In “Faith of My Father,” I recalled how God made possible the reunion between my late father and I in 1997, following a seven-year estrangement. I further recounted Dad’s pastor describing him not only as a firm Christian but also a “man of regret,” recalling conversations in which Dad mourned not following Jesus much earlier in life. I wrote:
Dad gave himself completely over to Jesus only as he approached 60 and was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1991. Before then, he had a very successful career in blind and higher education… But as great as all of his achievements were, Dad’s biggest regret was not having accepted God’s grace and submitted to the Lord’s will for his life earlier.
What I didn’t mention were some of the specifics of Dad’s regrets and the circumstances that led to our estrangement.
Dad himself admitted that he was once not the kind of husband to his late wife, father to my older half-brothers and sister, and man that he should have been. His attitude led to a four-and-a-half-year on-again, off-again affair with a woman 23 years his junior who would become my mother. While Dad viewed the affair as “just one of those things,” Mom fell deeply in love with him. She held out hope that he would leave his wife for her. But when that didn’t happen, and Dad didn’t marry Mom after his wife’s unexpected death five months following my birth, her love turned into vengeance.
Mom’s vengeance was primarily displayed by pulling me at the last minute from plans with my paternal family, plans made long in advance. Trying his best to be a father to me, Dad became increasingly hurt by Mom’s vindictiveness and by how short, few, and far between our visits and my opportunities to know my paternal relatives were. The vindictiveness became too much, and it caused Dad to make a decision that would hurt the both of us, but hopefully someday lead to a joyful reunion. He decided to completely step away and pause his efforts to have a relationship with me, leaving the decision to me whether to resume (or, rather actually begin) our relationship once I got older. It was a decision that Dad, by then a serious Christian, made completely on faith, trusting God to make a way for us to be together again as father and son.
“I will restore to you the years which the swarming locust has eaten,” God promised his people in a time of famine (Joel 2:25). God restored my and Dad’s lost years on March 28, 1997, the first day of a 19-year renewed relationship with which we were blessed until Dad’s death. Dad and Mom’s own reconciliation took place five years ago during the weekend of my installation into my previous ministry as Chaplain of Ascension Episcopal School in Lafayette, Louisiana. As the hymn says:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice, which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more grace for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in His blood.
On the surface, God’s seventh commandment against adultery reinforces the admonition against sexual promiscuity: “From the beginning of creation,” Jesus says, “God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. … What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:6-9). Frequent sexual “flings” with others instead of faithfulness to and intimacy with one’s husband or wife lead to personal ruin and the pain of others: “The iniquities of the wicked ensnare them, and they are caught in the toils of their sin. They die for lack of discipline, and because of their great folly they are lost” (Prov. 5:22-23).
Yet not only should we not cheat on our spouse, we also shouldn’t cheat on God. “I wonder,” Dad would say, “how much better things would have been had I just accepted Jesus earlier. I knew that God was trying to give me his grace. Had I just not been so stubborn, how much better would my life have been?” Dad frequently lamented his past mistakes, to which I always said, “Yes, you accepted Jesus later than you now wish you had. But at least you accepted him.”
By becoming faithful to God, Dad realized how much God loved him; he was finally at the place to receive God’s blessings, which come from his faithfulness to us. From God’s faithfulness Dad received many second chances: to be a great husband to his second wife, a wonderful father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and a fervent cheerleader for Jesus. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Not only is the seventh commandment an admonition against sexual promiscuity, it is also a call to focus our attention on God as our Alpha and Omega and the Almighty one. The purpose of God’s commandments is to draw us into seeing him as our one true love. The proof that this is God’s real nature comes from the fact that the constant unfaithful party throughout the biblical narrative is humanity; God remains completely faithful throughout the relationship.
Hence, the seventh commandment isn’t just an admonition. It is a call to someone greater than all of us. The God to whom it points is the one through whom being in relationship provides real sustenance and true joy for living. Only through sincere faithfulness to God can we attain our best at being human. Because when we completely surrender ourselves to God’s love and will, our thoughts, words, and actions become more in line with his. “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul says, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
And despite humanity’s chronic unfaithfulness to God, never has God abandoned us. “Again and again, [God] called us to return. Through prophets and sages [he] revealed [his] righteous Law. And in the fullness of time [he] sent [his] only Son, born of a woman, to fulfill [his] Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 370). If that isn’t unconditional love, then what is?
Faithfulness to God is the driving force of fidelity to one’s husband or wife. Spouses’ fidelity to each other is what makes marriage the signifier of the Church’s mystical union with Christ. The seventh commandment has its ultimate purpose: to help all of us become great in God.
Who would have thought that an admonition would bring good news? But there it is, God’s redemption offered to all. As my late father discovered, when one lays down their will in favor of God’s, resisting adultery’s captivation, all lost time and past faults become redeemed. “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” God says. “Therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer. 31:3).
Great is God’s faithfulness to us. Let us, then, be strengthened in our relationship with others by being faithful to him. Resist adultery; don’t cheat on God.
The Rev. Brandt Montgomery is the Chaplain of Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland
 From “Regret,” a sermon preached for Dad’s burial service by Bishop Ronnie C. Crudup, Sr., Bishop of the Mid-South of the Fellowship of International Churches, on Saturday, October 22, 2016 at New Horizon Church International in Jackson, Mississippi.