One of the foundational building blocks to a healthy marriage is forgiveness.
To the young, this feels like a massive let down and nothing like the romance they had hoped for. It’s not until you’ve been in your marriage for a significant period of time that you begin to realize how impossible it is to earn the love of your spouse, how impossible it is not to do something to lose that love, and therefore only then do you begin to truly appreciate the romance of forgiveness.
When you are young, you think love is the foundation to marriage. When you are old, and if you are fortunate enough to still be thinking clearly and biblically, you realize that love has remained the foundation. The thing that changes is your understanding of what real love looks like and how it must be expressed in a relationship that involves two imperfect people.
To the young it comes as a surprise that our earthly marriages, at best, go through dark periods but rise only through love expressing itself in forgiveness, and at worse go through dark periods that never end because of the absence of forgiveness.
When you grow older, you realize the variable that will determine a healthy marriage or an unhealthy marriage is not if there will be tough relational seasons between you and your spouse, but if there will be forgiveness that causes new life to appear out of those valleys.
Since Christian marriages are supposed to symbolize Christ and his Church, it should be no surprise that this same pattern can be seen in every Christian’s marriage with Jesus. When we are young, we think we will be able to please Jesus and fuel our union with God through our perfect behavior. We look at unbelievers or joyless Christians and think to ourselves how we will never have a relationship with Jesus like that. Like newlyweds who judge the older couple who appear to have less joy, as a young Christian we think our walk with God will never come to that.
But then, as the years turn into decades, if we are honest, we begin to realize how impossible it is to live a perfect life and be the faithful, perfect, submissive Christian we thought we always would live as. The dark periods come. We experience real rebellion in our own hearts. Like children to a marriage, the good ministries produced through our relationship with Jesus begin to distract us from spending time with our Spouse. We stay together for the ministries (like spouses do for their kids), not willing to leave our Christian life but having “checked out” relationally with God, and slowly without our knowing we have become the old crank judged by the newlywed Christians.
The variable to our walk with God is not if we will have a perfect obedience good enough to produce a beautiful union with him; the variable will be if we are willing to repent and truly receive forgiveness when we fail at perfection.
Our relationship with God must start with grace when we put our faith in Jesus, and it must continue to be supported by God’s grace as we fail but continue to grow in faith nonetheless. We must never deny what we learned in the beginning, that the marriage between Christ and his church is built upon and sustained by his loving forgiveness and grace.
As Paul stated to the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel . . . (Galatians 1:6). Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3).
If our marriages are supposed to be a reflection of Christ and his bride the church, how could our marriages survive without forgiveness being one of, if not the primary expressions of our love? Christ married us because he loves us, but his love was expressed on the cross and when he wipes us clean each time we come back for cleansing.
The same must be true if we hope to have a healthy, long lasting, beautiful marriage with our earthly spouses. A relationship with God based upon our works brings guilt because we will fail and thus we will feel shame. The same can be said of our earthly marriages. If we base our love for one another on our works and merits, our marriage will be full of guilt which will lead to avoiding one another, or it will lead to living a lie as we simply deny there is a problem while continually hurting one another with no healing in sight.