Forgiving Adultery

2014-07-31 20.05.24Forgiveness is hard.

But we are called to forgive our brother and sister. Jesus tells us to do so. And he tells us to do so from our hearts.

In illustrating this point, Jesus gives us “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” in Matthew 18:21-35. Essentially, it is a story about how a servant owes a vast debt to his master but cannot pay. He begs for mercy, and his master forgives the debt. This servant then turns around to someone who owes him much less and does not show any mercy on that person as he begs for forgiveness of this debt. The master hears of this, and Jesus concludes the parable saying this about the original servant:  “‘In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart’” (vv 34-35).

We need to forgive.

I believe the torture Jesus speaks about is the torture we experience by holding tightly to the wrong or debt owed to us and refusing to release it to God. The hurtful emotion of anger grows and turns us into bitter people. We need God’s grace to let it go to Him. We need to trust God that He sees all and is good and just.

Forgiving will take time when the wound is deep. And I believe we need God’s grace to forgive. Asking Him for this grace is a good place to start.

Here’s a prayer to help:

God, I am hurting and full of anger against ___ for ____. Your Word tells me that I must forgive him/her from my heart. Please give me the grace to let go of this wrong and give it to you. In Jesus’ Name, I pray. Amen.

This is just a start. Perhaps, your start might just be asking for the grace to even think about forgiving. I think God will honor your desire to follow Him even in that small step.

A sticking place for me in this process was having forgiveness pushed before the lies were defeated in my heart. What I mean by that is I still struggled for a while about the lies my ex used to justify her adultery and abandonment. I think some of my strongest emotions came or come from the place where I feel pressured to agree I had this abuse coming to me (i.e. her adultery/abandonment/divorce was somehow justified.) The pressure could have been external or internal. But the internal was the hardest to defeat. The lies would roll around in my head as I tried to see if they held any validity. This was ultimately unfruitful and unproductive towards achieving a state of peace.

The only way to defeat this is with the truth.

No one causes another person to commit adultery. An adulterer/adulteress causes adultery by committing adultery, period. I say this a lot on this blog because I believe this lie has found its way deep, deep into our culture and even churches. The faithful spouse is not responsible for the sins of the adulterous spouse. Not even partially.

Scripture makes this principle very clear:

The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them. – Ezekiel 18:20, NIV

Their adultery is on them. It is the overflow of their own heart as Jesus clearly teaches (see my post here). It is not a symptom of a bad marriage. It is a symptom of a wicked heart–the adulterous spouse’s heart.

I hammer this point heavily on this blog as I see it as necessary to deal with the sin and find real release in forgiving the sin. If one takes partial blame for the adultery, then one runs the risk of getting stuck in an angry, bitter internal loop because you are believing a lie. And I suspect this lie will steal from your self-worth.

It is not unlike the situation where a sexually abused child might decide that they deserved the sexual abuse. This lie does not aid in healing nor does it move the child/grown child to a place of authentic forgiveness and freedom. The lie must be exposed first.

All of this reminds me of a scene from Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon’s character is confronted by the psychologist played by Robin Williams. It is a powerful scene with Williams chopping at the lie roots where Damon’s character blamed himself for the abuse he experienced as a child. [***WARNING–VULGAR LANGUAGE IN CLIP]

Until you know in your heart “It’s not your fault,” you will never be free. God wants you to be free, and He wants you to know how He sees what happened to you, the faithful spouse. So, I will keep on saying it on this blog:

It’s not your fault. 

It’s not your fault. 

It’s not your fault. 

11 thoughts on “Forgiving Adultery”

  1. Pastor David, I struggle with that too, “forgiveness”. When I think about the betrayal, all the lying, him leading a double life, I find it almost impossible to be forgiving. He has never been forth coming about the details, in fact he has said “I will not grovel and I will not be grilled”. So I am left in the dark to imagine all kinds of things, real or not. No contact and living “my” best life are all I can do for now. I did say your prayer to give me the grace to try to forgive. I am sure that will be in the very, very distant future. God Bless

  2. Thank you, Pastor David, for your comments regarding this subject. I struggle every day with the issue of forgiveness, and your blog today really opened my eyes…I actually have some hope that I can eventually move in that direction, with God’s grace. (Even my thinking THAT, must be God’s grace at work already…) The thought that it was his choice, his sin, overflowing from his heart that caused the adultery has been freeing…and, on a certain level, makes me feel kind of sorry for him, because of his blindness to the truth.

  3. Pastor David, this Matthew 18 passage you sight is one, among others, that has turned my life around over the last few weeks. And, with due respect, I think you miss the critical point of the illustration.

    The master was the first to show incredible mercy toward the servant. The servant did nothing to deserve the forgiveness and grace shown him. The master, out of HIS abundant grace and mercy, forgave the vast debt.

    Obviously, the servant did not really understand or appreciated the depth and breath of the mercy (grace) and forgiveness bestowed on him by the master. In fact, instead of singing praises of his gracious, forgiving master, the servant took the opportunity to now judge and demand from another who was in debt to him. The servant’s selfish, corrupt heart now made clear by his action, the master was angry with the servant and responded.

    We are all sinners that need grace, mercy and forgiveness. That grace, mercy and forgiveness are ours at the foot of the cross. Do we appreciate all we have been forgiven? If, so, we are free to fully forgive others. But if I, as the servant in the parable, hold another in debt while God has already forgiven me my ugly sin, then I must be sobered by the parable and revisit the Grace and Mercy available at the cross.

    I may not be responsible for my x’s sin. But I certainly had plenty of sin of my own. The more I understand and acknowledge my horrendous sin before the loving and gracious God, the more I understand HIs grace … and the more I can show grace to others, including my x.

    All sin, in the final analysis, is first against God!

    1. Don,

      That is certainly an important part of the parable. We all fall short of God’s glory (Ro 3:23). That said, I can’t comment on everything in one post. Sometimes I emphasize certain true things in a passage to stay with a post’s theme. Glad you see the point about all of us being in major debt to God and have found healing from it.


  4. Pastor David,

    To be blunt then, the Matthew 18 scripture suggests forgiveness of others is a measure of our own recognition of our indebtedness to the Gospel. The more we recognize our own vast indebtedness (sin) the more we worship God for his grace and mercy in our own life. Difficulty forgiving others, holding a grudge, exacting vengeance through word or dead, etc, all would suggest we have not yet fully recognized our own sin, and reckoned with it, at the foot of that sacred and wonderful cross.

    Because of the cross, I’m able to be honest about not only the sin done to me (and I must be honest and open with that hurt over time, as you clearly encourage), but first and, perhaps most important, we must deal with all the sins I’ve committed in thought, word and dead. All rooted in idol worship. All just as hideous, before God, as the sins of my x. Further, there is little doubt that the sins I carried in to my previous marriage impacted that relationship in a negative way (not to justify or excuse her sin, but impacting the relationship just the same) But because of the cross, I can be fully honest about what I did wrong and realize redemption in the Gospel! Praise God!

    It would seem God has marvelously redeemed your difficult past. I read clear evidence as you now mention a wife and at least one child in your posts.(Please excuse if my understanding is incorrect.) Yet, in light of God’s sacrifice on the Cross for your sin and his clear redemption of your life, you still write about your past (now being beautifully redeemed) and your x (a beloved child of God who He is or will redeem in his timing and way) using words fulled with hate, anger and a cry for vengeance.

    I guess your words, as I read back in your posts, make me doubt my new realization and attitude in the Gospel … and what I perceive is my own glorious redemption to this point.

    Confused in the Gospel, Don

    1. Don,

      I agree we are all forgiven much. And we all are in God’s great debt having extended mercy without bound to us in the Cross. I am glad you are experiencing the love, freedom, and truth of such sound teachings.

      As to my strong words regarding my ex and the sin of adultery in general, I see it as a matter of hating the sin and sharing God’s heart in regards to the evil of adultery. My hope is my ex will find the same sort of mercy and grace you describe as having found yourself. This is not possible without facing the truth, though. Furthermore, we do no one any services minimizing the sin and its destructive effect.

      So often, I see a Christian community sweep under the rug the sins of adultery (as lying is included in the sordid affair always) minimizing what took place. It is as if the community says “forgiveness” puts a little bandage on the gaping soul wound and wonders why the faithful spouse isn’t healed already. This is not compassionate. And it does not help deal with the sin in the adulterous spouse. Matthew 18 is the proper route in dealing with such sin. I Corinthians 5 is another.

      In addition, telling someone how their sin negatively impacted you is not vengeful or unforgiving. It is walking in the truth. Hopefully, this will help them see the depths of their sin and repent turning to the Cross. If not, then you can release them to the Lord knowing you have done your part in loving their soul enough to say what they did was wrong (see Mt 18).

      Finally, I share my experience as a way to teach on this subject. This blog is a resource about taking adultery seriously. That is another reason I take such a strong stance against adultery and what my ex did. It must be taken seriously. God takes it as such.


    2. Don- when infidelity is involved there’s going to be anger. That doesn’t just go away, even years later. There should be zero surprise to pick up on any anger when someone is talking about their experience with infidelity. I’ll also add it’s not hate for DM, or anyone else, to say that their ex needs to repent, that they (the ex) doesn’t see what they did wrong, that a hard line needs to be drawn. The faithful spouse should cry for vengeance, for God’s vengeance. They’ve been wronged. I’d be willing to bet you’ve probably cursed (in one form or another) another driver for cutting you off, driving too slow etc at some point and you were probably justified in that curse. I’d also be willing to bet you’ve seen someone get what’s coming to them and said outloud/thought something along the lines of “take that sucker!” Or with the sexual scandals with Catholic priests coming to light and someone says “wow that’s so messed up! Why are they still a priest?!” Would you in turn be so quick to label someone who does that as filled with hate, anger and vengeance?

      DM has flat out said that vengeance is the Lord’s, not ours. This is especially the case for the survivors who’s adulterous exes were pastors, counselors or held other positions in a helping professions. Those are the professions people turn to for help yet when an LMFT or a pastor can’t see anything wrong with their own infidelity, there’s a really big conflict on interest present. Counselors such as LMFTs in particular went to school to counsel those in trauma and help restore relationships and it’s pretty pathetic indeed when they can’t eat the pie they’re serving to their clients. DM has called for a hard line to be drawn with his ex (and others) per scripture, but he has never called for vengeance on her. He’s made it clear that vengeance per Old Testament would have been death and that mercy for the adulterous spouse is that they’ll no longer be put to death (at least not in U.S. culture). Anything that happens to her is her own doing. There are natural and logical consequences for our actions and her own adulteries will reign consequences on her. As with any adulterous spouse that’s in denial of their own actions, their house of cards will come tumbling down and it won’t be pretty. If you follow the mentality that AA and other such programs that help with substance abuse/mental health etc, the person can’t be helped until they reach their bottom. As long as they’re in denial they can’t be helped. They need their house of cards to crumble or they don’t stand a chance. As long as they’re in denial Jesus can’t help them b/c with Him there needs to be reciprocity. He always has an open hand but that does no good when the person he wants to help ignores him and runs the other direction.

  5. Forgiveness is so hard when my husband doesn’t seem to think that he has done anything wrong. We’d been married nearly 37 years,, and together a couple more years. Just before he left me for the other woman he told me about other infidelities going years back, including trying to seduce my sister who was 14 at the time, I’d known of his emotional affairs but none of the rest. They say that when you die your life passes before your eyes, well, my life has been passing before my eyes, all my memories feel defiled, I trusted him implicitly. At times when I thought we were happy he was going after other women. I believe that he did not actually commit full adultery. I do not know what good it does me but it feels as if I need to come to terms with it. And how stupid I was to trust him
    He went off just before Easter last year, and is still hurting me on top of the ultimate betrayal, too many things to say. Holding up the divorce, so I cannot really start to move on.He even refused to admit officially to adultery so that held things up. Every unkind thing he says or does sets me back 18 months on. He complained after he went last year how it was my fault that he and his partner did not feel that they could come back to church, that someone had told them I was looking sad, so they would be blamed. The other woman I’d known for 20 years, she had been a fellow sunday school leader, he had been involved too. Her father was a clergyman, I would have thought that somewhere along the line she would have learnt that it is wrong to have an affair with a married man, and then invite him between the sheets. I think that all the other affairs the women said no, they were the pursued rather than the pursuers, but looking back I can see that she was pursuing before he actually started the affair, so this was different, but I trusted her because I thought that someone like that would not do that. My Church has been very supportive, but it is hard when you are are alone at home trying to cope with things like that. It has affected both my physical and mental health. I didn’t want a divorce at first, he did, but he wanted one based on 2 years separation by mutual consent, so that it looked as if it was all very amicable. He flipped when I started proceedings on the basis of adultery. I did that as he went too far with trying to control me. Eventually he did confess officially to adultery but then punished me by withdrawing financial support.
    I don’t know what to do about forgiving when I am still suffering fresh hurts. I really want explanations for all the things he did although am not sure I will get them, and for him to understand how I feel about things, including how angry I am about some of them. I have not committed acts of revenge, but he has made wild and ridiculous accusations about me that have no basis at all in truth. A couple of weeks ago he rang me one sunday evening, I had just started to do a bit of work, as I had a busy week ahead and our daughter was out. He told me how they had gone to another church where they had been for the weekend. How wrong I was doing work on a sunday didn’t I know that that was wrong? Well, if I was Jewish then at that time of the night the Sabbath would have been over, if they really believed it was wrong they would not have travelled on the Sabbath. And certainly would not have continued to commit adultery, that is one commandment which is completely ambiguous. I had to keep listening as he said he would withdraw all cooperation about the divorce if I didn’t listen to him. But it left me in such a state that I was fit for nothing for several days afterwards
    People seem to think because he left me 18 months ago I should somehow be getting over it. I am not sure I would be even were I not getting fresh hurts
    I’m so glad Divorce Minister that you have found happiness with someone else. I don’t know if I will even try to find someone else when I am free to do so, whether I will be able to trust anyone ever again. But I don’t want to be lonely in my old age.

    1. Nell-you’ve been through a lot of sh** that you don’t deserve. Trust that your stbx sucks, as Chump Lady says. There is no timeline for grief. Each person grieves in their own way and in their own time. Please kick aside anything that says “by 24 months you should have reached x.” This isn’t pregnancy, it’s not something you can look at and say “oh it’s been 7 months my baby is the size of a large eggplant.” (I’d also recommend not comparing your grief to fruits/veggies). I would recommend that you go NC (no contact) as much as possible. “I had to keep listening as he said he would withdraw all cooperation about the divorce if I didn’t listen to him.” No, you don’t have to listen to him. Squish that voice that’s in your head telling you you need to listen to him. He’s counting on that voice to work in his favor so he can threaten you and keep you in line. You’re already in the divorce process, you have lawyers, if he really wants to talk terms of the divorce (such as not cooperating with it) then he can do that through your lawyer. Document every threat he makes to you. Document every penny he takes away from you (I’ve heard in some states you can get monies spent on affairs back in court). That is all ammo in your favor. He’s dumb enough to be pulling those stunts. Use it. Protect yourself. You’ve already stated that you went the divorce via adultery route b/c he went too far trying to control you. RED FLAG he’s trying to control you (among others). You’ve got a fighter in you as you’ve already shown that you can blindside him right back and recognize that he’s crossed your line. Keep channeling that fire.

  6. thanks Mrs DM. I did get in touch with my solicitor and know what I need to do next if I get more harassment,I can get her to do an official letter and I have given him notice to remove some of his stuff that is still here, cluttering the place up and getting in the way of moving on with the house, I am doing it with legal advice so if he has not removed it by this weekend I can deal with it as I see fit, I feel a lot more in control. I have been asked not to leave it outside where he is still living, but if he is there at the weekend and it is not raining I will do just that. I don’t think he will withdraw cooperation because of the costs, I haven’t checked it out via my solicitor but I’ve said that if he does want to pursue it through the courts I will ask for him to have to pay all costs. But I don’t want it to come to that.
    I have also been advised to go ahead with some repairs that he was refusing to allow as it is still ‘his’ house as well, that it would be unreasonable to stop me going ahead with these . So once I have got rid of some of his stuff I will go ahead and just do that.

    It is others who seem to think I should be over things, not me. But I hope that the divorce will help me. I was the one that didn’t want it but it has to happen.

    1. Nell-I’m glad you’ve got your legal backing and that you have a plan and help. The ones who think you should be over it already don’t matter. It’s easy for them to say it b/c they’re not living it. It’s easier and more comfortable for them to try to fit you into their own mold of how grieving should be rather than truly join you in yours.

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