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Forgiveness - National Marriage Week 2019

Marriage and Family
17 May 2019
Forgiveness 3

It may be a record.

I had to plead for forgiveness from my wife in the first week of our marriage – on our honeymoon in fact, following a significant failure to communicate about the path we were to take across the top of a Lake District fell. My wife, immobile and clinging to a vertical rock face which she thought had to be summited in order for us to continue our route down the other side, was not overly pleased to discover that we were simply going up for what I deemed a lovely view, and that a flat path was mere feet away.

It is possible (now) for us to laugh about this, but even though it was over something relatively minor (again, I can say this a few years down the line) it was a valuable lesson as we embarked upon married life together.

It can be easy to think of forgiveness as simply a good or nice thing, or as the optimum outcome when two people disagree about something or there is a relationship which needs in some way to be repaired. But this undervalues forgiveness. Modelled supremely in Christ, forgiveness is a profound exercise of grace. It is not simple to live it out, but it essential for the flourishing of any healthy marriage.

Of course, for forgiveness to be required, there has to have been some kind of breakdown of trust requiring repentance. The nature of marriage and the bond between husband and wife is such that any corruption of that trust inevitably wounds deeply in a way which it wouldn’t with someone else. Breakdown of this kind – whether over something trivial or something more meaningful – can also expose uncomfortable truths about our marriages and whether we ultimately find our worth in our identity in Christ, or in our spouse.

We hold our spouses to an impossible standard if we expect them never to let us down, if we expect never to have to seek their forgiveness or offer it ourselves. The Bible could not be clearer that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23); why should our marriages be exempt from the implications of this? And yet, this can be how we live without realising it.

There is a challenge here for us in our marriages: how do we respond when confronted with our own sinfulness, or that of our spouse? Bluster, pleading innocence or ignorance, anger, blame, guilt, shame? Some of these may resonate, but ultimately, unless the weight of the pain and sorrow caused is communicated and understood we won’t apologise wholeheartedly or forgive completely.

You can never meet God’s standard, neither can your spouse. Whilst this all sounds rather bleak, as with any good tale, it is always darkest before the dawn, and the dawn for the Christian is glorious indeed.

Wonderfully, powerfully, incomprehensibly, we are forgiven in Christ. The liberating effect of the gospel of grace upon us means that, as Christ has forgiven us, we too are free to forgive. We serve God best in our marriages when we are united, pulling in the same direction and with the same motivation. If this is our aim, then far from being burdensome or belittling, seeking and offering forgiveness will be an overflow of the grace we have received in service to the Saviour who gave His life for us. It will also be a powerful witness to a watching world.

Whilst we shouldn’t be going out of our way to stack the dishwasher badly in order to create an opportunity for forgiveness to be offered and received, a healthy marriage will be characterised by the capacity to communicate clearly, admit fault, apologise and seek forgiveness readily when the need arises.

So, become accustomed to practising forgiveness, for the sake of your marriage, for Christ and for the gospel.

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