The Gospel and Tough Love


Dobson’s book, Love Must Be Tough, focuses on the practice of tough love in marriage. He advocates, in some circumstances, an offended spouse (offended by habitual infidelity) to create a crisis by stepping away from the transgressor.

Most of this week, I have wrestled with this concept. How can I (or anyone) emulate God’s unconditional love, if I appear to withdraw from the person who has sinned against me? Can it possibly be loving to draw a hard line, demanding repentance and reconciliation? Is a crisis, designed to force the sinner to face the music and the consequences of their actions, loving?

Paul compares marriage to the relationship between Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:23-32 “For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of his body, the church; he gave his life to be her Savior. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives must submit to your husbands in everything. And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife. No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body.
As the Scriptures say, ‘A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.”

In redemption, God paints the perfect example of tough love. In the same masterpiece, he depicts the problem of pain and makes it a beautiful work of art. Let’s look:

Eve reached up and selected the most delectable piece of fruit, dangling from a limb laden with temptation. She wondered, what have I been missing by faithfully obeying, serving and loving my creator? What delight have I not tasted by enjoying only what has been given to me? Without further thought, before she could talk herself out of it and before Adam arrived to chastise her, Eve plucked the fruit from its branch and sank her teeth into its flesh.

With one bite, Eve betrayed the One who loved her soul, the One who knew her intimately and had limited her to His own goodness. God responded with swift, tough, promised consequences. He banished Adam and Eve from His presence. God withdrew from them – no more long, sweet garden walks. Pain, sweat, tears and frustration followed Adam and Eve down their chosen path of sin.

Fast Forward:

As centuries elapse, death continues to haunt each and every man. Sickness. Pain. Failure. Sadness. Longing. Fear.

A woman who has never believed in a God, much less an intimate creator, bends over he son’s hospital bed. She had never credited God with the sculpting of his small, tanned arms that loved to throw a baseball. She hadn’t considered a Master-creator who had given her son his quick wit, cheery wink and spontaneous laughter. But, as her boy balances on the precipice between heaven and hell, life and death, now and forever, there’s no where else to go.

“God!” her heart screams. “You’re my only hope, my only refuge. You’re the only one in this room with me, the only voice my son can hear. Let him live! And if you take him, give me the grace and strength to live.”

Remember September 11, 2001? Remember how news anchors marveled at the mercy and compassion that such tragedy spawned among strangers? Remember the suddenly permissible public prayers for courage? Pain and the consequences of evil often send us running back to the one we know, the one we trust, the truth.

That’s what God’s tough love did, and that’s the hope Dobson extends in practicing tough love in human relationships.

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