Thursday, May 7, 2009

Doing Justice and Loving Mercy

The following excerpt is part of a book I am trying to write. There is a section where I describe why evil hates marriage. I describe five different reasons why evil specifically makes marriage a target. One reason is that evil hates gender and marriage is a place where a man and a woman are invited to take on the 'inside shapes' of their gender that I am calling justice (masculine) and mercy (feminine).

In addition to attacking the curse, evil hates gender. When it says, “He created them male and female, and he blessed them and called them ‘human.’” (Genesis 5:2) and looked over everything he had made and declared that it was, “excellent in every way” (Gen 1:31) can you imagine how the enemy felt about that? A man and a woman, when living as freely and as holy as God called them to, are a unique picture of God’s glory and he revels in this. It is clear that the simplest fruits of the Gospel are justice and mercy. God wants us to love and pay attention to mercy and justice (Micah 6:8, Matthew 23:23). In a unique way a husband can embody justice and a wife can embody mercy. A husband who uses his advantages to care for his wife is doing justice. He is refraining from evil. A wife who endures with forgiveness towards her husband is being a glorified picture of the Gospel. She is loving mercy. If God loves mercy and justice and a husband and wife can be unique expressions of mercy and justice than he attacks marriage to diminish this.
Evil therefore wants to destroy any redemptive expression of gender. Dan Allender and Tremper Longman articulate it well, “Let me remind you that we are made in the image of God as male and female. Somehow gender reflects something about God. A man reflects something about God’s character that is different from a woman and vice versa. And God’s enemy, Satan, wishes to destroy glory. The evil one cannot destroy God; therefore he tries to destroy the reflection of God: man and woman. His prime way of attempting to destroy glory is to make it too frightening to be truly a man or a woman and to offer counterfeit routes to live out gender.
Evil harasses us in hope that we will turn away from what a redemptive man or a woman looks like. Take for instance the caricatures of husbands and wives in popular culture. A recent popular sitcom was, “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Both Ray and his father were passive. They were clearly afraid of their wives. Deborah and her mother-in-law were controlling. The sitcom portrayed the opposite of a husband who sacrificially and courageously cared for his wife. Ray’s lifelessness over the things that really mattered for his marriage and family was unjust. He never stood up to his mother on Deborah’s behalf. He did not ‘do justice.’ Deborah related to Ray with a subtle contempt that was nowhere near ‘awe-inspired open heartedness.’ Ray, Deborah and Ray’s parents portrayed exactly what evil wants us to aim for: weak, uncaring men and controlling, vacuous women. It was a successful sitcom because it reflected the common experience of couples and families.
I will often say, “I had no idea I wasn't a man until I moved in with a woman.” After my wedding I had all the freedom in the world to be naked with my wife. Physical nakedness in many ways was nothing compared to personal nakedness. To be naked as a husband – to be seen for all I wasn't – ended up being more difficult than I expected. I couldn't see I didn't really care about others until day after day I was confronted with my indifference to Dawn’s needs.
For years I was regularly ‘caring’ for Dawn in such a way that said, “My effort should quiet you. You shouldn't struggle with so much because it will make me look or feel bad. I don’t want to really learn how to care and be patient. I am used to quick fixes.” I was unjustly pressuring her to demonstrate that I was a good man by not having any more needs as a woman. In the flesh men love to ‘fix’ things quickly and move on. A redeemed man is growing into the masculine qualities we see in the Lord who is “tender and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love,” (Psalm 103:8,13). I didn't know how arrogant a man I was until I couldn't run from it any longer. I didn't realize the call to keep treating my wife with understanding was constructed with a continuing action verb. Marriage was designed to help me learn to do justice as a way of life. I wanted to get justice down and move on to wealth, riches and peace. Along the way I realized marriage was opening me up to care about and give myself to others as a way of life, not a causal offering to quiet my wife. Because I couldn't run away from it or get it down quickly I began to care enough in such a way that our relationship became more just. Marriage helped to restore me as a man.
In a corresponding way a wife is given a grand opportunity to ‘love mercy’ by living with a man. Only in the face of ongoing injustice can mercy really take shape. The Biblical meaning of “mercy” is to spare a person of the judgment or harm they deserve and instead return kindness for injury. Mercy is overcoming evil with good. As I have already noted a husband will use his advantages selfishly long before he sees it happening and will continue on doing so to some degree even after he has recognized the need to be different. This leaves a wife with a choice. She can count her husband’s sins against him or she can forgive him. Only as a wife keeps remembering the Lord has forgiven her of far more sin than she can count will she be willing to forgive her husband and stagger into mercy. Just like a husband the wife’s call is an ongoing call. She is to respect her husband or to keep supporting his efforts to bring them together. Real mercy that is both warm and true (not forced or fake), can only be fostered in the soil of endurance. A wife has to keep bumping up to injustice and thus any husband will provide her with regular opportunities to practice and get better. Marriage affords a woman the opportunity to be dressed in Biblical femininity. She can learn to jealously fight for holiness by embracing her husband with warmth in the midst of his failures; standing between him and the accusations of evil that will shame him for whatever ways he does not measure up to perfection.
Marriage is a space specifically designed to help a man and woman take on their inside shapes. I had little comprehension of the way a man can unjustly relate to a woman until I related to my wife over time. Evil wants husbands to unjustly turn away from their wives and not care while he wants women to harbor resentment and hold the law up to their husbands. Thus, through ongoing endurance and submission to God a husband can learn to care enough to do justice and a woman can learn how kindness is what really propels human beings into holiness. Marriage is a unique place to ‘do justice and love mercy’ and for a husband to become a restored man and a woman to become a restored woman.