Bad Marriage/Good Marriage

by Patti Folkerts

Have any of you ever been in a bad marriage? No need to answer, of course. I do not believe that there is any situation under heaven more insidiously debasing than living with someone who is supposed to love you supremely, but who treats you as dirt underfoot by lying to you, mistreating you, abusing you, and being unfaithful to you. I think that possibly the lowest self-esteem an adult can have is the result of a bad marriage.

Let us speak in parables now. Suppose you are married to someone who you love dearly. You are devoted to this person beyond any devotion that you have ever experienced. You try to please him/her. You do special things for him/her so that (s)he will be happy. At first, everything is bliss. You are quite certain that your little acts of love are striking their target directly in the heart, and you are happy and fulfilled.

Soon, much too soon for you, the honeymoon is over. Your soul mate starts finding fault with you, getting angry at you for no real reason. (S)he no longer affirms your love by responding to it. On the contrary, nothing you do seems to be good enough. So, you do what every human would do. You try harder. You work even harder to keep the house neat, keep the yard work done, make a good living, spend extra time/money with him/her. But it seems the harder you work the less your spouse likes you. You try to change things about yourself that you know your spouse doesn't like. You lose weight, you color your hair, you stop working late hours, you turn off the TV and try to have romantic time with him/her. But no matter what you do, it isn't enough. You are lost and frustrated. You lash out at him/her. You are called all kinds of names for your reactions. You scream and cry. (S)he laughs at your hysteria, slaps you, calls you crazy, and walks out the door, only to come home hours and hours later with tousled hair and a foreign cologne on his/her clothing.

The phone begins to ring at all hours of the day or night. A strange person calls and asks if your mate is home. When you ask who it is, (s)he hangs up. You ask your spouse about it; (s)he says you are imagining things. Your spouse says (s)he has been called out of town on business. You mollify yourself and decide to take yourself out to dinner. There you see your spouse dancing in the arms of another person. Angrily you confront your spouse when (s)he finally comes home the next morning, only to be cursed and told you are crazy. You persist; you are struck and kicked several times. (S)he calls help and throws you out of the house and locks the door.

You are in so much shock that you actually believe that you are to blame, so the next day you come back to the house and beg forgiveness only to have him/her lock and bar the doors and call the police on you.

You cannot imagine how this could happen. How could you love someone so much who treats you so badly?

Have you figured out where I am going with this yet?

When we are married to the law, we are in a bad marriage. The law will never do anything but mock, berate, condemn, and eventually destroy us. The law tells us that we are not worthy of it. What do we do then? Why, we try harder, of course. The law, then, only beats us harder, demanding more and more. The harder we try, the more abusive the law becomes.

What should we do? We must divorce the law.

Let me continue with my parable:

You came to the end of your rope. There was no choice but to remove yourself from this awful marriage and try to pick up the pieces. You divorce this abusive spouse. There comes a new Person into your life. One that loves you much more than you could ever understand. And because you don't understand, because you don't know what being loved feels like, you have a hard time believing that it is true. This person not only tries to make you happy, (s)he also makes excuses for your shortcomings. (S)he helps you with responsibilities that you have failed to carry out without chastising you or throwing guilt on you. (S)he comforts you when you disappoint yourself, (s)he never notices when you fail to give him/her the attention (s)he deserves. (S)he laughs and kisses you when you say that you cannot understand why (s)he is so good to you. (S)he is always near, touching you, caressing you, taking burdens off of your shoulders. When you ask why (s)he loves you, (s)he says, "Because you are mine." Although you revel in his/her company, roll in his/her kindnesses to you, it is still very difficult for you to understand why (s)he would love you the way (s)he does. (S)he says, "It is OK. You do not have to understand why. You just need to believe that I do. Not for My sake, but for your own."

This person marries you without any regard for your past. (S)he does not care that you have failed at marriage or at life many times over. (S)he loves you no matter what you have done or will do. At first you feel awkward and selfish to be the obviously undeserving recipient of such powerful love. You feel like you must respond with some sort of love gift in order to maintain this love relationship. But the love coming from your spouse is so overwhelming that you know that nothing you do would influence it one way or the other.

So what do you do? You try to show your spouse with your kindness and deeds that you love him/her also, but everything you do seems so small and insignificant in relation to the love that your lover has shown to you.

This is very much like the Gospel. Jesus Christ marries Himself to His people regardless of their inward conditions. He knows that there is no way they can comprehend His great saving love; He merely asks them to believe. His commitment to His children is total -- even to the death of the cross. He asks nothing of them in return except to accept and believe that He has paid the full price of their redemption.

Oddly enough, there are those who choose to stay married to the law. And they loudly and openly condemn those who have removed themselves from a painful relationship. They boast of their fidelity to an abusive spouse.

The problem is that, just as in marital love, some people believe that love for something is generated by the thing being loved. Thus the saying, I love him because he is ... (wonderful, kind, loving, etc.), is not an accurate representation of the source of love. Love springs from the heart of the lover. You love something because of what is in you, not because of what is in the object of your affection. Therefore, quite honest, kind and loving people can love the most selfish, vile, and corrupt people and things.

People love the law not because of what the law is -- a mean schoolmaster -- but for what they are, or want to be, inside. They want to be pure and holy, and they believe that the law shows them how to become pure and holy. On the contrary, the law is an abusive spouse that constantly points out our faults and shortcomings to us.

Jesus, in stark contrast, loved us before we existed. He loves us not because of what we are, but because of what He is. We cannot begin to fathom that kind of love, all we can do is accept it by faith. And we can know that, since this love is based upon what He is, and not upon what we are, it will not be taken away from us.

But there is a problem here: You cannot be a bigamist. You cannot be married both to the law and to Christ. If you are married to the law, you must divorce yourself from it before you can become married to Christ. And if you are married to Christ, you divorce Him if you choose to return to the law.

Bad marriage/good marriage. Why would anyone stay in a bad marriage if they had a choice in the matter? The Good News is that in Jesus Christ we can divorce that abusive spouse and can experience the wonder, the joy, the security, and the confidence of being truly loved, truly married to One whose love has no bounds.

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