"I've finally found someone who makes me happy," he said with a dreamy confidence.
"But you're married," his pastor reminded him.
"Well, it's not like we're husband and wife; we don't live like it anyway."
"Then you need to work on that instead of looking for someone else."
"We've been through all that, we're past all that. Besides, I wasn't looking for anyone. God brought Julia into my life for a reason. You always say there's no such thing as an accident - God is always working."
"You think God brought this Julia into your life to commit adultery with?" asked the incredulous pastor.
"No," the man laughed condescendingly, shaking his head at his pastor's simple-minded question. "We haven't committed adultery. We've both decided to wait until we're married for any of that. I do know that Julia is God's relief from all the misery I've been through with Rachel."
"You can't get married. You are married! To Rachel. God gave you Rachel as a wife."
"But God also wants us to be happy, and neither of us are."
"Who told you that?"
"You did, Pastor. You tell us that all the time."
"That's not how I mean it, and I think you know that."
"Well, a loving God wouldn't want his children to live in hell every day. He's not getting any glory from our marriage anyway. At least Julia and I will love each other, and that will make God happy."
"You can't do this. God will not be mocked,"
"Well, I've prayed about it a lot. Julia has, too. We're not trying to mock God, and he knows our hearts. We're not taking any of this lightly. We're both sure this is where God is leading."
"You're wrong. Plain and simple. And you cannot go down this road without consequences," the pastor replied, wondering how eleven years of preaching and marriage counseling led to this.
The above scenario is fiction, but it is based nearly verbatim on comments that have been made by professing Christians concerning their marriages. Maybe you've heard similar things. Maybe you've said similar things. What is it that has led to such cowardly lovers? Where is the emotional ruggedness that seems to fill every page of Scripture? Are we too far gone down the road of therapeutic mishmash to ever find our way back? I don't think so. But coming back will require a whole lot of difficult teaching on who God really is and what his love really means.
When people want to get out of a marriage, they will justify it by any means they can. They often assume God is in the ring with them - not to fight, but to root them on from their corner. So they square off against well-intentioned friends, and legalistic, rigid pastors, quite certain that God has their back. Surely God hates "spiritual abuse" as much as they do. These pastors can't be speaking for a loving God. They must be trying to control people for their own kicks. It never occurs to them that God is unbending.
Let me share a text of Scripture that sheds light on the love of God in a way that many cowardly lovers need to hear.
"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:31-39).
What can we learn about God's love from this text?
1. God is for us. No matter what we go through, God is for us. He gave up his own Son for our sake. He will certainly not abandon us after that. Jesus is our Substitute, dying in our place. And Jesus is our Substitute, giving us his status and inheritance. No one can undo what Jesus did. No one. Not even ourselves. As Christians, we are justified by God and will live with him in eternal bliss.
2. But God being for us in justification does not mean that God is for us in whatever decisions we make on earth. Jesus is in Heaven interceding for us. Wow! The Son of God is in Heaven right now praying for us. The Bible says the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes a lot. How much would Jesus' prayers accomplish on our behalf? Well, we should never have another trial as long as we live with Jesus in our corner.
3. Because of Jesus' intercession, and his sacrifice, nothing can separate us from God's love. His love is stronger than any force in the universe. Why is it important to understand God's rugged love? Because we're going to go through the furnace on earth! Look at how Paul tries to encourage the Romans. Does he promise smooth sailing because of God's love? No. It's the opposite. "God loves you so much that when you go through tribulation and distress and persecution and hunger and poverty and even death, he's still there waiting on the other side." That's Paul's idea of comfort. Not escape from the trials of life. But the promise of God's love through the trial.
4. Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of Christ. When God says that marriage is the picture of Christ's love for the church, he is talking about a rugged, durable, strong, non-cowardly kind of love that sticks with its commitments. God doesn't turn his back on his marriage vows, even when we do. And that is our example.
When Christians go through hard times in their marriages, there is a temptation to put God's love on trial. If God is loving, then he wouldn't want me to live this way. And if he does want me to stay married, like the pastor says, then God must not be loving like I thought he was. There is a third option, the right option. God is loving in a more rugged sense than we can wrap our minds around. And he expects no less from those created in his image and capable of such love.