I watched Jada Pinkett Smith sit down with her husband Will at the “red table,” a place that she has apparently designated as a spot for truth-telling. I had seen her at the red table before maybe about a year ago, and was struck by the strange vocabulary that she has adopted, ways of speaking that replace hard truths with euphemisms and phrases that smack of psychology textbooks, a veritable parade of self-esteem. She looked like a child, sitting there in her white chair with her legs folded up under her, relaxed as if she and Will were sitting together discussing a play they had seen last week.
Only this conversation was anything but casual. They had come to this table to discuss before the world Jada’s infidelity and the break up and re-making of their marriage. Jada looked relaxed, but the tension between the two of them was palpable. In her usual fashion, she called her affair an “entanglement.” She said she is grateful that her relationship with this other man was such a healing part of her journey. When Will later referred to Jada’s actions against him as a “transgression,” she objected to the word. Twenty-five years of marriage, and all Jada could say is that she wishes that marriages didn’t have to go through things like this, but they do. And then, as if to put the most awkward and sad cherry possible on top of this self-justification sundae, the two of them ruefully bumped fists and said in unison, “Bad marriage for life!”
There wasn’t anything sweet about this moment. It felt bitter. It felt like two people with a long history, looking across a red table at each other, hurting. There was no sense of redemption. No remorse. No true healing. No reassurance. It was painful to watch, and I can only imagine how painful it has been for the two of them to live out, one justifying sin and one still seeking, several years after the affair ended, an admission that he has been wronged.
I know nothing about the history of this couple other than what they said in this awkward twelve minute conversation. I don’t know if Will has ever cheated. I don’t know how often they have been at a breaking point or how many times they have stood on the edge of the end of their marriage. But I do know that one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen a couple do is look each other in the face and declare that there is no hope for a better future. Bad marriage for life. No trust. No help. No healing.
Without Christ, the future is bleak.
The gospel isn’t just hope for individuals. It’s hope for marriages, too. It answers the big questions of married life, like these: Why are we the way that we are? Why is this precious person that I thought could do no wrong being mean, impatient, thoughtless, selfish? Why do I talk to this person that I love the way that I do? Why do we continually do the wrong things? The gospel answers in this way: You are the way that you are because you are both wretched sinners who need a Savior. (Romans 3:23, Jeremiah 17:9)
The gospel also informs us on questions like these: What do we do now? How do we move on after we have behaved so badly? How do we forgive? How do we recover from this? Is there hope for our future? And the blessed gospel answers in this way: With Christ, there is real hope. (Philippians 1:6, Romans 15:13)
Marriage is not just designed to be a picture of the gospel. It needs the gospel in order to survive and thrive. Only when we have a clear idea of who we are and who Christ is will we ever be able to make sense of married life. A marriage isn’t rescued by behavior modification. We can work and work and strive and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and try to avoid “entanglements” of all kinds, but only true heart change can make a marriage what God intended for it to be. And that isn’t something that comes from psychology studies or communication skills. It doesn’t suddenly happen because you sat down at the red table to talk it out. It happens through the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of us. It happens because of the mercy and grace of a good God.
“Bad marriage for life.” They bumped knuckles, and then Jada said, with a wide smile and a sad note in her voice, “It’s the truth.” They are trying so hard. They believe they have gained so much from their journey. If only they understood the miraculous power of the gospel to transform who they are, to give them hearts that are truly changed, to give them real hope for a radically different future. When I see them there at the red table, I’m reminded what a huge difference the gospel makes in my own marriage. Where would Chad and I be without the mercy of God and the sanctifying power that the gospel brings to our love story? We shouldn’t take it for granted. We have real hope, and that makes everything look different.