So I’m actually writing it – the post about grace and mercy. I feel like I’ve talked about it directly and indirectly a lot, but even though I feel like I’m a little talked out on the subject, I still think it’s good to have a post devoted to those subjects. If you haven’t already read my posts on Forgiveness and Repentance, then I suggest you read those first for the back story. Just FYI, this is going to be a fairly theological discussion, but the concepts still apply if you are not religious. I expect there will be lively debate in the comments on this one, so if I’ve stated something poorly, please give me a chance to address it in the comments.
If you’ve read my previous articles on the subjects, you know that forgiveness and repentance (not necessarily in that order) are necessary to restoration of a marriage. For that matter, they are necessary for either person to move on in a constructive way, in my opinion. Not forgiving for either party leads to bitterness. Lack of repentance prevents any lasting change and inhibits the building of trust.
Now I’m going to talk about grace and mercy – two similar but misunderstood concepts that are related and also necessary to healing and restoration. If I’ve learned nothing in the sermons I’ve heard all my life, it is that grace is getting what you don’t deserve and mercy is not getting what you do deserve.
As an adulterer, I deserve death according to the Old Testament. For the non-religious, I at least deserve to have certain relevant parts of my anatomy separated from the rest of me or otherwise punished or mutilated. At a minimum, I deserve to be divorced and penniless, watching my wife marry an impossibly rich and attractive movie star who meets or exceeds all her needs while I drink Ripple in a refrigerator box in the rain.
That’s what I deserve. Frankly, all of those options would end in death for me, even if she merely married a reasonably successful CPA or something. I’m a pussy. I couldn’t handle it and I’m quite certain I would punch my own ticket and take the 3:57 to Oblivion.
But I digress.
Instead of getting what I deserve, I got mercy. I’m not living under a death sentence. My wedding tackle is still intact. My wife didn’t leave me. She didn’t have to forego meting out justice with a meat mallet, but she did and she’s a better person for it – far better than I who nursed grudges and chose bitterness instead of grace.
Not only did she show me mercy, but I get grace. I get forgiveness. I get a wife who still loves me and is willing to take a chance on me. I get to watch my kids grow up as their father and the husband of their momma. I get a second chance to not screw things up again. I get love and happiness.
And you know what? I know I don’t deserve any of those things. I am so thankful my wife didn’t kick me out and tell me she couldn’t stand to share her life or her house with a man who had betrayed her so cruelly. She is glad, too, because even though she was well within her rights to leave me, or to stay for the kids but condemn us both to a loveless, cold marriage, she chose to stay and to invest in us.
I am so blessed and amazed that my wife made those choices to not demand justice or exact revenge. I’m so glad she chose to graciously show me love. I never want to do anything to hurt her again. I’m not perfect, but I want to be perfect for her.
WARNING: HERE BE RELIGION!
God is described in the Bible as merciful to sinners, lavish in his grace, loving the world, and just.
That last attribute is a bit of a sticky one. How can God be just when he forgives those who have sinned against him? Shouldn’t his justice demand that we get what’s coming to us? (And let’s not kid ourselves, we’ve all sinned and the penalty for sin is death)
In fact it does demand justice, except there’s more to the story. God has pity on our helpless estate. Even when we were enemies who hated Him, he loved us and provided for us – namely salvation through the sacrifice of his Son. Jesus lived a sinless life and willingly suffered unjust judgment from the Father in our stead, so that we who deserve to burn in hell forever can be with him. Having done that, we who believe not only escape our just punishment but through His grace we get eternal life.
But wait, there’s more! We also get fellowship with God. We get the Holy Spirit in us. We get spiritual gifts. We get God’s transformative work in us. We get answered prayers and daily bread to meet our needs. And if you believe right now, you get not one, but two guardian angels! Pretty gracious when you consider that we deserve death the second we are born.
As a result of God’s mercy and grace towards us, the normal response should be to try to please him and not sin against him. We’ll never be perfect here on earth, but we can strive for perfection as a result of our gratitude towards him. We can devote ourselves to Him and Him alone in recognition of his acts of love toward us.
Okay, so we’ve established that God is merciful and gracious. How does that apply to the cheater and the loyal spouse? Well, remember that I said forgiveness is not earned? The reason I say that is because our model for forgiveness is God. God did not demand us to add to Christ’s penance in order to earn forgiveness. It is a free gift for those who accept it. That’s the very definition of grace and it’s how we should treat those who wrong us.
As Jesus taught in the parable of the two servants, we who have been graciously forgiven an unimaginable debt (in the parable it was roughly equal to the GDP of Israel for year) should be gracious with our neighbors. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. He is not telling us to go around letting ourselves be beaten up, he is telling us to show grace and mercy instead of demanding justice and revenge. It is choosing love over hate, and, yes, over justice.*
The loyal, Christian spouse should show grace and mercy because they have been show that first, and in greater measure. They should show love because Got loved us first. Yes, there’s a place for anger, but be angry and do not sin. Show the mercy and grace you have been shown and want to be shown when you screw up too.
But what of the adulterer/adulteress? There’s a lot of applications. I’ll start in more or less chronological order. If you’re holding onto bitterness over something that contributed to you choosing to have an affair, now is the time to be gracious and merciful yourself. Don’t demand some acknowledgement of wrong before you’re willing to heal your marriage. Don’t hold onto the hurts of the past. Be gracious and show mercy.
If your spouse has allowed their anger to become sinful, you who have been forgiven so much more need to forgive and model grace towards your spouse. Just because they’re now being “mean” to you – the repentant spouse – doesn’t mean you can get all high and mighty with them. Show grace – they need it just as much as you.
And having recognized how much grace you have received from God, and eventually from your spouse, you should be moved to acts of love towards the one who has shown you grace and mercy. Even if it is a down-payment on grace and mercy yet to come, show the love!
Lastly, if you have sinned, beg for mercy and grace. You don’t deserve it – acknowledge that fact but beg for it anyway. And when you get it, treasure it and thank God for it. Don’t waste it. Grace and mercy from men is rare enough thing – it should not be squandered, it should be rewarded with love and grace and mercy in return.
*I should point out that there is a place for divorce. When a spouse is unrepentant, this is an easy call. But I also think there are times when marriages probably should be ended after an affair. The Bible says God hates divorce and only allows it because of the hardness of our hearts, but it does not go so far as to say it is sinful. When reconciliation is possible, and I do believe God can work miracles even in bad affairs, I think people should try. However, it’s up to the individuals and God to determine when reconciliation is NOT possible.
So to sum up, I don’t in any way condemn spouses who divorce after an affair. It’s an individual responsibility and one they have to work out in their own hearts and minds with God.