This reflection was written by S.M. White.

My wife doesn’t trust me. At least that’s what she’s told me about half a dozen times over our 27-year marriage. What’s the lack of trust about? She can’t trust that I won’t hurt her again by whatever sin it happens to be next. Over time, as we’ve become a bit more realistic about who we are, we’ve both freely admitted that we’re bad people who sin against each other, and probably will again.

It’s not that we’re just giving into our sin, but that we’ve got what these Mockingbird folks would know as a low anthropology. Now, I’m not advocating a sort of nihilistic, cynical view about man and nature; but I do believe that a low view of human nature is actually healthy and biblical, even when it comes to redeemed humans with a new and better spiritual nature at work and at war within us. My wife and I both have a high view of what God can do and a low view of what man is probably going to do apart from the grace of God. We also hold no illusions about the capability that we still have for evil.

One thing that’s helped us over the years is, actually, our own failures, and our own inability to keep up with others, particularly during the height of a pietism movement that we were involved with at one time. While others seemed capable of homeschooling their children, we were often just relieved when our children met the basic goals of societal functionality and passed from grade to grade in the public schools.

It wasn’t a total free-for-all situation in our household, because we were invested to some degree in higher standards; but ultimately, we always felt like the last-place losers in the race of parental righteousness. Certainly, our children received all kinds of mixed messages from our “Do this and you’ll live better” worldview, which we pushed on them throughout the years we were raising them. (I have to note that a good number of the children that grew up at the same church are no longer in a church. There’s a lot that can be learned there about what Christianity is really all about and what happens when it’s annexed to other goals.)

Another related element is the fact that my wife and I were both the youngest and least respected and least successful in our own families. What for much of our lives felt like the burden of failure and inadequacy has actually become a great blessing. Because it helped prepare us to more easily understand and accept the law/gospel distinction where the law is not relativized, but proclaimed with the promise of life hanging on the requirement of perfect obedience to it. This is absolutely the way Christ proclaimed it: “Do this and you will live” (Lk 10:28); and, “You must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). 

In these moments, why doesn’t Jesus just preach the gospel? Why does He set up this hopeless situation whereby the law drives us to first despair of self and then to find our only sufficiency Him who accomplishes everything for us? Why doesn’t He just explain it? I think the answer is simple: because until the law causes us to despair, we won’t truly cling to the gospel. We’ll be content with external behavior modification and surface-level sins.

If we just dwell on our external sins, the things we do and don’t do, as the only significant place to look, or the only place to look, then we miss an opportunity to go deeper. When we consider our deeper sin and the fact that even our best works are corrupt, then we have an opportunity to look at ourselves and ask, “Why did I feel like I needed to defend myself right there?” or “Why did I tear that other person down?”

That starts to get us deeper into the uglier side of ourselves that’s easier to hide from the public. If we’re honest, we’re driven by our own self-righteousness. We’re trying to establish something about us that’s worth defending, or even destroying those who threaten it. Why are we so desperate to defend our goodness and reputation? Because of our own unbelief and pride. Because of that old covenant of works we keep going back to.

Looking deeper at our own darkness takes us to a place where only those who truly believe they have Christ’s righteousness can go. At some point in our lives, God humbles His children to go there, and when we do, the gospel becomes that much more beautiful to us.

Then, we might even stand a chance of not having to defend ourselves. We might stand a chance of not having to establish our value by what we accomplish, what we do and don’t do. We might even die to self and all we try to build ourselves up to be, and just stop and rest in Christ. 

So what do I say to my wife who doesn’t trust me? I tell her something to the effect of: I’ll try not to, but I’ll probably let you down at some point. And she’ll understand, because she knows she’s going to do the same. I’m convinced that a Christian marriage is where two big sinners cling to an ever-bigger savior, together.

We’ve seen each other at our worst, hopefully, and we both know we’re not good deals for Jesus. We’re in Christ by the grace of God, and by the grace of God we’re still married and still very much in love. That’s it. It’s sort of ordinary, not really that glorious or inspiring. Just our own weakness and desire for something surer and better being met, not in each other, but in Christ alone.