AFFAIRS destroy marriages. There is such a truth in that it seems. Yet there are also marriages that do recover after a third party and one partner have united to dislocate the anointed party of two. Some partnerships are strewn like bread in broth, dissolved to mush, and others are strengthened, ultimately and seemingly, through some miraculous effect — transactions of holy grace.
Of course, there are other betrayals in life. But does betrayal get any more painfully poignant than in a covenanted relationship that becomes, for all time, unhitched. This article is solely about marital betrayal, yet leading to the possibility of the married couple’s reconciliation as a married couple. There isn’t much sense writing for the purpose of reconciling a situation where the arrangement remains broken.
How do we reconcile a situation where betrayal presents us with the dichotomous arrangement — needing to forgive, yet being unable to?
How are we to have a hope for reconciling the betrayal — a fact of love becoming unloving — other than to make what was unloving a source for loving again?
Repentance on the one hand, grace on the other.
If one person has sullied the marriage, yet they acknowledge their wicked way, they turn back to God, and they turn to their partner, and put measures into place whereby it will not happen again; there is repentance. They deserve their second chance.
If another person, the one betrayed, sees that sort of response, there is a biblical mandate to forgive — to get on with the work of mending the relationship. Yet, the relationship still needs much supernatural help, because the grace to forgive the betrayal of a marriage partner is not humanly manufactured. Only God can supply the perspective and understanding a forgiving person needs. The power to forgive does not come from human means or motivation.
In the person forgiving there is the need to go deeply into their own experience of sin. How else are they to have compassion on the person who has sinned against them? Grace comes through perspective and understanding. Grace comes from the attitude, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Grace can never come to the person who prays like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee’s pride disables their ability to forgive.
Forgiveness is easy when we have our own sinful nature deep in sight — right before our eyes. For some people their pride may be their only visible sin. This is the older brother archetype in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The person who cannot see any fault on their own side will find forgiveness impossible. And they will move away from God and only become more and more miserable.
The truth is, in relationships, we all fall short of God’s standard of love. We all fail our partners. We all betray our partners. But not to the extent of an affair. So the depth of the betrayal becomes the issue — the covenant is rocked.
But sin is sin. Jesus called a lustful look, adultery, and anger, murder. We do need to acknowledge the depth of hurt. We do need to ensure we validate this is a grave error on the part of the betraying partner. We do need to ensure they fall on their sword in a consistent way. And if the betraying partner can meet that humiliated standard, regularly and continually, why should they not be forgiven? And if they can be forgiven, why shouldn’t there be a restoration? Actually, forgiveness means restoration, because forgiveness without restoration, where it is possible, is probably not forgiveness.
Once a decision is made — a stake is hammered into the ground — to forgive and to reconcile — there must be a formalisation of such a decision. We must lock ourselves in, by faith, so we have no way of getting out. That, again, is covenant. The covenant, once broken, must be restored. And it is stronger now with both parties moving into the way, more continually, of repentance.
Both must be equally yoked in terms of spiritual growth and commitment. Indeed, both must have their commitments driven directly out of the Godhead, and not from the marriage, first and foremost.
God holds the marital relationship together by twofold commitment. The twofold commitment is vulnerable without such supernatural favour that buoys grace. Grace forgives. The best marriages are forgiving marriages.
So there we have it. It is up to both partners in a marriage rent asunder. Where there is repentance on the one hand, the reciprocation is grace on the other.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.