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Mutually Assured Destruction (a.k.a. "M.A.D.") came about with the proliferation of nuclear weapons after the second world war. We reached this strange moment in history where, if one geopolitical superpower decided to unleash nuclear war, then the ensuing exchange of nuclear warheads would be enough to potentially destroy all life on earth. It is Mutually Assured Destruction, if one nuclear power attacks another, it is pretty much guaranteed that everybody will die in the following conflict.


So since the cold war, we have lived in a strange balance of powers. The Cuban missile crisis led us pretty close to that edge, but the balance has held. So even today, we know that devastating force is held in reserve, but if ever the balance of power and cooperation among nuclear states was pushed too far, everybody on earth would loose.


I use this as an analogy for human relationships. There are certain relationships, once entered into, reach an equilibrium where an attack can start an exchange that destroys both parties. Sure, we're not suspicious enemies, but there is a power in relationships that can destroy lives. As long as we join together in love and service to one another, our relationships can flourish. Yet if one or the other party decides to tear themselves loose, or to destroy the other, then both lose.


Friendships are not forever, yet many of us have known those friends that are "closer than a brother". When we are betrayed by that person, we feel like we can never trust again. We feel as through a stake has been driven into our heart and the wound will never heal. The perpetrator of the betrayal is left with guilt, one that they try to assuage with excuses and distractions, but it can only be resolved with repentance and restitution. They depart under a cloud of shame covered in prideful stubbornness and you leave with deep festering wounds that threaten to derail the course of your life.


Family is probably where this principle plays out most destructively. Firstly, God has designed marriage to be such that two become one. When you try to take one, and divide it by two, you get two broken halves. Divorce is a propagator of untold misery. Even in the permitted cases of divorce under God's law, there is still betrayal, trauma and hurt that cannot be easily addressed. In the moment, divorce can seem like a good option, but the ensuing destruction and pain for all involved can be greater than the initial detriment caused in the relational breakdown.


Secondly, other familial relationships are barely any less destructive. When there is strife and discord sown between mother and son, sister and sister, or any other mixture between uncles/aunts, grandparents and so on, it is as though there's a bomb in the family and nobody knows how long the fuse is. We can end up with family situations where everybody walks on egg-shells and put on airs so as not to disturb the sleeping giant stuffed under the floorboards, or, somone sets off the bomb and the family splinters into angry factions, or we just learn to live in an environment of perpetual conflict.


I'm sure you have seen these trends play out, if not in your own life, then in the lives of others you care about.


But it's not all doom and gloom. It's not all bad news. Knowing that M.A.D. is a possibility in your relationships should also reveal to you the power and effect that your role holds. You hold in your hand the power to build or destroy. It is as though you have a hammer in your hand. It is a simple yet effective tool, and it can be used for building up or tearing down. You can be a builder of relational beauty or a one-person demolition crew.


If you unleash on others, you can take them down with you. Or conversely you can build them up in love to create a relational edifice of eternal significance. In terms of sexual difference, it is worth noting here the disproportionate effect that women have on our relationships. They, in several respects, are the relational glue that hold our society together and thus you ladies hold great influence over your closest connections. Use this influence with heavenly wisdom; will you be the holy mother Mary or the sabotaging Jezebel? Legacy building Achsah or scheming seductress Delilah?


"The wisest of women builds her house,

      but folly with her own hands tears it down." (Pr 14:1).



M.A.D. is a possibility in all close relationships. We're not being mean by recognising this fact, in fact, having the clarity to see the risk helps us see how the only way forward is mutual trust and love. If we pull back from one another because of the possibility of being hurt we only hasten the likleyhood of relational destruction, similarly the more over-bearing or dominating we are the more we drive others away. We need to meet in a generous loving middle that does not discount the inequalities of the relationship, nor our personalities or past hurts, all so that the inevitable "speed bumps" may be negotiated without recourse to warfare.



Let's imagine for a moment you find yourself in a position where the other party has launched a pre-emptive strike, and is acting in such a way as to blow-up your relationship. The Gospel shapes how we respond. The natural reaction is to launch your retaliatory strike so that you can take them down with you, but the Way of Christ would have us act quite differently. Instead of reacting with blows and barbs, we respond with the love of God:


"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also..." (Lk 6:27–29).


"Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Lk 17:3–4).


(A momentary word to the "peacemakers" among us. For some of us, our default in the midst of conflict is to placate and try and cover over issues. It seems like the quickest route to peace is just to "give them what they want" and so in our discomfort we immediately give over. While certainly we should be willing to let love cover a multitude of sins (1Pe 4:8), we ought not just let sin go on unchecked, especially if it is egregious or a habitual sin. The verse above says clearly that forgiveness in relational sin should start with rebuke. If the other party doesn't recognise and repent of their sin against you, you should pursue the hard option of pointing out the sin in accordance with God's Word so that the issues can be resolved through repentance and forgiveness).


Returning to the greater theme, the Gospel shapes our response by bringing forgiveness and love to the table. In the same way we have acted terribly toward God, and yet he forgives us, so too we must forgive those who sin against us (Mt 6:12–15). We have something now which can stop the cycle of destruction in our relational conflicts. In our interpersonal relationships we are called to "wear it," with long suffering, mercy and kindness shaped by Jesus own example. In fact, if we are "in the right" and we suffer for it, it is actually a blessing for us (1Pe 3:14).


So now, if we are practicing the Gospel way in our relationships, although we have the "risk" of tearing each other down, now there is the antidote that undoes mutual destruction. The other party may yet self-destruct, but we need not contribute to it, and we pray and hope that our own response of loving forgiveness will in fact stop an unfolding conflict in it's tracks and move us toward reconciliation.



Let's imagine for a moment you find yourself in a position where you are contributing to the destruction in a relationship, either as the one who started it, or in response to what the other did to you. What do you do? Stop! Stop perpetuating the cycle. Humble yourself firstly before God, recognising you have sinned against him, receiving His mercy, then humbly repent toward the other party. Be specific, lay out your wrongs without dulling them with excuses, then ask for forgiveness. If you realise down the track some other sin, go back to them and lay that out too! It will be a humbling experience, but it is the path to restoration.


Then, seek to make restitution; pay back what you took from them (Lk 19:8–9). Relationally this can be hard to measure, but do not try to measure the payback as if you can check it off on your to-do list, instead try to outdo one another in showing love (Ro 12:10) and pay it back fourfold. Overcome your previous evil with overflowing good! (Ro 12:21).


It may be that the relational destruction that you started keeps going on after you have stopped adding fuel to the fire; like trying to dam a river after you just blew up the dam, it is hard to stop. Your temptation in that moment may be to puff yourself up in pride as if the fact that you repented first somehow makes you better than the other party. You need to live with the consequences of your actions, taking responsibility for them even long after the sin stopped. While your sin is atoned for before God, and in the grand scheme of things every wrong will be put right by God's true justice, we still live among the earthly consequences of our sin. The guilt is taken away, as are the eternal consequences, but the temporal consequences may still continue for a lifetime.


And you who are on the receiving end of another's relational sin, when you forgive you may need to practice that forgiveness in an ongoing way. Especially, as noted above, if the effect of their actions have long lasting consequences. You may find yourself having to forgive again and again in your heart when you are tempted to grow bitter under the ongoing weight of other's choices and actions. Once more, this must flow from Christ at work in us, sacrificing ourselves so that God's love is made manifest through us, just as he manifested God's love on the cross through the sacrifice of himself.


In the natural course of human affairs, we expect relationships will face trouble and difficulty. Mutual destruction is a possibility when a relationship goes bad, but it is also a sign of great power you have that can be applied positively. When relational battles begin, you can stop the seemingly "inevitable" cycle with Christ-like love, repentance and Gospel shaped reconciliation.


"For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another." (Ga 5:14–15).