Forgiveness: Forgiveness of a Spouse

Conflict in Marriage

Remember the days of butterflies in the tummy as you gazed into the eyes of your newlywed?  The honeymoon experience felt like you had arrived on the utopian planet people longed for, and time seemed to slow down as you savoured those precious moments with the one with whom you vowed to spend the rest of your life. Then came the first real disagreement and the balloon of bliss popped as you arrived back to earth with a bump!

Conflict within a marriage is no new phenomenon. Spare a thought for Adam and Eve when, having experienced true utopian paradise, they were driven from the presence of God in the newfound shame of sin. It was of Eve’s initiative that Adam ate of the tree, but whose pitiful idea it was to sew fig leaves or hide from God among the trees, we do not know. When we read the narrative in Genesis 3, there seems to be an element of blame going on when they were questioned by God. Conflict had raised its ugly head in their marriage. This brought with it consequences so severe that soon they were burying their second-born son, murdered in cold blood by his own brother. What happened to Adam and Eve? Was the discord between them resolved? Did their marriage last?

For the answer, we turn to Genesis 5:3 and read that 130 years after the garden experience, they were still intimately together, bringing children into this world. Verse 4 teaches us that this continued for many years, no doubt with the same excitement and appreciation expressed by Eve in Genesis 4:1,25. How could marriage survive such an experience? The title of this article provides the answer!

Communion in Marriage

From Adam and Eve, we trace the pathway of humanity littered with marital conflict, leading all too often to the breakdown of that sacred union. It is with intense sadness that God looks on a broken world where it is supposed that the easier option is to separate rather than to work through conflict. There are numerous difficulties that newlyweds face, but it would be extraordinarily abnormal to wake on the morning after the honeymoon with bitter resentment against your spouse. No, generally the seemingly insurmountable problems within a marriage, when analysed, stem from little quarrels that were never resolved – a clash of wills, an unrestrained tongue, a petty argument leading to a cold shoulder for a day or a night alone on the couch. These things appear insignificant, but cracks are formed, small issues are brushed over, and deeper rifts develop. It’s like getting a splinter in the finger, externally trivial, yet if left unchecked can become infected, progressing to greater problems and pain.

Closeness within a marriage is utterly essential for its success, but how can that exist when we face these niggling troubles? There are two ingredients that are necessary: (1) The humility to put things right, and (2) The willingness to forgive. Pride is a plague to any marriage, and if we’re honest, it’s the ultimate reason for many a breakdown. Living on a dysfunctional planet is a reality, and carrying the flesh as a Christian is inescapable, but these things should not be an excuse for a lack of intimacy within a marriage. Communion in a marriage requires work.

Communication in Marriage

It is essential that married couples keep short accounts. I am ashamed to admit that the first disagreement my wife and I ever had resulted in my going to bed refusing to speak to her. Around midnight she woke me to say that, reflecting on Ephesians 4:26-27 (“Let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil”),[1] she hadn’t been able to sleep. I had to humble myself and acknowledge that we needed to resolve this. In light of Scripture, we sorted out our disagreement and prayed together. In the fear of God, we can say that from that day to this, we have not gone to sleep without attempting to have the little things sorted out and acknowledging that we love each other. Does this eliminate problems? No! But it does provide a safe space to deal with issues, forgive one another and foster love. This requires patient interaction, a readiness to surrender my own agenda, and a wholehearted endeavour to cast off my pride.

In this very context, Paul states, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (vv29-32).

Commitment in Marriage

We live in a society that has regrettably been influenced by the Hollywood world of easy divorce. Marriages are expedient, partners are considered tradable, and lifelong commitment to one’s spouse is deemed old fashioned. There are times when serious sin comes between spouses: the broken trust of infidelity, the destructive nature of an uncontrolled temper or severe addiction, to name a few. Is forgiveness possible? Perhaps the greatest picture of spousal forgiveness in our Bible is drawn for us by the prophet Hosea. Hosea’s wife is a picture of Israel, the unfaithful wife of Jehovah, committing adultery as a harlot and depicting Israel’s sins. Although there were sad consequences, Hosea represents the unfailing love of God for His people, His commitment to them resulting in His willingness to forgive. Should not this be displayed by us as His children? Beloved reader, let us approach marriage difficulties with the commitment to refrain from contemplating separation or divorce. If both spouses take this attitude into marriage, surely it will be the foundation for forgiveness to be experienced.

It’s fitting to close as Hosea does: “Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein” (Hos 14:9).

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.