Monday, June 2, 2008

A Covenant With Unfaithful Men - a letter to my friend


I'm sharing an edited version of my letter to a dear friend who was contemplating remarriage, rather than reconciliation with her husband of many years....

Dear Friend,

Thank you so much for sharing your heart and plans with me. By sharing, you have made yourself vulnerable and open to criticism. I hope that this letter doesn't feel that way. Its certainly not meant to be condemnation, but rather my heartfelt thoughts after having a little more time to think over all that you told me.

I love you and your family dearly, and I always will. I am not in your shoes, nor do I claim to know God's will for your life. I tremble to "meddle" in your affairs, especially one as binding and as life-changing as this, but I tremble more to say nothing when I see God's Word shouting out so many things about your situation. Some of those we've already discussed. I really only want to touch on a couple that we didn't have a chance to talk about the other night...

I believe more firmly than ever that God is completely good and kind and just. I believe more firmly than ever than ever that God is not harsh, nor are His rules. SIN is a harsh and cruel master. Open the paper any day, and you will see the marks of sin - murder, rape, robbery, and every action committed by a heart full of self. On the other hand, open the Bible and behold the Lamb who gave Himself for the most unworthy and vile of His creation. Any time ugliness or harshness enters our lives, it is because of sin, not because of God.

Over and over in my own life, when I am tempted to say that God's restraints are too cruel, too harsh, or too unaccommodating for my feeble human nature, I have to remind myself that God is not cruel and demanding - sin and the devil are.

It is with that preface that I take into account your reasons.... That you need a provider so that you can be a mother to your little ones; that your son desperately needs a Godly father figure; that you need a loving husband to lean on while struggling to raise your children; that you want a man who walks with God to be an anchor in your spiritual life... I "get" all of that. They are all good, natural desires for anyone in your circumstances.

In spite of your reasons sounding good and very reasonable to the human mind, I still get a check when I go to the Word of God, which MUST be our authority above feelings, experiences, circumstances, and yes, even what most people would think to be "common sense". If the Word of God is not the final authority in every circumstance, then it is not the final authority at all. If our reasoning can ignore what it plainly says even one time, then we have made ourselves the final authority in our lives.

We talked about the whole "divorce and remarriage" issue from Scripture. Regardless of how you or I feel about that, there's another issue that the Bible is so clear about...

You vowed before God to love [I'll call him Joe] for better or for worse. You didn't promise the state to stay to true to Joe, so the fact that the state has granted you a divorce means nothing. And you didn't vow to stay faithful for as long as he was faithful and "did his part." You just vowed to do your part, regardless of what happened to him.

Even the world believes in staying married for the better part -- when the other is loving and faithful. "If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans so?" (Matthew 6:46)

That is a "no duh"... as long as you're happy and having your needs met, saints and sinners alike are happy to stay married, even to put up with some inconvenience and discomfort and dirty socks on the floor.

You, twenty-some years ago, vowed to Joe, before God, that you would love him
for better and for worse,
for richer and for poorer,
in sickness and in health...
till death alone parted you.

Vowing to love and be faithful to someone,
even at their worst means that your vow
should still be honored even when:

~he is unfaithful
~he doesn't love you
~he doesn't want you
~he walks away
~he's cold and uncaring
~he's angry and bitter
~he's selfish
~he's ugly
~he's embarrassing
~he's unlovable
~you've forgiven him 70 or 300 times
~he doesn't meet your needs
~he isn't a good father
~he's lazy
~he's depressed
~he doesn't even care if you exist

LOVE still perseveres and hopes and believes even when there is nothing to believe in but God. Love doesn't walk away and say, "I'm done. You've blown it for the last time."

If Joe had become mentally ill and was not the person that you knew or married, still -- even restrained as a mad man in a hospital bed -- he would be yours to love and never give up on. Your job would be to love this monster of a man the best way you knew how - to always want the best for him, and to never stop praying or hoping that somehow, someday God would give you your husband back.

If Joe had been disfigured in some terrible accident (as was Dave Roever, the famous Vietnam veteran) and he looked like nothing but a mass of torn flesh, singed hair, and oozing scabs, it would still be your job to love him, even if the very sight of him repulsed you.

If Joe became a depressed alcoholic, beating you and the children, violent, angry, saying that he hated you, your vows would be no less relevant. It would still be your duty to love him the best you knew how. Your love might include putting some physical distance between you and the children for safety, but your love should hope on for healing and restoration. There would be no justification for giving up and kicking him to the scrap heap, deciding to start over. Hopefully, your response would be to weep and pray and intercede on his behalf that he would be reconciled to God, to be made a new creation, to be the husband and father that he ought to be. Through the eyes of faith, you would pray for him to be restored to the Lord and for your marriage to once again be the loving picture that it ought to be.

Each time a glowing young bride stands before a room full of people and commits to stand by the side of a young man and love and honor him for life, she takes a risk. It may seem unthinkable on that day. Certainly this man would never do anything but be a good husband and father. But the truth is that every human heart is capable of the greatest evil imaginable.

Marriage IS a weighty matter, because of this very truth. There is no guarantee that any loving man or woman will always be that way. You took that risk a long, long time ago. On that lovely day, you had no idea that some day you would be standing here at this place, both of your hearts filled with bitterness over the wrongs that have added up over the years. No, you couldn't see ahead. But you vowed that even when the worst happened, you would be faithful to love and honor.

"Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few... 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. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay..." Ecclesiastes 5:2, 4


When we make a covenant with another person for life, we do it after having thought through what we can see of the future. When it seems that this person will be good, and honorable, and faithful, and the kind of person we can love forever, we take that leap of faith forward. Anyone would think it unreasonable to marry someone who would predictably be unfaithful or cruel.

But have you ever thought about the blood covenant that Jesus made with his disciples?

He knew what would transpire that very night. He knew full well that they were unfaithful men - men who would betray him, run away and hide, curse and swear and insist that they had never seen him before.

The night before the crucifixion, as Jesus sat there, dipping his bread in the bowl with them, he looked around and said, "One of you is going to betray me tonight." He didn't tell Judas that he wasn't allowed to partake of that first communion because he was about to be the instigator of the death of God Himself, manifested in human flesh. He didn't ask Peter not to participate as He made a covenant with him, knowing that Peter would betray him three times before that very night was over. Instead, he offered the same to Judas and Peter, and all of the rest of the soon-to-be unfaithful disciples -- "Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for YOU!"

He knew that they'd all forsake him and flee when the going got rough. yet he entered into a covenant (not just for the duration of life, but rather to give up his life for their sins!) with men that He knew wouldn't stay by His side even till the night was over.

As C.S. Lewis said, "Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive."

You are absolutely right. I don't know what I'm talking about.


I've never been where you have been. But God does. He went there.

He knowingly and voluntarily committed His lifeblood to men who were unfaithful and concerned only with looking out for themselves.


What I see as so clearly wrong in your situation is that you don't want to wait for God to change your husband. (Or else, you consider it impossible for God to make Joe into the kind of man that could love and honor.) You don't want reconciliation in your marriage, a chance to honor the vow that you made to Joe and to God so many years ago. You are finished with the relationship, and looking forward to slamming the door on the "Joe chapter" of your life, as you move ahead with a new relationship.

What, of any of the decisions that you are making, are you making out of genuine love for Joe's soul, for his good?

I know that Joe has no desire for reconciliation. Yet it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us. "Not that we loved God, but that He first loved us..."

You and I both know the elderly lady whose life is a living testimony of her favorite quote: "Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that crushes it."

Rather than quickly kicking Joe off the road since he has hurt you so many times, and moving on to an easier, sweeter, more desirable relationship, can you give God a chance to work in the mess and change Joe into a man who you can love and be proud of?

I know that runs contrary to everything that you're thinking and feeling. But don't let it be said of your life, your marriage, your family, "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." (Matthew 13:58)

Truth and reality are not conditional, nor are they changed or dictated by circumstances. God's Word is the surest anchor for our souls, and when we will yield our wills to the plainly written Word of God, more often than not it is not what we want to hear (love, forgive, do good to them that hate you...) in our given circumstances.

John Piper, in the The Godward Life writes,
"One profound biblical insight we need to embrace is that our heart exploits our mind to justify what the heart wants. That is, our deepest desires precede the rational functioning of our minds and incline the mind to perceive and think in a way that will make the desires look right. It is an illusion to think that our hearts are neutral and incline in accordance with cool, rational observation of truth. On the contrary, we feel powerful desires or fears in our hearts, and then our minds bend reality to justify the desires and fears."

Eve began to question what God had said. She came up with lots of good reasons for why she was going to eat the forbidden fruit. ("Surely God would want me to be wise...") But she gave up everything when she reached for that fruit. And I'm sure that she never for a single day found that juicy bite worth the grief that it caused the rest of her life.

I believe that, more than anything, you are making a choice that may "[give] great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme..." I also fear that as your children grow older and start their own families if they will question if God's ways really work. Will they wonder to themselves whether loving and forgiving is possible and whether the Word of God is subjective to circumstances? How will they learn to trust God and believe that all things are possible when their parents didn't even want to try to work things out?

One of the books on my wish list includes "When Sinners Say 'I Do.' "
The subtitle intrigues me - "What if God made marriage more to make us holy rather than to make us happy?"

Again, friend, I haven't walked a mile in your shoes, and I can't say that I would do the right thing faced with your circumstances.

I'm not asking you to believe what I believe. I can only beg you to ask God for a willing heart to do whatever He asks of you.... Willingness to do even what you don't want to consider - taking steps to love a man who you never want to see again.

I believe that God will answer your prayers and show you exactly what He wants in your situation, but only if you really want to know what HE thinks, and purpose in your heart that you will do it, regardless of the cost.

That is my prayer for you.

9 comments:

Q said...

amen

Joy said...

Hi Mary,

This was really good. I hope your friend listened to your words of advice. Thanks for sharing them here!

~Joy

Laurel said...

Mary,
Days later, I'm still mulling this over and am still blown away. You have such a gift for conveying your heart in words.
So much of what you've shared here is convicting even for a woman who is firmly convinced that vows are vows and that marriage is for a lifetime. Divorce is not the only way to break them, is it?
Thank you for loving your friend enough to speak the truth in love. I trust that you will always do me the same honour.

Anonymous said...

WOW!
I am very blessed by this letter to your friend.

I wish I had women around me personally with your wisdom!

Please write more dealing with these issues...and would you pray for me? God knows me, He'll know right who you're praying for!

Please keep my post anonymous, but know you've blessed someone today with the effort you made when you typed this up!

Mary said...

Anonymous -
I feel rather unqualified to be writing about marriage as a single person. But I keep reminding myself that marriage isn't so different from other relationships that I've struggled with. It's all about giving up *my* way, and yielding to God's desires for my life and the relationship(s) that I am in.

He is the only one that can make beauty for ashes. And quite truthfully, the beauty that He makes isn't always restoring a relationship to be what I wanted it to be. Sometimes His beauty is giving me a broken, yielded, pure heart that is beautiful in His sight.

I'll be praying for you!

Anonymous said...

Amen, Mary.

We have experienced G-d performing a genuine miracle in our own marriage. A marriage that no worldly person would EVER have supported. Common sense did not support it. Violence, fighting, screaming, hatred. But I have been brought to the Lord, and my husband and I have drawn closer to each other and the Lord, come farther in our faith than either of us (and me especially!!) would ever have imagined. We have gone through hell that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Misery. There were times when both of us have wished we could just die instead of bearing this. And somehow the Lord planted something in all this and it grew. How?? I don't know. And it was a long slow process over years that is still going on. But I wanted to tell your friend, even when it seems impossible, there IS hope because of what the Lord can do.

Marriage is as sacred as the human life it produces.

This may be a time to learn to wait. "They that wait upon the Lord..." You know that song and verse. Teach me Lord, to wait.

Your friend wants to grab her life back so she might make it what she wanted or what she feels it should be. But we all have to let go of that. Life isn't going to be what we wanted. Let it go. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies... Follow the Lord and trust Him. Give Him this life now, and pray that in His mercy, He will give you the life you really want in the days to come.

Just some of my feelings. I hope that your friend reconsiders.

Krista

Liza said...

Hi Mary, I am sure you wouldn't post this to your blog. I felt just about sick after reading your letter to your friend. I am a Christian and love God greatly. I am also a church worker. This is naive thinking and wrong. You should think again when giving advice like that. There are reasons for divorce. A covenant is between TWO people. Not just one person keeping it. If one partner has an inability to keep their covenant, the other has to be relieved. I carry no guilt for having to dissolve a marriage where the man could not get his sexual addiction under control. I lived 22 years of unhappiness.I prayed plenty too. I stayed in the name of God, had counseling and forgave plenty. But,I had an epiphany one day. In the name of God, I have stopped betraying myself and have found redemption and healing. Sometimes these things come in new ways....and through divorce. There are other paths to wholeness even though they are hard. Doubt you'll post this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary, I am sure you wouldn't post this to your blog. I felt just about sick after reading your letter to your friend. I am a Christian and love God greatly. I am also a church worker. This is naive thinking and wrong. You should think again when giving advice like that. There are reasons for divorce. A covenant is between TWO people. Not just one person keeping it. If one partner has an inability to keep their covenant, the other has to be relieved. I carry no guilt for having to dissolve a marriage where the man could not get his sexual addiction under control. I lived 22 years of unhappiness.I prayed plenty too. I stayed in the name of God, had counseling and forgave plenty. But,I had an epiphany one day. In the name of God, I have stopped betraying myself and have found redemption and healing. Sometimes these things come in new ways....and through divorce. There are other paths to wholeness even though they are hard. Doubt you'll post this. Liza Davis

Anonymous said...

I couldn't disagree with you more. Just reading this made me feel gross and sorry for all the women duped into thinking that they are morally bound to stay in abusive situations. I realize your intentions are good, and that you are reproducing here what you have been taught your whole life. I know it is hard to think for one's self when one has been surrounded by family and friends that reinforce the same views and by rejecting any other views and by not exercising often free will and independent thought. I think if you do that, and truly consider your feelings and heart that you'll come to a different conclusion. Jesus, above all, was compassionate. There is nothing of his words in the bible to support the extremity of these views.