Monday, March 26, 2012

Marriage Matters: Forgiveness

Did you make the choice to marry so that you could have greater opportunity to learn how to forgive? Forgiveness is a supernatural act invented by God with his love as its foundation. The most dramatic and most certainly the most powerful display of God's love and forgiveness is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus' death was accompanied by some very dramatic events including the tearing of the temple curtain. This curtain separated the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the temple that housed the ark of the covenant containing the stone tablets on which were inscribed the ten commandments. Covering the ark was the solid gold mercy seat, the throne of God. Every Israelite knew that without the curtain anyone who saw the face of God would die. Sin separated man from God and prevented access to Him.
Each year on the Day of Atonement (read Leviticus 16) the priest made a sacrifice for the cleansing of the sins of Israel. The blood of a bull was sprinkled on the mercy seat behind that curtain to provide forgiveness for God's people. But the curtain remained. In this system of ritual sacrifice and cleansing there was atonement, or payment of sins for Israel, but separation by the curtain was an ever-present reminder of sin, separation and death.
At the moment of Jesus' death "the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom." The message was unmistakable. God's people had been forgiven once and forever by the sacrifice of one perfect Lamb, the Lamb of God himself, Jesus Christ. The obstacle of sin was removed by the blood of Jesus and access to God was gained.  Hebrews 10:19-22 gives us assurance of our ability to draw near to God now that our hearts have been sprinkled to cleanse us and we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus.
In past lessons we talked about how our thoughts, actions and words either move us toward, away from, or against our husbands. Forgiveness is moving toward your husband as God moved toward us in the person of Jesus Christ that we as forgiven believers might move toward Him. In forgiveness God released us from the penalty of our sin. It is a conscious act of love. In forgiving we make a conscious choice to refuse to dwell on how we have been wronged. It is refusing to continually open the mental filing cabinet of revenge, or emotions that prompt us to change our course. Sometimes anger and hurt seem preferable to feeling rejected, anxious or helpless. Emotions can be a self-protective measure that we use to justify our refusal to embrace the danger of re-entering a fractured relationship.
Our emotions can pump up our sense of superiority that prevents us from recognizing our own sin and failure that contribute to conflict. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a decision and an action. Our thoughts also can keep the mental filing cabinet open. Beware of patterns,  places and times when left to your thoughts the default setting isn't pretty. Take every thought captive to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8 the composition of the thought life of a Christian.
In forgiving us God made a tremendous sacrifice and absorbed the penalty for our sin. Forgiving means accepting the wound that has been delivered and choosing to draw near to the one who has harmed us. Our forgiveness requires the sacrifice of facing the pain to deal with the situation, the discomfort of talking about it, and sacrificing the security of your world to enter the world of the one who has sinned against you. This is what God did in Jesus Christ as He entered the world of our sinfulness.
In forgiving us God accomplished good. He doesn't just forgive us. He promises to use even our worst failures to work good into our lives. When we forgive our husbands we trust that God will be at work for our good and the good of our marriages. We must trust God that He will do as He promised. Romans 8:28. Forgiveness may not change your husband, but it will surely change you. It is the path that God provides to draw back the curtain that separates you from your husband.
God is patient to allow us time to grow. He is fully aware in His forgiveness that we are moving along the path to holiness and that path reaches its home only in heaven. Growth is a life-long process and growth in choosing forgiveness is as well.
If forgiveness is so wonderful, then why is it so hard to choose? Sometimes our motives are incomplete or insincere. For example, conflict may be so difficult and unpleasant that we may choose to scoot through just to get the misery back in the bottle. As one good counselor says, "Deal with it now or deal with it later. But you'll have to deal with it." Not dealing thoroughly with forgiveness is like stitching up a wound that hasn't been cleaned well. There's more trouble ahead. The effects of sin need to be verbalized, as painful as that can be. What you've said has hurt me. Your anger frightens me. Your unfaithfulness has destroyed my trust and crushed my heart. The offending spouse needs to own up to their sin and confess it. When we as wives are quick to own up to sin and confess we provide a safety net of sorts for our husbands to do the same thing. Confession means to come into agreement with.



The offending spouse needs to express repentance from the sin and a genuine desire to be filled with godliness. Remember as well that there are natural consequences of sin that often need to occur. Forgiveness does not mean there are no consequences. Read Marriage Matters for more details on that!
Henry Nouwen says "Forgiveness is love practiced among people who love poorly." It needs to be learned and relearned, practiced and then practiced some more. Forgiveness is difficult because it does not immediately restore trust or relieve pain. The burden of the restoration of trust falls on the shoulders of the offender and the healing from pain on the shoulders of the other. In each case both parties must be willing to diligently, willingly, and intentionally move toward one another and in reasonable time. If restoration and reconciliation is your goal, then move toward the goal line.
In the meantime remember these things which will aid you in choosing forgiveness:
I have been forgiven much. Lord, help me to desire mercy and forgiveness for my husband as much as I desire it for myself. Entering into the world of painful consequences of the sins of another, especially a husband, can bring new-found depth of understanding to the truth that Jesus Christ bore immeasurable pain and suffering for you. "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death." Phil. 3:10. Do you?
Remember also that you and your husband are more alike than different. Really? Sin causes us to elevate ourselves above others and when we are injured by our spouse it can be tempting to comfort ourselves by elevating our worth and importance above theirs.  We are all in equal need of God's forgiveness of our law-breaking that we read about in Matthew 5-7. If one of you needs to forgive, you go first.
Trust that God will use this discipline for your good and the good of your marriage. Confessing sin and forgiving is a proclamation of the gospel that there is a way back from sin. There is a way to healing, a way through brokenness. Walk through the curtain.

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