Ingrid and I have been married 28 years and 1 day today. People ask—and they are not joking—how Ingrid could endure me all these years. The top answers offered raise further questions about the quality of her eyesight, hearing, and short and long term memory. Mostly people assume that God has given her the most amazing gift of mercy any human has ever had. True that.
Mercy triumphs over judgment. It says that in the Good Book. It says that a lot and in big ways. We as a species deserve a harsh assessment. The God of the universe sees and knows all the stuff we have hidden from the IRS and our mothers. If He were merely “fair,” we’d all have to go to hell. That is the only rational judgment He could make. But, He holds mercy higher. When we like sheep have gone astray, the Good Shepherd comes and finds us, throws us on His shoulders and carries away from the wolves to green pastures and still waters, and stands post with His rod and staff to protect us. He is the God of the second chance—and third, fourth, fifth…
Ingrid reflects the image of this good God to me every day and in every way. We work together and most days usually find a moment or two of tension (or three or four…). We have an office in our home, and we tell people the reason we don’t allow guns in our home is that we would have a workplace shooting by Tuesday of every week. Other people watch the news on Friday and ponder how some guy could walk in and kill a bunch of his ex-co-workers. Not me and Ingrid. We get that. What Ingrid and I don’t get is how he made it all the way to Friday. Bad joke, but if you have been married a long time you get Ruth Graham’s answer to the interviewer when asked if she and Billy ever considered divorce: “Divorce? Never. Murder? Often.”
We have a marriage tradition that we have practiced for 28 years. On our first anniversary I gave Ingrid two glasses and carafe with four words engraved on it so that we would check in on these crucial things every year: Love, Faith, Promise, Forgiveness. The importance of the first three needs no explanation. These are the big three that the Love Chapter says will stand forever essential: “And now these three will always be with us: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love—the practice of giving and living tender care—is the greatest thing, and that is what I need the most work on.
Ingrid identified forgiveness as her biggest challenge this year. In fact, she said she was so mad this week that she spent about a half hour at one point trying on the thought that she would not forgive me for my repeated wrongdoing. Couldn’t do it. Too much mercy in that girl. Too much Jesus in that girl. Jesus said that we should be forever forgiving and forbearing of one another—not just in marriage, but in every relationship. In fact, he made that the one condition of getting God’s forgiveness: punishment is promised “unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:39). Ingrid gets it: because God has forgiven her 70 X 7, because He has offered up the perfect sacrifice of His son on the cross, she too must reflect that kind of loving forgiveness to others. Good fortune for me, I say. She runs the soup kitchen for mercy around here—and I am standing in line for some mercy soup every day.
Yes, you read correctly. I just wrote that God’s forgiveness is conditional. But before you Reformed Reformers run me out on a rail, look again. It was in quotation marks. Jesus said it, not me. It is right there in the Good Book. Mercy triumphs over judgment IF—and only if—you and I offer that same merciful attitude toward others. Read it for yourself: Matthew 18. This is the most unread chapter of the Bible in American Christianity. That’s a little scary. So many people think because they prayed the prayer they got the eternal fire insurance policy that can never be cancelled. They will be so sorely surprised when they stand before the Lord and try to explain why they called him “Lord” and sounded so religious but did not do what he said to do so clearly.
Yet, still, there is so much mercy about the place. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). God even designed “evening and morning—the first day” with the plan to give us daily do-over! Mercy is built into the morning. Do you feel it? God knew we would need mercy that much and that often. I know I do—ask Ingrid. But morning comes, and there we find the God of the second chance waiting with arms of grace one more time. Before the foundations of the world, the God of love provided a way back for those who would get so lost. That passage goes on to say, “‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him” (Lamentations 3:24-25).
Mercy triumphs over judgment—and prevents murder in the home office. Thank God!