Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say…”
-Genesis 3:1a, NIV
Fuzzy thinking is the enemy of the spiritually imperil. Many a cheater has found themselves in sin just as Eve did because they allowed the Enemy to sow the seeds of moral ambiguity into their minds. And many a faithful spouse are casualties of their adulterous spouse’s fuzzy thinking:
-“It isn’t really cheating. We didn’t have intercourse. It was only hand jobs and heavy petting.”
-“God wants me happy. So, He must be fine with my relationship with Jane/John. It makes me feel alive!”
-“We were already divorced in our hearts. So, this really wasn’t adultery.”
-“I never would have cheated if Sam/Sue _______” [fill blank with favorite cheater marriage complaint…e.g. had more sex with me, had poured into me emotionally, had provided better for our family, wasn’t such a nag, hadn’t got so fat, etc.]
Spiritual care for cheaters starts with identifying and demolishing the lies, excuses, and “justifications.”
The first lie that absolutely must go is “The Shared Responsibility Lie.” As long as the cheater does not take full responsibility for his or her choices to be unfaithful, they lack the ability to repent from said sin. It is not repentance if circumstances “outside of my control” made me do it. This is the “Devil made me do it” lame excuse twisted to fit whatever tailored made circumstance the cheater wants.
“I’m sorry my wife was a bad wife or my husband was a bad husband; so, I cheated” is not repentance. The Father of Lies still owns their heart if they are spouting such rancid nonsense.
Difficult circumstances do not cause sin. Choices cause sin. Specifically, the choices the cheater made to cheat caused the adultery or infidelity.
Fuzzy thinking must be eradicated!
Many of the good counseling books dealing with infidelity talk about understanding the reasoning behind the infidelity in order to heal from it. I defer to them in their field but add a caveat for pastors and Christian leaders who embark on such an exploration.
Understanding the motives or circumstances around the sin does not mean those motives or circumstances caused the sin.
A rapist might say his victim’s short skirt turned him on and made him want to rape her. That does not make him less responsible for said crime. Nor does the victim choosing a short skirt make her culpable for her own rape. The rapist is 100% responsible for his sinful choices and criminal actions.
Similarly speaking, an adulterer or adulteress is not less responsible for choosing adultery based on the circumstances of his or her marriage. They are 100% culpable for their own adulterous sin. This must never be forgotten or obscured if true Biblical care is to be provided for adulterous spouses after the fact. It is really the starting point for any substantive pastoral care on these matters for cheaters, in my opinion.
Now, let’s say the adulterous spouse takes full responsibility for his or her sin. That does not mean they are thereby entitled to their marriage continuing. One possible consequence of their sin is that they may have damaged the marriage beyond repair or restoration. The faithful spouse is allowed to make that call with no shame either way (see Jer 3:8, Mt 5:32 and Mt 19:9).
True repentance is seasoned liberally with humility. When we truly repent, we are not trying to manipulate the person we have wronged. We repent because we know we wronged him or her. Like the prodigal son, we come realizing the wronged one–i.e. the father–does not owe us anything.
I would encourage pastors and Christian leaders to help foster said humility in the adulterous spouse. Point out places of entitlement or arrogance as they surface. Expose the lies, excuses, and “justifications.” Cut through such sinful and fuzzy thinking.
Finally, humility and empathy ought to go together. Does the cheater recognize they raped their spouse’s soul? Do they see how their sin negatively impacts relationships beyond their spouse as well? And are they willing to see the pain they caused their spouse through his or her eyes?
The road to true repentance is a steep climb. With the grace of God and a no-nonsense spiritual counselor, I do believe it is a climbable mountain. However, it will likely not be climbed overnight. And I am not surprised that few cheaters have climbed this mountain. It is a mountain, after all.
And besides, climbing it does not guarantee the marriage will remain. That is not the ultimate prize of this difficult journey. The ultimate prize is character transformation for the cheater and a clean heart before God. Such is important for both the cheater and the spiritual counselor to keep in mind.