How grace works backward



August 20, 2012, 10:49 AM

I have watched for years the unfolding tragedy of a woman who refuses to love her husband. She goes to church and is involved in worthwhile church activities and has been a Florence Nightingale to more than one needy elderly woman, but she decided from as early as the 1970s that her bad marriage is her husband’s fault and that “it’s no use trying.” Early resolve hardened into lifestyle.

I have pleaded with the woman over the decades but nothing has changed. No, that is not exactly true: The marriage has gotten much worse. I have watched the man pass from being in love in the early years, to being hurt in the middle years, to finally sinking into himself and looking older than his age.

I was discouraged and almost hopeless, thinking that even if she were to start loving her husband now, it may be too late. Is it possible to have grieved the Spirit so many times that we can excommunicate ourselves from going to the throne of grace? Then I remembered the most encouraging words for a person in this state (a state I have been in myself)—the words “Yet even now”:

“‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. … Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him … (Joel 2:12-14).

What is the “blessing” God may “leave behind”? Perhaps it is the wonderful surprise that after a life mostly eaten up by the locusts of sin, our final evaluation of our own life’s meaning can be changed from tragedy to victory, if we only begin today to live in the grace column rather than the sin column. This is what C.S. Lewis meant when he said “both good and evil, when they are fully grown, become retrospective” (The Great Divorce).

In other words, if that woman were to start loving her husband today, and love would do its mysterious Godlike work of healing the relationship, then all of the bad years that have passed will seem in hindsight like the middle chapters of a book that was always progressing to a happy ending. “Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory,” Lewis wrote.

It is never too late to start obeying the Lord. Until, that is, it is too late.