“He’s not the person I thought he was when we got married.”
Most pastors and counselors have heard that line from people in marital crisis. They usually mean the person they married is not as good, as kind or as much fun as they thought he’d be. They say things like, “We used to talk for hours. Now I can hardly get a word out of him.” Or, “When we first got married, he would do things for me before I asked. Now when I talk he doesn’t even listen. If I ask him to do something, he acts like he’s been sentenced to hard labor.”
There’s a lot that people don’t know about each other on their wedding day. Marriage is an act of faith. That faith is based on true insight into the other person, but insight is hardly the same thing as understanding. There will be many surprises for couples as their life together continues. Hence the line, “He’s not the person I thought he was when we got married.”
Just once, I would like someone to come into my office and say, “He’s not the person I thought he was when we got married—he’s way better! He’s smarter, funnier and wiser than I realized. I had no idea how much I would enjoy being with him.”
No one has yet come to my office to tell me that. But then it’s rare for us to hear of anyone outperforming expectations, except in the sports arena: “He went undrafted and joined as a walk-on, but he has brought more to this team than anyone expected.”
Still, as a pastor, I’d love to hear someone say that about a spouse. Yet I’d be even more pleased to hear it said about God: “He’s not who I thought he was when I first believed—he’s way better than that!”
When people give their lives to God, as when they give their lives to each other, they are acting in faith. Though they may have real insight into the benefits of faith, they still have a lot to learn about the character of God. They come to God thinking it will do them good. It’s only later they discover that God is good.
That was certainly the case for me, and for others I have known. When I first came to faith – or when faith (barely the size of a mustard seed) first came to me – I knew almost nothing about God. I got that he made everything, including me, and was therefore the one in charge. I understood that he was a judge – and maybe a policeman too. But I had no idea what he was like.
It’s been a long journey since then, and I’ve learned a lot about God. For one thing, I discovered that God is happy – the most joyful being in all the universe. Creation itself is an expression of his joy. God is never frightened, lonely or bored. “Great tidal waves of joy must constantly wash through his being,” as one writer put it. And he doesn’t keep his joy to himself. He invites humans to join him: “Enter into the joy of your master!”
I also discovered that God loves us. Really loves us. I knew that in my head, but it took years (I was already in pastoral ministry) to learn it in my heart. God loves us as a father loves a child – not half-heartedly or disinterestedly – but passionately. He carries our picture in his wallet, as Tony Campolo likes to say. We don’t have to earn his love, any more than a newborn baby has to earn his mother’s love. He loves us not because we deserve it, but because he is love.
God values relationships – so much so that he lives in an eternal, three-personed relationship – and he desires a relationship with us. I used to think of that as if it were a business relationship: God is the boss, we’re the employees and the chief thing is to get work done. But God, I’ve learned, is far more interested in what we become than he is in what we accomplish.
With this business model in mind, it was only natural to think that success in the Christian life could be measured by keeping rules. But God gave us rules to serve the relationship, not replace it. He doesn’t measures success by the rules we keep but by the people – himself included – that we love.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 11/22/2014