I was meeting with a couple that had convinced themselves all the problems in the marriage was the other person’s fault. Each spouse was clear about how the other person was sabotaging the marriage. They had their facts straight and, for the most part, they were correct in their accusations.
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It did not matter which angle I took. Counseling was futile. They were not going to act like Christians. Both of them had just enough information on the other person to justify their righteousness as they hurled accusations at each other.
Finally, after several attempts to get them to see the fallacy in their positions, I relinquished any further hope of a ceasefire and reconciliation. From my chair, there would be no redemptive-relational-progress that day.
They were too mad, too self-justified, too hurt, too unforgiving, and too stubborn to change. I gave up. There was nothing else for them to do but double down on their positions. Yep. That is what I told by battling friends.
I suggested that they continue their anger toward each other.
Keep on keeping on.
Duke it out.
Since biting and devouring (Galatians 5:15) each other is what they were determined to do, I appealed to them to keep at it.
Then I paused, and added, “But under one condition. I want to make a stipulation.” I told them that they could fight all they wanted to fight as long as I could choose the location for their Christ-less sparing. Here is how I said it:
I want you to climb Golgotha’s bloody hill, where the multitudes scorned Jesus, as the Father judged Him (Matthew 27:32-44). I want you to go to Calvary, the place where the crucified Son of God became sin for both of you. The place where the Lord punished Christ for your sins (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Christ took this Christian couple’s sins by willingly giving up His life to the scorching judgment of His Father. His actions gave them a free pass, so to speak: God would never judge them for their past, present, and future sins (John 8:36; Romans 8:1).
I further appealed to them to position their bodies so the cross of Christ would be in their “virtual sight lines.” My hope was for them to get so close to the cross that the blood of the dying Lamb of God could “figuratively drop” on them as they persisted in their arguments.
I added that it would benefit them to intentionally, on occasion, glance at that cross during their conflict so that while they were wounding each other, they could remember the wounded One, the person who took their transgressions (Isaiah 53:5).
My hope was that the wooden beam (Matthew 7:3-5) would become an impediment to their blows–that they would have to stretch around the cross before the other person could experience the intended marital pain. I wanted the cross to always be in their view, particularly when their anger toward each other escalated.
As things stood, the cross was not preeminent in their thinking. Christ, at best, was on the periphery of their lives as they persisted in their argumentation.
To punctuate the point further, I sketched a picture to help them see what I was saying (represented by this photograph). I wanted them to visually and viscerally experience the historical fact of the dying Lamb of God.
I hoped God’s Spirit would burn the revelations about the gospel deep into their minds. I wanted them to be affected by the horrible realities of the cross of Christ.
Perhaps you are tempted to sinful anger at your spouse, children, friends, or enemies.
One of the most practical ways to reconcile with those who have hurt you is through the cross of Christ.
If the cross of Christ is not your motive for forgiveness, you will be like this battling couple.
A proper motive for forgiveness comes from a right understanding of Christ’s work on the cross.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:31-32
You find the answer in this statement, “…as God in Christ forgave you.” Paul tied his motive about a right attitude toward others to the cross of Christ. Your motivation to forgive is because God has forgiven you–as He has forgiven you. If you are not a Christian, the first place to experience forgiveness is to ask Him to forgive you, and He will adopt you into His family.
If you do not know how to do that, please reach out to us. It would be a joy to explain God’s salvation to you. If you are a Christian, but the cross is not in your sight lines as you think about others, I appeal to you to work through the questions in this piece. You may also reach out to us for help.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).