(The following paragraph is a modern lament I call, How. Traditional Hebrew laments, such as Lamentations, began their text using the word “How”—see, and . Thus, the title of Lamentations is Ekah, “How.”)
How did this marriage turn so cold when, once upon a time, it was beautiful and loving? The young Christian couple shared everything together and lived as one. The years passed and their relationship deteriorated to a mere outward performance of duties and responsibilities. Sometimes they verbally attacked one another. Usually, they did not talk at all. Each prided himself/herself that the other was not worthy to know his/her inner thoughts. Rather than constructively discussing the problem, this silent treatment was a convenient way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Its main purpose, however, was to inflict pain. “How,” begs the question as we ask incredulously, “did this happen?” No one remembers the events for sure, but an offense took place along the way. It may have been relatively small, yet one angry comment led to another one back. There were no sincere apologies and plenty of grudge bearing. The couple continued to go to church regularly, sit next to one another, and the congregation was none the wiser. Though they resided in the same house, they lived separate lives. They wept sore, but there were no cries for forgiveness, no cries for mercy. Their children suffered and grew up confused and bitter.
The End. The End? How? The Christian couple just gave up? Why bother with such hopeless fiction. Wait—did you say this is not fiction but reality for some Christian couples? This is heartbreaking news! How can we help our brothers and sisters in Christ? So, this story really has a point to it. Indeed, marriages need mercy. Every couple will have disagreements, but how they work through their problems is so important. We have a sinful nature and are prone to sin in our relationships, to our shame, but a marriage that lacks mercy is especially cruel.
During this upcoming wedding season, many of our engaged couples will plan to have the “Form for the Confirmation of Marriage Before the Church” read during their wedding ceremony. It is an edifying form, especially while contemplating God’s mercy and our need to show it in our marriages. The Form says, “He will aid and protect married persons, even when they are least deserving it.” This is mercy—receiving aid and protection from the One we sin against. How we need to meditate on this humbling truth!
The beginning of the Marriage Form states, “Whereas married persons are generally, by reason of sin, subject to many troubles and afflictions….” Yes, this is a realistic opening for our newlyweds. Our sin is the reason for many troubles. Without mercy, troubles will surely increase. Yet, a couple that shows mercy has a humble, ready attitude to forgive each other. There is a mutual respect. They delight, not in winning arguments, but in living closely as one.
In the section of the Form where the groom is instructed on how to behave towards his wife, he is told to love, comfort, honor her…and be not bitter against her…, “that your prayers be not hindered.” A Christian who understands mercy knows that God has forgiven him or her many grievous sins. To our shame, we can become bitter against our spouse for much smaller offenses. Jesus teaches us, “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (). An unforgiving attitude can hinder our prayers and must be repented of.
After the bride and groom exchange vows, the minister continues reading this in the Form: “The Father of all mercies, who of His grace has called you to this holy state of marriage, bind you in true love and faithfulness, and grant you His blessing.” Our heavenly Father is the Father of all mercies—every one of them. He redeems our life from destruction. He is gracious, slow to anger, forgiving. He inclines His ear to our prayers. Truly, His tender, healing mercies are a soothing balm upon our sin-sick souls. “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (). May we never forget all His merciful benefits.
It is a great blessing to learn mercy from God who shows us mercy. Perhaps you see, as I do, personal failings. Yet, does your soul not cry out to God and ask for forgiveness and for this grace? Marriages need mercy. The more, by faith, we see God’s glory, the more we are conformed to His image (). Likewise, the more we taste of His mercy, the more we desire to show mercy to others, especially our spouse and our children.
Mercy is compassion, tenderness, forbearance, forgiveness, pity, kindness, patience. When we have mercy, we desire to relieve one who is in pain and distress. Most notably, we relieve one who has sinned against us through forgiveness. A merciful person not only apologizes but says, “I forgive you.” It is a happy couple that is humbly aware of their own faults, for God’s love and mercy is shed abroad in their hearts.
Marrying in the Lord is essential for mercy in marriage. This is a truth we stress to our children and a joy when we see them take it to heart. Not long ago at our Christian school, a five-year-old girl was chasing a boy on the playground. When she caught him she gave him a kiss. Eventually, the mother of the girl heard of her daughter’s displays of affection. They had a talk after school. In the course of the discussion, the mother made clear her daughter should not be kissing boys for reasons including her age. “But Mom,” protested the kindergartner in all sincerity, “he loves the Lord!” Indeed, what a gracious gift from God to be married to one who loves the Lord! In God’s good time, may our young adults who seek a spouse have this wisdom.
Christian couples who are happily married usually have some good advice. After all, we are, by God’s grace, learning from our mistakes, are we not? At some of our children’s wedding receptions and others we have attended, the guests are given index cards to jot down a thought or two. The purpose is to give advice and wishes for the new “Mr. and Mrs.” Some are serious and others light-hearted, but a common thread in the advice my children received was related to mercy. Here is a sampling: “Don’t keep score of past wrongs”; “Always forgive each other”; “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger“ (); “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” ( ). This was a common theme among the advice cards, and for good reason. As in the sad story at the beginning, sinful anger is destructive to a marriage. Those of us who are married know how easy it is to offend one another, due to our own selfishness and pride. The Scriptures exhort us to confess our faults and forgive right away. Do not go to bed angry. Another card said, “Don’t ever fight. It’s dumb!” Well said!
If any couple could have blamed one another for the rest of their marriage, it would have been our first parents after their fall into sin. Their loss was monumental. It was soon after that Adam named his wife. He could have chosen a name that would be a reminder of her sin—perhaps Mara, meaning bitter, or a name meaning temptress or misery. Upon each hearing of her name there would be overwhelming guilt and grief.
Yet, God came to the couple first in His mercy. He gave them hope in the promise of. He made known He would place enmity between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed, giving victory to His suffering people in Christ. The couple’s blaming was short-lived; by faith, Adam believed God’s promise and named his wife accordingly. He named her Eve, the mother of all living. Adam showed his wife mercy.
Certainly, there are some marriages where a spouse is wickedly abandoned despite (or because of) a merciful, godly witness. In such cases, the church family is called to extend loving, compassionate mercies upon the abandoned spouse and children.
There is a sense that all of us ask “how” when we go through great difficulties. As our Marriage Form again reminds us, “Whereas married persons are generally, by reason of sin, subject to many troubles and afflictions…,” our hope in God for His mercy gets us through. Though mercy is gentle and soft, it is by no means weak. God’s mercy is enduring, abundant, and everlasting.
The faithful, weeping prophet Jeremiah asked “how” in the book of Lamentations. His life was filled with hardship, sorrow, and persecution. After years of having kings fight him, prophets speak against him, priests want to kill him, his people reject the Word of God he proclaimed, it was then that Jeremiah writes about God’s mercies. Mercy is shown God’s people all of the time, but it is especially in the more difficult moments that we delight in it. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (). When we wake in the morning with heavy burdens to bear, a fresh store of God’s mercies are ready for us right there.
May we sing from the heart with our families this truth:
O come, my soul, bless thou the Lord thy Maker,
And all within me bless His holy Name;
Bless thou the Lord, forget not all His mercies,
His pard’ning grace and saving love proclaim.
Bless Him, ye angels, wondrous in might,
Bless Him, His servants that in His will delight.
(Psalter #283, “Motives to Gratitude”)