sharing this blog on social media if you support our message of hope! 

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