There is a stubbornness to sin that surprises and disappoints. The Christian life is one of increasing triumph over sin, and yet even with the rejoicing there is so much disappointment, even with the victory there is so much failure, even while so much sin is put to death, so much remains.
One area of sin that continues to baffle and disappoint is my inability to consistently think rightly about other people’s motives. Perhaps it isn’t thinking about their motives as much as it is assuming them. I am amazed at my own proclivity to assume the worst of others, and especially those who have done the most for me.
I’ve been married to Aileen for more than fourteen years now. In that time she has been loving and loyal and kind and everything else a husband could desire in a wife. She has borne me three children, supported me through career changes, tolerated my sin, prayed me through difficulty, helped me be a man whose church can call him to be their pastor. And yet in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when she in some way displeases me, I can act as if she has never loved me at all, as if she has only ever treated me with contempt. In a moment I can throw out all those years of love and sacrifice and assume that she is now opposed to me, looking out for her interests instead of mine, interested in harming me rather than helping me. In a moment I throw away all these evidences of her love and behave as if she hates me.
It is the simplest things that do this. It is not grave sins or the gross immorality that call her into question in my mind. It’s the smallest things, the things that may not be sin at all. It’s being a little bit late when I want to be early, it’s asking a clarifying question when I want to plow ahead, it’s having a priority that is different from my own. And in those moments I forget our history, I forget her character, I forget that she is fundamentally for me, I believe that she and I are enemies. She displeases me and therefore she must hate me. I respond by acting hateful in return. Sometimes this works itself out in harsh words or harsh attitudes; other times it works itself out in sulking and complaining.
I know that I am not the only one who struggles in this way and, to be frank, I saw this sin first in others and only later in myself. Every pastor will attest that there are people in his church he has labored for and prayed for and sacrificed for who will turn on him when they are displeased (and meanwhile, he may be equally quick to turn on them when he feels threatened). Every parent will attest that children are equally quick to forget the years of love and sacrifice and to turn on their parents.
I hate this behavior in myself. I hate this sin. I’ve come to see that it is primarily related to love—or to lack of love. I’m sure pride is involved somewhere, and there must be other sins in the mix, but this is foremost about love. Here’s how I know: 1 Corinthians 13:7 tells me that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This is how love is meant to work itself out in relationship. It transforms me so that I can now assume good motives instead of poor ones, I can now react with hope rather than suspicion. Yet my reactions show that love has not yet worked itself out in my character to this extent.
I love my wife. I love my wife more than I would have thought possible, and yet this sin proves that I love her a lot less than I ought to and maybe less than I think I do. If I loved her more and better, I would believe all things and hope all things. In that moment of displeasure I would not assume ill motives, but assume the best. In that moment of questioning, hope would resound instead of hate, trust would be displayed instead of anger. But this kind of love is too often lacking.
This is one of those times where thinking about the gospel is so helpful. As I think about Jesus Christ, I see the greatest example of love in the greatest act of love. As I look at this love, as I ponder it, as I meditate upon it, as I take its benefits upon myself, I necessarily grow in love as well. The love of Christ becomes my love, the benefits of Christ’s love become my benefits. I am transformed.
When I ponder the cross I see that I don’t love because I don’t yet understand how much I have been loved. So I look to the cross again. And again.