Answering Questioners

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them,“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” – John 8:7, NKJV



This past weekend I had some interesting conversations with people I had just met. They were generally positive interactions on the whole. I appreciated the time these individuals gave me and their willingness to share their own stories with me.

That said, one exchange was difficult for me. It came when meeting another pastor for the first time. He asked me a question, and that question threw me down the “shame hole” for a little bit.

He asked me–as I remember it–

“Did your former spouse have any legitimate grievances against you in your marriage?”

Instantly, I felt defensive. I was in the docks, and this man had made himself judge by asking this question. It did not seem fair.

This question triggered the wicked spiritual abuse of my former in-laws and ex-wife who loved to season their lies about my character with just a hint of truth. Then they would point to the little hint of truth to try to get me to swallow their degrading lies whole.

This question dredged up icky feelings about when I had to give an answer regarding my divorce to a panel of evangelical ministers just to stay “in the club.”

I felt like I had to give a reason for why I did not deserve to be abandoned, cheated on, lied to, and divorced by my unfaithful (now) former wife.

And this to a practical stranger. Someone I had just met.

I fumbled out a serviceable response. He graciously assessed that I was the classical “wronged party.” The conversation went on from there to more pleasant places–at least, for me.

Reflecting on that exchange, I wished I had been better prepared for that sort of question. It is a type of question I am sure others have encountered in Christian circles. And I am confident I will encounter it again.

For some reason, evangelical Christians feel entitled to pry into the intimate details of a divorced Christian’s dead marriage even after knowing their former spouse committed adultery.

So, I have prepared a response to the question:

Did your former spouse have any legitimate grievances against you in your marriage?

*Answer: No more than I am sure your wife could legitimately say about you in your marriage.” 

The point is to remove the questioner from the place of judgment to the place of brotherly or sisterly solidarity.

It is a reminder that the tragedy of adultery and divorce can strike anyone.

It is a reminder to remain humble when talking to a divorced person. A married person is not necessarily a morally better person. All marriages have sin in them (Ro. 3:23).

And it is a reminder that they are treating a divorced person in a way that they might not wish to be treated themselves–i.e. having a near stranger pry into tender areas of their own marriage.

Ultimately, we do not owe such individuals an answer, though. The shame of divorce is not ours to bear as faithful spouses. I just pose my answer as a possible pastoral response.

That said, it is frustrating to have to deal with these sort of situations. I do not like the feeling that I “have to” prove “I’ve learned my lessons” or that it was not my fault or whatever when it comes to my divorce.

However, working through such feelings and exchanges is the price we pay to remain in our imperfect communities. That includes when the exchange is more about the other person’s hangups than our own.

Even so, sometimes the community is not worth it. That is a choice we can make as well. We can just walk away.


It is a privilege to hear our stories. Not everyone is worthy. And not everyone deserves to hear such intimate details.

Even Jesus reserved some of his most delicate secrets, plans, and teachings as for his disciples.

* Another way to tackle this is simply to ask clarifying questions. “Why do you ask?” You can then decide from there whether it is worth it to answer the first question.

9 thoughts on “Answering Questioners”

  1. That is an excellent answer to that question! I am going to have to remember that one! Thank you for that. And for also reminding me that it only for a priviledged few that I will share my story/details.

  2. Very nice post. Beautiful in its simplicity and biblical instruction. A similar approach might be to ask the questioner to clarify what he means by “legitimate.” His use of that adjective implies you provided justification for her infidelity, which, as you know, is a heaping pile of horse manure.

  3. You are a very thoughtful man obviously DM! I would have pointed out to the curious questioner that he was an insensitive clod and his wife puts up with him!! I have no tolerance for that kind of BS!

  4. Great response DM. And great secondary responses from yourself and Brent. I have not personally encountered such a pompous question, yet. But I know I will so thank you both.

    DM, I was wondering if you have an edifying and short response for when verses such as those from Malachi and Hosea are thrown around inappropriately at the faithful spouse.

    Also, a question regarding forgiveness – In Luke 17:3, the concept of forgiveness is predicated on repentance. The verse clearly says, “…if there is repentance, forgive.” But I had verses such as Matthew 18:21-22 thrown at me (forgiving 70 times 7 times), with verses 23-35 conveniently left out. When I decided to confront this, I was told that the later verses meant I would not be forgiven if I did not forgive my debtor, which is not entirely untrue. But upon further examination, I saw that the first debtor had his initial forgiveness revoked because he did not have a change of heart, i.e. repentance, and demonstrated this by mercilessly extracting a debt from a fellow servant. The first debtor was subsequently imprisoned to be tortured until his debt was paid. To me that was another illustration of the principal from Luke where forgiveness was dependent on repentance and further illustrates that initial forgiveness can be revoked.

    I’d like to get your take on this and be corrected if I’m wrong. It just doesn’t seem wise to forgive someone who is unrepentant and let them back into the fold. Seems to go against Biblical wisdom to me. Yet, this was what I was asked to do. I was also told that if I truly forgave, then I would also forget and be able to move on as if nothing happened because God did this in Isaiah 43:25. Something is amiss here but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

    1. Michael,

      Your question prompted my post for today:

      As to the question of forgiveness. I will point out that not everyone is forgiven in the end, sadly. Remember the “Parable of the Sheep and Goats” (Mt 25:31ff). Our actions matter. We will each give an account for them (see 2 Cor 5:10) before God. And I would point out that Paul suggested judging and breaking fellowship with a Christian in such sin like adultery is required of faithful Christians as it is a way to help them not lose their soul (see I Cor. 5). I would say that certainly requires repentance. Plus, it requires NOT forgetting the Christian sinned and remains in that sin!

      Hope that helps a little!

  5. My brother and I where discussing adultery and get to the same conclusion: not more than a “non divorced person”. And now I read it here in your blog. Thanks for all the revelations here.

  6. I love your response to the question DM! I’m going to use that! I have had 2 of my only family members ask me similar questions because my stbx was so good at playing the good guy to some people they couldn’t imagine what I did to “make” him have an emotional affair and leave his family. (Luckily, most of my family saw right through him.) I would respond to the question with “Name something I could have done that would to justify his actions.” They couldn’t come up with anything and stopped saying such insensitive things. Now if anyone questions my ability as a wife I firmly state that I was a great wife but as imperfect as the next person and In really stand up for myself, which is something I couldn’t do a year ago. At this point, I am an open book now about my divorce and about the abuse I took from my husband and other people. I find the more open I become the more I learn about who are my real friends and support system. It has been liberating because I have found I have many people supporting me. Thanks for being part of my healing DM and responders!

    1. BHB,

      Love that response: “Name something I could have done that would to justify his actions.” Excellent. Makes the point rather well. Honored to be part of your healing journey!


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