One of my “soap-box” points, on which I am continually harping, is the importance of the pastoral implications and applicability of doctrine, and of theology. If there is a particular point about the nature of God and of our relationship with Him that is intellectually stimulating and recreationally pleasing to fondle, but has no true impact on my life, then I think that is a pretty fair description of what it means to “take the Lord’s name in vane” (No, it doesn’t mean saying “OMG!” as tiresome as that is).
True, committed theology has about the same relationship to that fruitless kind as marriage has to (to attempt some delicacy) other, more private forms of sexual activity.
No, if there is any truth about a Supreme Being, then it matters supremely. Or it is false. More likely, I just want to think about it in abstract, and not apply it to me. Saves lots of unpleasant thoughts, don’t ya know.
Simul justes et peccator.
Martin Luther’s great phrase, summing up the truth of our nature as both “Simultaneously Justified, and yet a Sinner.” Feels horribly contradictory except to those who have had a smattering of quantum physics, more on that idea some other time. My point for today is that this great truth applies to me. And how some of us, in this case, I, prefer to see myself as “justes” and leave the “peccator” as far in the background as I can shove it. But both are true, or there is no Gospel. If I decline to see that I am that sinner, then I am unable to see that the Gospel applies to me. And if I cannot confess my sin, I cannot proclaim my redemption, and my Redeemer. Indeed, I can know nothing of Him, save as an intellectual fantasy.
One of my other big themes is the need to acknowledge “Truth” even simple truth. As I’ve said elsewhere, God gave His name to Moses as “I AM.” To me, that means at a minimum, that He is truth. He is as He is, not as someone may pretend Him to be. As Jesus said “… I am the way, the truth, and the life…” To cultivate a habit of denying the truth is to cultivate a habit of walking separate from God. God is reality (protests from my atheist friends noted), and by simple algebra, choosing something other than reality is choosing something other than God. That is not a formula for long-term development. It is the definition of damnation.
And that is my sin. I’m not primarily speaking of hypocrisy, although that is a reasonable charge; all who proclaim the goodness of God know something more than they practice. We are peccatori after all. My sin is more direct, and more grievous.
Close readers will have gathered something of my family story, a long and difficult marriage, followed be separation and divorce (between two Christians), and ultimate reconciliation and restoration. I was and am overjoyed at the grace bestowed by God, much of it delivered to me through my wife. I thought, and continue to thing of our story as a small, tangible and local example of what He is doing, on a scale too big to see, with all creation. But I, despite my “wonderful understanding” of this very good thing, have almost screwed it up. No, strike that.
I did screw it up. The fact that our marriage continues has nothing to do with any “almost” on my part. I completely failed, and chose unreality; I gave my wife, as I would presumably give God, unreality. We continue based on unmerited grace, not on any “almost but not quite” degree of sin on my part. I did fail.
The substance of my failure is neither particularly germane nor interesting. But a confession is not a confession if it holds in the dark the things one wants to hold in the dark, so I will set out at least some of the details. During our separation, I held a fair amount of the debt we had accumulated, as I had the greater earning potential. I greatly added to that, some due to issues surrounding the divorce, legal bills, setting up housekeeping against future earnings, etc. Unfortunately, I also yielded to the temptation born of almost three decades of pent-up desire to have things my own way, and increased that debt. Bad enough, and many lectures about stewardship, and proper use of what God has given, making the present and the future a slave to the past, etc. Very unfaithful move. Guilty as charged.
But the next step was worse. Two months before our remarriage, I took a demotion at work leading to a very large reduction of income. My ability to retire that debt was becoming severely compromised. And yet I said nothing about it, not even about it’s existence! Lots of reasons for that, but Adam had lots of reasons too. As we are fond of saying around the office, excuses satisfy only the one making them. On to chapter three –
After all this came to light (and an annulment based on defective intent on my part would have been a legitimate claim –my wife did not call for that), we set up a system based on my self-reporting each month the status of my accounts and progress made. After about 3-4 months it became fiction, with made up numbers showing progress. In the front of my mind was the claim that I would make it up out of overtime, or the next bonus check.
As the folks in 12-step programs are fond of noting, “da Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt!”
But denial is a self-chosen lie, told to oneself. A lie which I both choose to tell, and choose to believe; it is as close as a man can come to walking into the unreality which is the Biblical “outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Of course, the whole house of cards came tumbling down eventually. We are struggling to repair the damage. The financial damage, both to our present and to our future, is great; it will force years of struggle at a time where we should be thinking about what we would like to do with retirement. But the larger issue is of my offering marriage, while withholding true and important information; and then continuing by deception and lies. Adultery could hardly have been worse.
OK, that’s the bad news.
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father;
I have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.
I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own hearts.
I have offended against thy holy laws.
I have left undone those things which I ought to have done;
And have done those things which I ought not to have done;
And there is no health in me.
But there is good news-
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults.
Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Simul Justus et Peccator
If I walk in the light of the truth, in the light of the One who says “I AM the truth,” then there is healing and health. All can be forgiven and made right, except choosing to remain in the dark telling the world, God and myself lies trying to increase the darkness less my shame be exposed. I can be declared “just” because of the grace of God, indeed, He has so declared me; even while I am a sinner, Christ died for me. (Romans 5:8)
Does that mean that I am off the hook with my wife? “God has forgiven me, so you better get with the program and forgive me, too!”?
God forbid! (and He does)
I did not just lie to her and cheat her, I hurt and scarred her. I took a piece of the future from her without asking, and without her permission.
Now, I have, and have had very few doubts for the last 30 years, that she would lay down her life for me. But there is a chasm of difference in the small step between laying it down by choice, and having the choice imposed upon you by a lie.
It is the difference between a gift, and extortion and theft. The same money changes hands in the same way. But it is not the same. A more intense example is the difference between physical love and rape. A much more intense example, but it is not a false one.
If she can overcome the scars, she will be saying, in effect,
“That which you stole from me, I bestow on you as a free and open gift”
No, not just “in effect,” in truth, word and deed.
That is a grace she cannot be required to extend, God does not demand it of her. I of all people cannot. It remains something for God to do, in her, for her, for us, if He wills.
May God make me worthy of such a gift.
R. Eric Sawyer