As we head into a day devoted to celebrating relationships, Erik Strandness looks at how God restores the relationships damaged through our infidelity
How does an unfaithful spouse make amends to a partner and reestablish trust when an enormous wall of anger, resentment and suspicion has been built up? He or she could begin with gifts and acts of service. A good start perhaps, but in the end, they would merely be external acts that may or may not signal a change of heart. What the offended partner really needs is assurance of internal change, a transformed heart. Because, then and only then, will it be possible to restore the relationship.
The Old Testament tells the story of the ‘chosen people’ who quickly made their marriage to God a sham by engaging in a string of idolatrous affairs and then trying to cover them up by engaging in heartless acts of worship, ceremony and sacrifice. A relationship of obligation and not spiritual intimacy.
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“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matt 15: 7-9)
How could God restore this marriage when it appeared the other party was unwilling to make any effort? While divorce seems to be our cultural default solution for ‘irreconcilable differences’, it was never an option for God. Instead, he chose to do the hard work of relationship reconciliation.
“For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Mal 2:16)
After thousands of years of education in the school of relationship hard knocks, God stepped in, and despite our ongoing infidelity, “while we were still sinners”, took on the hard work of relationship building by offering his son. God offered the greatest love of all by laying down his life for us while we were still philanderers. What more-profound display of relationship commitment could there be than the willingness of the offended Spouse to completely forgive all the cheating and lying, especially when the rebellious partner persisted in their unfaithfulness?
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 8: 6-8)
We stare at Jesus hanging on the cross and our hearts are convicted because the one we cheated upon is the one willing to do all the reconciling. God cannot do any more for our ailing relationship than offer us the greatest possible act of love. So now it’s up to us.
What’s our choice? Will we continue to fool around with other gods, or will we accept the relationship-restoring love that we are incapable of offering on our own? Do we accept the ring and say, “I do” or do we give some weak excuse such as “It’s not you, it’s me” and end up as one more spinster in hell? God cannot force the “I do”, but through Jesus, he made it poignantly clear what it means to say “I don’t”.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3: 16-17)
Erik Strandness is a physician and Christian apologist who has practiced neonatal medicine for more than 20 years.