Tom had been giving Ethel lifts to home group whilst his wife Gladys stayed at home. When we first met their situation, we talked about a gut instinct that things were wrong and that we weren’t getting to hear the whole story. Tom had admitted that his marriage was in difficulty, there were arguments, they had lost the spark of romance and yes he had been tempted by the attention he was getting from Ethel.
Back when we first met them, we started by applying the Doctrine of the Trinity to their situation and we saw that:
- God’s eternal love is faithful love and so it is to faithful love that he calls us when we make our marriage vows.
- God is eternally and perfectly love; the Creator is distinct from the creature. This challenges us because we realise that faithful love is difficult and we fail. This pushes us back to greater dependence upon God and on grace.
- God’s eternal love means that we can continue to depend on his love and presence in the future.
Now, looking at their case with the wider Doctrine of God in place, we can add some further things that Tom, Gladys, Ethel and you (as their counsellor) need to know. I want to just highlight two aspects of God’s goodness and greatness that are pertinent to this situation.
- God is all knowing and this means we cannot hide the truth for ever
Oh dear, I think this is one of those areas where we can as Christians be intellectually orthodox but heretics bordering on atheism in practice. What do I mean by that?
Well, remember two things. First of all, God is simple, meaning that his attributes are essential to him. Secondly, one of his attributes is his omniscience. He knows everything so that nothing escapes his knowledge. He knows it eternally so that he foreknows what will happen and that he does not forget. He knows it perfectly so that there is no detail that escapes his knowledge.
Yet we act in practice as though God does not know everything perfectly. We try to keep secrets and we convince ourselves that God is not watching. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we think that we can hide things from God. If God knows everything, then he is to be feared. Let that hang there for a moment. We want to patch things up so quickly that we don’t like tough things like this to be heard. Yet if these three people are going to really grasp and enjoy the costly grace that came at and through the Cross, then they need to know the seriousness of sin. When we act as though we can keep secrets, we are in serious danger. We desperately need forgiveness. Praise God that we have a saviour in Jesus.
Additionally, this is helpful for us to know when we are counselling people. It is helpful because it reminds us that sin as rebellion against God will be characterised by deceit. We aren’t shocked and surprised when we discover that others have been economical with the truth. This is helpful because it means that we go into the situation with our eyes open and it enables us to stick with people even when we discover the lie.
Secondly, it takes the pressure off us. There’s a room in our church building and no matter what we do with it, as soon as you put a table and a couple of chairs in there, it feels like an MI5 interrogation room. Well, that room may look like an interrogation room, but it does not mean that pastors, counsellors and friends need to turn into policemen or secret service agents in order to extract the truth from someone. When we talk about God’s knowledge, we also want to say that he is the Lord of all knowledge, just as he is the Lord of time and space. This means that we can trust him to bring all things into the light in his time and in his way. In fact, often in challenging situations, that’s one of my first prayers – that God will bring the truth into the open.
Oh, and that will again mean humility and a dependence on grace for us too. We will make all sorts of pastoral decisions and give all sorts of advice on incomplete or faulty knowledge. Later on, we may look back and think “if I’d known that bit of information” or “if only I’d had a greater awareness of what was really going on” or “if I’d better understood what God’s Word meant at that point,” then I would have done things differently. So we need humility to acknowledge our own fallibility and we need grace for forgiveness when we get it wrong too.
- God is all wise and this means that his decision to join Tom and Gladys together was the right one
Tom and Gladys may be struggling and feel that their marriage is a complete mess. Tom may have decided that it was a mistake and, if it was a mistake, then it was God’s mistake too. We command people at the marriage service “what God has joined together, let no man separate.” It’s God who brings two people together in marriage. It’s his will and that means that it is for good. God knows best.
Now, remember once again that we distinguish God’s secret will from his revealed will. We must act on his precepts. This means that we know he commands marriage and forbids adultery and divorce. So, whilst God may use the bad circumstances of a separation for his greater good in the long term, this does not change the fact that, in his wisdom, he evaluates faithful, lifelong marriage as good and divorce as bad. We must trust his wisdom on this.