“New love is the brightest, and long love is the greatest, but revived love is the tenderest thing known on earth.” Thomas Hardy
Not too long ago, Mat and I went to my favorite kind of wedding: both the bride and the groom were Christians and have faithfully followed the Lord, saved sex for marriage, and have had no other romantic relationships other than each other – the purity and magnitude of the day was palpable. I get excited for this kind of wedding weeks in advance.
But as I sat in the audience that day and watched the couple say their vows, I admit I was surprised at myself. During nuptials, I’m usually overcome with romantic feelings for Mat, but this time, against the backdrop of their clean slate, I felt tarnished – even ruined. With every pledge they said, I realized we hadn’t kept any of it. In some way or another, at some time or another, we’d failed to live up to our promises and the truth is, we’ve hurt each other.
We haven’t always put one another first and more often than I’d like to confess our minds have vibrated with forbidden daydreams and possibilities. We’ve verbally inflicted wounds on one another (using nothing but the truth) that have taken years to heal and still to this day break open sometimes. We’ve lied and we’ve let each other down. Over time we have thrown handfuls of mud into the clear cool waters of matrimony, clouding and contaminating our very source of love and intimacy.
I can share this freely and openly because we aren’t the exception – we’re the rule. If a perfect marriage is Plan A, then every single married couple alive is living in plan B, and really, most of us have exhausted the alphabet many times through. No doubt some of the other couples observing the ceremony with us that day stood from a position of renewed redeemed love after affairs and cheating while others were still hungover from last night’s fight. (Of course all of this is hidden and buried to the general public; unbeknownst to those sitting around making small talk.)
So I find great comfort knowing even God’s “marriage” to Israel was functioning in Plan B too. He knows exactly how it is. While He is always perfect, His bride, Israel, most definitely was not. After reading this description of her, I think you’ll agree, there’s actually no one worse! How could there be? Hear His broken heart toward His bride in Ezekiel 16 when He says:
“I…saw that you were ready for love and a lover. I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine. I gave you a good bath,…and anointed you with aromatic oils. I dressed you in a colorful gown and…a fashionable wardrobe of expensive clothing. I adorned you with jewelry:…and a diamond tiara. You were provided with everything precious and beautiful: with exquisite clothes and elegant food, garnished with honey and oil. You were absolutely stunning. You were a queen! You became world-famous, a legendary beauty brought to perfection by my adornments.
But your beauty went to your head and you became a common whore, grabbing anyone coming down the street and taking him into your bed. You took your fine dresses and made “tents” of them, using them as brothels in which you practiced your trade…
And then you took all that fine jewelry I gave you, my gold and my silver, and made pornographic images of them for your brothels. You decorated your beds with fashionable silks and cottons, and perfumed them with my aromatic oils and incense. And then you set out the wonderful foods I provided—…which were my gifts to you—and you served them as delicacies in your whorehouses.
And then you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had given birth to as my children, and you killed them, sacrificing them to idols. Wasn’t it bad enough that you had become a whore? And now you’re a murderer, killing my children and sacrificing them to idols…
And then you went international with your whoring…
What a sick soul! Doing all this stuff—the champion whore!…but you were different from regular whores in that you wouldn’t accept a fee.
Wives who are unfaithful to their husbands accept gifts from their lovers. And men commonly pay their whores. But you pay your lovers!…You even pervert whoredom!” The Message
So Israel takes the cake, right? I don’t know anyone who comes even close to this description. God goes on to explain their punishment, but ends with this:
“All the same, I’ll remember the covenant I made with you when you were young and I’ll make a new covenant with you that will last forever…I’ll firmly establish my covenant with you and you’ll know that I am God. You’ll remember your past life and face the shame of it, but when I make atonement for you, make everything right after all you’ve done, it will leave you speechless.” Ezekiel 16:60-63
“All the same”. Don’t you just love that? Israel was the worst of the worst and yet God calls her back – Israel was His. She was His people and He was her God forever. She could crawl out of the shadows of her shame and take her place as HIs special people because his grace and mercy made everything unfair – that’s the beauty of it.
Following His example in marriage means the offender gets to forget and the offended has the double benefit of disremembering too. As soon as repentance and forgiveness happen, we don’t have to live with the breach anymore; we are free. And in that context, one day, all the pain and all the betrayal will add up to zero; it really can be over.
We are no less married and our vows are not diminished because we broke them; we don’t have to walk around half married or barely married and we don’t have to be “that” couple – we are just married. We are as married as we were the day we swore our oaths in betrothal because our covenant with one another has been the safety net we fell into when we botched walking the line – it is indelible. It held when we didn’t. Without playing the blame game I can say there has been damage, but we’re married, so we repent and forgive, we renew and restore and then we move on. It is how we get to sit in wedding ceremonies with fuzzy memories, our heads held high, loving one another, and living as though we’ve been in Plan A all along.
“I will establish, re-establish, and establish more firmly than ever, my covenant with thee.”