November 19, 2014

From Prosecuting Attorney to Counselor of Defense

Gary Thomas — 

From Prosecuting Attorney to Counselor of Defense 2

The vicar in a small British village had heard enough of Jean’s complaints. “All I’ve been hearing is continual carping about how awful it has been for you being married to Reg, how mean and bad-tempered he is. I’m fed up with hearing the same old thing week in and week out. I don’t want to hear any more. Before we go on, I want you to go into the church and ask God to show you just what life must have been like for Reg and why he’s become as he is.”

Jean found herself “dumbfounded.” “How could a man who called himself a priest be so unchristian and insensitive?…Of course he was a man—men do stick together. He probably thought it was the woman’s fault, as always!”

But then Jean went into the church to pray.

At first, she recited to God all the good things Reg had going for him, including a sexually willing wife—what more could he want? What was his problem, God?

Once Jean’s opinions ran out, God’s thoughts crept in. God reminded Jean that two months after their wedding, Reg’s partners in his advertising firm misspent company assets, forcing them out of business and Reg out of an income. Jean became disabled shortly thereafter and lost her job as well, leaving Reg and Jean all but homeless.

Then, Reg’s mother died, suddenly and unexpectedly. With little time to grieve, Reg had to find a place for his family to live, so they moved to Cornwall, but that didn’t work out, forcing Reg to move his family back to his father’s rather dank and dark house in London (which was more humiliating in the seventies than it would be today).

Jean found herself speechless as this account rolled through her mind. She had been so full of words with the vicar—with God, not so much.

“As I sat there in that church, looking back into the past, it slowly dawned on me how all this must have affected Reg. His dreams had all been shattered in two short months—firm collapsed, mother dead, home gone—and he was back where he had started. He must have felt an utter failure. No wonder he seemed to turn against me and his son. He had to use us as a fuse or he would have blown his mind.”

It’s painful for me to copy that last sentence. No, Reg didn’t have to use his family as a fuse, but let’s allow Jean to finish her story, because that’s the main point: “I’d never before thought about any situation from another person’s viewpoint. I’d never experienced such hurt as I now began to feel on Reg’s behalf—my own hurts, hates and frustrations seemed nothing in comparison. Tears ran down my cheeks for him and all the unspoken feelings which he’d obviously had no idea how to cope with.”

In prayer, Jean’s angry accusations transformed themselves into tears of empathy. She was no longer a prosecuting attorney; in prayer, she became his counselor of defense.

This is the journey marriage calls us to, to seek to understand, to seek to empathize, to strive to become a redemptive partner rather than a legal opponent. We must be for our spouse, as God is for us (Romans 8:31), as God was for us even in our sins.

Evil in my spouse can’t be excused, but it can be understood. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. I don’t want any wife to try to “explain away” physical or sexual abuse, for instance.  But marriage does call us to at least try to understand our spouse’s struggles as God understands them—looking through the kindly paternal eyes of our loving heavenly father instead of through our angry resentful eyes of judgmentalism.

Have you ever gone into prayer and asked God to show you why your spouse—His son or His daughter—acts the way he or she does? You’re not looking for an excuse—there usually is none—but for a reason, and that’s an important difference. We can have empathy for someone even while despising what they are doing. We can completely disagree with their response even as we feel for their pain.

That’s the key—God never loses His empathy for His children, even as He truly hates when we sin or hurt others. We must not lose our empathy either, especially for our spouse. When we go into prayer as Jean went into prayer, if we will listen, God can help us see the “other side”—that is, the burden and hurts of our spouse, instead of being consumed by our burdens and hurt.

Try this; set some time aside in the next few days. If you have to spill out your frustrations and accusations to clear your mind, have at it. God is big enough to handle it. But stay on your knees long enough for God to wait until you’re finished, and then listen to His still small voice as He re-directs your thoughts to see your spouse’s life as God has seen it—the hurts, the struggles, the disappointments, the heartaches. This doesn’t mean there will be no consequences to our spouse’s actions, but it does mean we will feel differently about those consequences and let them unfold with an entirely different motivation—a holy one.

It is God’s call, and our privilege, to let God so transform us that we can respond to evil with a holy, empathetic heart.


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12 responses to From Prosecuting Attorney to Counselor of Defense

  1. Freaking brilliant as always. Sharing this post with the Future Marriage University (FMU) community at

    Thanks again, Gary, for startling refreshing perspective to pass along to wise individuals BEFORE they fall in love.

  2. Thank you, Gary! My husband and I have lived and are living this out by the sweet mercy and grace of God. The Lord did this very thing in both of us in Feb. 2012 on a cloudy beach in Pensecola, Florida. We both sought out God’s view of one another, past, present and future. It was the game changer for our entire family. After years of hurt, betrayal, and continual disappointment, we threw ourselves on the mercy of God and both confessed that we couldn’t do what He had asked us to do. Not in and of ourselves. It began a new book for us of coming together and confessing our daily need of His grace to love one another even as He has loved us. We adore one another today! We hold our calling to help others live out this reality with holy fear and joy. It’s happening for many and we give Him all the glory!

  3. Chris Castleberry November 20, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Thanks, Gary. Good article and good reminder. I loved the story. That always helps to bring a point across. It seems to me that the more we live in pride and selfishness, the more we get angry and feel injured by people we’re in relationship with. And the more we live in humility and love, the more we consider others as more important and realize how we’re all in the same boat. We all need Jesus. Daily. And we can’t make others love us, but God can give us the strength to love others. And that can bring healing and softness. It is a tough task! And we all fail at it, especially when we think we’re starting to get good at it! 🙂 God help us to love our spouses more.

  4. I’ve prayed to God to allow my husband to see how bad he was acting. How selfish and angry and the list can go on. Telling God how he needed to change my husband. Then I could hear God telling me how I have been acting. How cold and resentful I was acting. I needed to change my attitude. He was reacting to me pushing him away. This is a reminder to me to not only look at my husband as a son of God but to focus on the good. Especially while we are healing and this time of year reminds me how bad we were a year ago. Philippians 4:8

  5. This is so very true, Gary! Thank you for your tenacity in always sharing the truth/Truth with us on every level. We appreciate you allowing the LORD to use you in such a powerful and meaningful way. I can definitely relate to this blog and many of the others you have written.

  6. Beautifully communicated, Gary! “You’re not looking for an excuse—there usually is none—but for a reason, and that’s an important difference.” Knowing some of the Whys of my ex-husband’s abuse didn’t change the consequences — but they DID make it easier to forgive and be compassionate (instead of cruel) in the midst of escaping.

  7. Good insight, thanks. Is this an actual testimony, Gary, or one created to show real life experiences?
    The Lord has led me in this more understanding path with others, even with the thought comin to mind,
    “Would I be much different if I went through the same experiences that person did?” I agree about not excusing sin, but having understanding and compassion is huge, the love of God. Thank you.

    • it’s real, taken from a book “Listen for a Change” by Annejet Campbell. I cite the book when I use this in “A Lifelong Love,” but I forgot to put the reference here. But it’s a true story.

  8. “You’re not looking for an excuse—there usually is none—but for a reason, and that’s an important difference.” Well said, and it applies to many situations. Gary, I sure appreciate your insight and ability to nail it with just the right words. Your regular blog posts serve as great reminders for how I should be loving my spouse and they help to renew my mind.


  9. I’m wondering why you only mention physical and sexual abuse, Gary. Most abused spouses say emotional abuse is worse than physical.

    • Good catch, Grace. I’ve written on emotional abuse here before, and actually have a guest post coming up in just a couple weeks that will focus exclusively on emotional abuse. It would just get boring if I used a comprehensive list every time I write a caveat (especially with short posts). Over the course of time, I hope every reader of this blog will get it that emotional abuse is an issue the church needs to address