Marriage on the rocks?
It’s time to return to our scenarios. Let’s go back to Tom and Gladys. Tom, you will remember was giving Ethel a lift to Home Group whilst his wife Gladys stayed at home. So how do we apply our knowledge of the Doctrine of the Trinity to this pastoral situation?
It’s worth saying at the outset that this presents itself as one of those seemingly no win situations. You will feel that you are lacking a lot of information. You are running on gut instinct and lack hard evidence. What if you’ve just misread the situation? You step in to find out what is going on and immediately get accused of being suspicious and judgemental. The angry response is not just from Tom and Ethel, possibly from Gladys too but also from others in the group. On the other hand, time is ticking. You may be dealing with a marriage and family in danger. Can you afford to wait for hard evidence to show up?
So here we are with a lot of questions and big gaps in our knowledge. There are so many what ifs at stake here. What if Tom and Ethel have embarked on an affair? What if it is currently just friendship and lifts? Tom goes past Ethel’s house and so it makes sense? What if Tom’s marriage is struggling and Ethel is offering advice and support to them both.
However, these what ifs don’t actually prevent action. First of all, there’s still a responsibility to act with wisdom and integrity. So, a husband giving a lift to another woman on a regular basis is going to be unwise as is turning to her for marriage advice.
Secondly, if there is a marital problem, we may be tempted to look for blame. Is Tom at fault or his wife? But at this point it doesn’t really matter. You see, we can fall into the secular trap of thinking that either the husband or the wife is causing problems in the marriage then that excuses the other “innocent” party when they are tempted to look elsewhere or to pursue separation but it does not.
So, whatever the exact situation and whatever the rights and wrongs, we are going to go into any conversation with Tom, Gladys and Ethel with some firm Biblical principles. And once again, whilst the Bible’s teaching on The Trinity will not give us exhaustive answers to whatever problems we discover, it still has a significant contribution to make.
So let’s go and meet Tom and Gladys. This time, it doesn’t (at first appearance) take much to open the situation up. During the coffee break at church, you ask Tom how the family are . There’s a pause. “Not great to be honest.” He replies after a bit. Gladys and I just seem to be arguing all the time. It feels like our love has grown cold.” He starts to open up. Yes he has been tempted to look elsewhere, yes there’s someone at Home Group who he finds he relates to. She appreciates his humour, she respects him. No, nothing has happened yet. His conscience has stepped in and prevented him from acting further.
Again at this point you are probably thinking:
- “If only real life were this simple? People don’t tend to spill the beans that easily do they?”
- “I’m not convinced even right now that Tom has told me all the truth or that he’s doing so willingly. Can I be sure that this isn’t just the partial confession of someone who has already been caught out?”
- Even if this is “all” that there is, surely this in itself is serious. Does he realise and will he accept how serious this is? It’s easy isn’t it to hide behind the “we only formed a ‘platonic’ relationship” excuse and ignore the fact that adultery is committed first in the heart and that already a relationship appears to be in progress providing a counterfeit rival to the exclusive commitment required in marriage.
These are all good points which again we will want to talk through. At this stage though let’s just highlight how the Doctrine of the Trinity will shape our presuppositions as we begin to talk things over.
Once again, the key foundation is that God is Love. The Trinity presses home the point that this love is eternal and essential to his character. For the people involved in this messy situation this provides three levels of good news.
- It gives Tom and Gladys an insight into what love should be like, what the true nature of love is. Love isn’t something we fall into and fall out of. If God’s love is eternal then it is characterised by faithfulness. When God calls Tom and Gladys to love each other faithfully and not to give up on each other, he is calling them to do something that he does. Faithfulness is essential to God’s loving character. Just as The Father eternally loves the Son, so the Father and Son have shown covenant faithfulness to us. It’s no this basis that God tells us to keep on loving even through the dry and difficult spells.
- This eternal love is inherent to God but not to us. He is infinite, we are finite. He is perfect, we are fallen. We will fail. We do not match up to his perfect standard. This means two things. First of all, it means that we are going to have to work at faithfulness. We cannot expect t things to come together easily. So when Tom and Gladys look forward and see that the path ahead is going to be difficult and painful as they try to sort things out, there’s no surprise. It is going to be costly but then they married “For richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.” This is good news because it stops them and us walking into the counselling situation thinking that we’re going to wave some spiritual magical wand over the situation.
- This eternal love offers the promise that He will never leave us on our own to face the problem. It means that His grace and forgiveness are on offer. This is good news because it means it is possible for Tom and Gladys to face up to what is ahead and to be even more honest than they already have been.