Warning! I’m gonna get really personal with this one. If that kind of thing bothers you or you have no interest in my personal life, then turn back now or forever hold your peace.
Matthew 5:43-44 is the most radical, challenging statement ever made by Jesus, and possibly in the entire Christian Bible. I learned that the hard way when my wife had an affair and then left me.
I write frequently about the social and political aspects of Christianity, which I believe are foundational. But that doesn’t mean that the spiritual, the personal, and the interpersonal should not or do not matter. When one deals with emotional distress, spiritual duress, or personal attacks, the words of Jesus can offer not just comfort to the afflicted, but tangible direction.
I have been hurt by the person I love the most in the world. My marriage, entered into in full sight of God (not to mention our friends and family), is over for good, and in the most painful way a marriage can end. My world is upside-down, and the sight of my beautiful wife arm-in-arm with someone else, smiling the smile she used to reserve for me, cuts into me like Damascus steel.
The natural reaction is rage, born of pain and regret and misery. My natural inclination is to hurt her the way she hurt me: try to break them up, rebound as quickly as humanly possible, fight like hell in the divorce. Few would blame me for feeling this way. If “enemies” is a harsh and even antiquated descriptor of my wife and her boyfriend, “tormentors” seems an apt substitution.
“You have heard it said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you: love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you.”
Curse, hate, and persecute may be strong words. But as anyone who has ever been the victim of an affair or experienced an ugly divorce can attest to, they may also not be. When the anger and self-righteousness and rage hit me, it would be much easier to embrace them. But then I remember Matthew 5:43-44 and I’m forced to try, as hard as I can, not just to let go of these feelings, but to actually wish happiness on the two people who are the source of my pain.
I love my wife, still. Real love never goes away. But real love is also selfless (and patient, and kind, and all that good stuff), and so I don’t need to ask myself “What would Jesus do?” because I already know. Jesus would wish them well. Jesus would forgive, and Jesus would purge anger and thoughts of vengeance from his heart. I must do the same.
And this is when being a Christian, well, just sucks. We are called to expel the natural emotional reaction to pain from our hearts, because Jesus knew that violence is born of anger and pain. It is only a short walk from emotional to rhetorical to physical violence.
I have been struggling with this every day since I learned of the affair. Thus far, it has not gotten easier. But if I’ve learned anything from Jesus of Nazareth, it’s that being a Christian was never meant to be easy. I may never be perfect, as my heavenly father is perfect, but that’s no excuse not to try my damnedest.
What’s more, Jesus was onto something more than a simple exhortation of mercy and forgiveness. I believe he also knew that in the end, holding onto anger, hatred, and vengeance hurts nobody more than the person who carries those things.
So yeah, it sucks. I want to rage, to scream, to cry, to pound my fists against the wall and scream to the heavens that it’s not fair, that I don’t deserve any of this, that if I’m suffering, they should be as well.
But I don’t. I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m ready to bless and do good to my wife and her boyfriend, not yet (like I said, I’m not perfect), but I’m working on it. Keeping me going is the knowledge that when I finally am able to do as Jesus commanded and bless, pray for, and do good to them, I will have let go of this pain, and God willing, I will be ready to move on with my life.