It was a sad, devastating day yesterday in the Northern Ireland news. We don't normally catch the evening news, but for some reason, we saw both the National and Local news bulletins on the BBC.
The First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson MP MLA, appeared on a video broadcast from his home study, reading a prepared statement following the publication of a statement from his wife and Strangford MP, Iris Robinson. He talked about her attempting suicide following an inappropriate affair, and the struggle this has placed on their marriage, but that they are working through it.
It appears that someone was going to break the story, so the Robinsons pre-empted it with their own statements. Peter Robinson appeared as a broken man, grieved and pained by his wife's infidelity, and the consequences of this. We need to be praying for the family, who are local residents here in Dundonald, as they seek to rebuild trust and their marriage together.
A terrible situation. Local politicians and the media have thus far been sympathetic and have pledged their support for Peter and Iris in these difficult days. Yet some have been critical of Iris Robinson since her criticism and condemnation of homosexuality back in 2008. They see this as her comeuppance for those remarks.
Yet there has been one bright moment in the midst of the despair. In her statement, Iris said: I grieve that I have damaged my profession in Christ, but I am comforted that He was able to forgive even me. Later, in Peter's statement, he said this:
I love my wife. I have always been faithful to her. In a spirit of humility and repentance, Iris sought my forgiveness, she took responsibility upon herself alone for her actions and I have forgiven her. More important, I know that she has sought and received God's forgiveness.
I only ask if people feel they must judge her, that they find within themselves, as I have done, the gift of doing so with mercy and compassion.
The language of mercy, forgiveness and grace has been used, and forgiveness has been provided and accepted within the Robinson's marriage, and also from God. Yet it has raised many discussions in the media about how Iris Robinson can be certain that God has forgiven her. Rev David McIlveen was interviewed on Good Morning Ulster, and the Chaplain of Upper Bann DUP branch (whose name I didn't catch) was on the Stephen Nolan radio show, both proclaiming clearly the gospel of God's grace and forgiveness on undeserving sinners through the death of Christ and confession and repentance.
Also on Good Morning Ulster, Glen Jordan was interviewed, and his words on scandalous grace bear repeating here:
"One of the things we believe is that grace is a scandalous thing, grace is for those who do not deserve it," he said.
"It doesn't make sense in the kind of economics where you always get what you deserve.
"When you have done wrong to somebody and that person turns round and for no good reason extends forgiveness and says 'Let's try and repair this relationship' you've experienced grace then and you have a responsibility to live out in the light of that."
How marvellous that God's grace and glory is being proclaimed even in such terrible circumstances. How rightly Simon and Garfunkel sang all those years ago:
And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray