A man walks into my office to share news. He’s been having an affair and it is long standing. Soon everyone will know. He wants to know what to do because he has children. He doesn’t want to see his wife hurt anymore than the news itself will bring, if that’s possible. He knows that admitting this hurts me and our relationship, but, like he said, everyone’s going to know soon and he wants to tell me himself.
So, I have him tell me the story.
He shares how it started subtly, gently. He talks about being seduced and seducing. It was a relationship in which he got to share true feelings, what he was actually going through. It made him feel strong, attractive and clever. Now, he could see a way into the future and it was great. So, things were going to come out now because they were ready to follow the map they’d drawn.
And he added the comment that he and his new partner had realized that God had brought them together, that they should have found each other earlier and that now they were praying together and that God was leading them into this new life.
“Oh, no,” I replied softly, “No… God doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
And he began to argue, not in a belligerent or loud way. We were just talking. It was disagreement. God was surely in this because they’d been praying. They had asked God to guide them. God was in it.
“Nope,” I said.
“How can you say that?” he asked.
“Because, God hates divorce. Not saying that you can’t do this and I’m not telling you divorce is wrong in all situations, but I can say what God says and it’s that divorce is like ‘someone clothing themselves in violence,’ if you can picture that. You’re about to bring violence down on your whole family and that’s not a choice God would make or enjoy.”
He pushed back. He challenged. He lifted up moments when he had feelings of comfort in the prayer time he had with this new partner. So I simply asked if he was confident that God would choose for his kids to go through this, if he knew that the reason this new person was in his life was because God chose for him to renounce vows he had made to his wife. He could make any choice he wanted and he might be forgiven for any choice he made but he couldn’t claim that this is what God chose.
What if we can choose things that hurt God? What if a lot of choices we make hurt God? What if the moments when we turn toward hurting others or neglecting others or dismissing others as worthless all hurt God? What if things we want God to do or bless or confirm are not things that God would choose at all? If we read the prophets in the Old Testament with these kinds of questions in the back of our minds then their words become less about right and wrong and more like the wailing of a shredded heart. And then, when they tell us that that God is creating a way back, a way of salvation, a hope, the promise they lift up becomes so much more personal. God wants us back, so he sent Jesus to say what his heart ached to express and to do what needed to be done to clear the way.
I wish I could say that every conversation I’ve had like the one compressed above moved each individual back into health and wholeness, back into relationship. But it didn’t. I’ve had a bunch of these conversations. Some folks stormed out of my office. Some just thanked me for my time and went on their way, followed through on the new choices. But, some woke up, like they’d been sleep walking and suddenly now realize where they are, and what I’ve watched happen with them is described as Life.
As I’m walking on the pathway of Lent, one thing I’m reminded of is that God is not on my side. I’m on his and he’s the one who explains his side to me. I’m just following and trying to hear, best I can.