Monday, April 16, 2012

The Harvest of Unforgiveness

Over the years, I have had the opportunity of counseling many couples who were experiencing problems in their marriage.  And while there always are a number of factors in play in any struggling marriage, there is one problem that seems to come up over and over again.  That is the problem of unforgiveness.  Most – dare I say all – couples who are struggling in their marriage have a hard time practicing forgiveness.

The fact is people in healthy marriages find joy in cancelling debts.  I love being able to offer forgiveness to my wife, and I know that when I ask with a broken heart, my wife is always willing to forgive me.  Forgiveness does have a cost, but when it is done, the return in a marriage is so much greater.

But what happens when we don’t forgive?  What does our marriage look like when we do not cancel the debts we have piled up against each other?  What does the harvest of unforgiveness look like?

Paul Tripp, in his book What Did You Expect?, breaks that harvest down into a number of descending steps.  These steps are from his own experience and are based on the principle found in Galatians 6:7-8:  Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.   For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (ESV)
Step 1:  Immaturity and Failure.  Many people who enter marriage are immature and relatively na├»ve.  They do selfish, dumb things.  The aftermath of that immaturity and selfishness is all too often hurt, blame, accusation and judgment rather than confession and forgiveness.  These initial responses are poor and can often set a direction for their marriage.
 Step 2:  Comfortable Patterns.  Forgiveness is hard – it carries an emotional cost.  Due to its cost, couples often find it easier to fall into other behavioral patterns in their marriage.  For some, it is easier to flee the problem.  Others give in to bitterness.  Still others formulate a list of their spouse’s wrongs.  Some get angry, either holding that anger in or letting it loose at one’s spouse.  Every one of these “easier” patterns is destructive.
Step 3:  Establish Defenses.  The natural result of being hurt and not having that hurt resolved through forgiveness is for a person to build up walls of defense against the wrongs wrought by their spouse.  Walls may protect the person, but they damage communication and trust.  Other couples go on the offense against each other – returning criticism for criticism.  In this environment, a couple quickly goes from being partners to adversaries.
Step 4:  Nurturing Dislike.  When hurts are not dealt with, our tendency as human beings is to dwell on them.  We meditate on the wrong caused by our spouse, rather than celebrating God’s gift of our spouse.  We quickly gain a negative perspective on our marriage and as a result interpret our spouse’s actions and words through that negative lens.  A couple living in this perspective simply does not like each other anymore.
Step 5:  Become Overwhelmed.  Eventually every spouse gets tired of defending themselves from their spouse’s criticisms.  They get tired of bearing the brunt of what they consider the other person’s faults.  The same problems resurface again and again, never to be completely resolved.  As a result, their relationship becomes one of dread and caution, never knowing when the ticking time bomb of emotional hurt will explode once again.
Step 6:  Envy of Other Couples.  Couples who find themselves emotionally overwhelmed start to wonder what it would be like to be married to someone else.  They use comparison on their spouses.  “Why can’t you be more like….?”  Of course, they only see a small part of those other marriages – they don’t see the hidden things or the hard things that those couples do to make their marriages work.
Step 7:  Fantasies of Escape.  The ultimate result of forgiveness always, eventually leads here.  When a spouse or a couple is angry, hurt, overwhelmed and without hope for change, they want to escape their troubles by escaping the person who is the source of their troubles, leading to separation or divorce.
Are you depressed yet?  It is a pretty bleak picture.  But it does not have to be like that.  That cycle can be broken by genuine confession and forgiveness, both between the members of a marriage and between each spouse and God.  Our God is a God of new life.  His mercies are new every morning.  As God applies His grace to our lives, we learn to apply His grace to our spouses as well.  The end result is not a depressing spiral of a despair, but a marriage in which you have even deeper respect, more tender affection and an even greater appreciation of your spouse than you did when you first got married.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The View from the Other Side – From NIV to ESV

Recently our church switched over from the use of the New International Version (NIV) in Sunday worship to the use of English Standard Version (ESV). What a pain! I don't mean to say the transition has not gone well – it has. But it is frustrating to me on a lot of levels that this transition had to be done.

I have been a fan of the NIV (1984) for many years. I received one when I moved from junior high to high school. I used the NIV all the way through high school and college. I have been preaching out of the NIV for more than 20 years. I have read it through many times and memorized countless verses in it. The NIV was my translation.

So, you might ask, why change? In 2011, a newly revised NIV (NIV 2011) was released. I don't have a problem with translators updating a revising translations. And the newly revised NIV was quite a bit better than the troubling Today's New International Version (TNIV). At the same time, the NIV 2011 contained some content that was hard for me to swallow.

A lot of it stands and falls on gender neutral language. I don't want to get in a big debate about the merits or lack of merits of this kind of language. I don't have a problem with some, perhaps even many, gender neutral changes. If someone has an issue with “mankind”, I don't care if they prefer “humankind” instead. I also understand that language changes and we must seek to translate the ancient document that is the Bible into language that people today can read and understand.

At the same time, some of the gender neutral changes are troubling. Some muddy theological waters, such as the NIV 2011 translation of John 14:23 which obscures the personal nature Jesus Christ's presence with each, individual believer. There are many other similar examples where a plural pronoun is used to replace a masculine singular pronoun with the result that the meaning is distorted. Other changes are simply silly, like in 1 Samuel 18:12 where the translators want to avoid the polarizing word “father” and in 2 Samuel 23:8 where David's mighty men become David's mighty warriors because “men” is another bad word. (Never mind that these guys were all men – that appears to be inconsequential to the translators.) Translations like the last two make me wonder if the reason for this change is to help people understand, or to pander to some level of political correctness.

The quality of the translation aside, there is another reason we switched. Zondervan, the publisher of the NIV (1984) and NIV (2011) have decided to end publication of the NIV (1984) in favor of the newly revised version. So, if you go to a store today and buy an NIV Bible off the shelf, it will be the gender neutral version. One of the families in my church did just that, thinking to get a Bible for their daughter, only to be disturbed and disappointed at the changes. The philosophy of the publishers of the NIV seems to be, “Since the general public did not like the TNIV when we released it, we are not giving them the choice with this version. Love it or leave it!”

As a result, we are leaving it. Reluctantly. Painfully, especially for me. But we are leaving it. I need to be sure that the folks in my church are hearing a reliable translation from the pulpit and that they are reading a reliable translation at home.

Do I like the change? Not right now. After decades of reading and studying and preaching from the NIV, the wording of the ESV seems foreign. Just last Sunday I caught myself stumbling over the benediction at the end of the service. It was a passage I had used frequently in the NIV and I stumbled around as I read it from the ESV. Will those times pass? Sure they will. And in reality, those embarrassing and mildly frustrating times are very minor in comparison to the peace of mind I have in knowing that my flock is hearing and reading a more reliable translation than the troubling NIV 2011. So Zondervan, I hope you are happy. We don't love it, so we are leaving it. And so far the view from the other side, while different, is pretty good.