“If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
-Exodus 21:22-25, NIV
It is unjust to respond to all sins in the same way.
Since our God is a just God (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 1:6) and we are to be like Him (e.g. Philippians 2:5), it follows then that we ought not to respond or treat all sins in the same way. If we do treat all sins equally, then we are acting unjustly.
In the passage quoted above from Exodus, we see God teaching His people that they do not kill someone unless another human being is killed. The punishment is not to exceed the damage done by the perpetrator. If he takes out one of your eyes, you don’t get to take out both of his.
To our modern ears, we think of the “eye for an eye” teaching as barbaric. Often, we fail to realize it was given as a way to stop true barbarism where people were not responding proportionally to what was done to them. They took two eyes in exchange for loosing one, for example.
What we can glean from this Old Testament teaching is that God recognized all wrongs and sins have varying levels of consequences based on the severity of the sin. If “sin is sin” as so many tell faithful spouses, it is odd that God would teach different punishments for different sins in His instructions to Israel.
Clearly, God recognized a difference in levels of sins in making this code of justice, and so, ought we today.
How does this apply to situations of adultery in the Church?
I believe if you dig long enough and deep enough in any marriage that you will discover something each partner has done to the other or is doing that is sinful. That truth is simply based on the spiritual truth that both partners are sinners like everyone else (e.g. Romans 3:23). There are no perfect people, and therefore no perfect marriages.
All that begs a question:
Does God permit divorce in all cases of sin in marriage?
God allows for divorce in cases of marital sin like abandonment (e.g. I Corinthians 7:15) and sexual infidelity (e.g. Matthew 19:9). Tying these things back to the principle we learned from Exodus, we can see that God views divorce as a just and acceptable response to infidelity and/or abandonment.
Since God does not give us other such sins, then that suggests God does not view those marital sins as equal to sexual infidelity or abandonment. Remember: God is just.
Let me explain this via an analogy:
Say a parent is caught by the other spouse molesting their son, and Mary, the mother, turns John, the father, into the authorities where he is convicted and sent to jail. Next a Christian “do-gooder” comes by to “console” the mother.
She says, “Yes, what John did was wrong. But I know you have lied to your son in the past, Mary, when you told him there weren’t cookies in the cookie jar when there were. Sin is sin!“
-Would you consider this “do-gooder” responding in a godly or ungodly way?
-Is this loving or unloving to the betrayed wife and traumatized child?
-Do you think God would be pleased someone spoke such a thing to His dear child, Mary, in His Name?
Sadly, that sort of conversation happens all the time between victims of adultery and Christian “do-gooders.” Even some pastors and Christian counselors fall into that category. They collapse all distinctions when it comes to sin and perpetuate further injustices upon the victims of heinous, adulterous betrayals.
And I bet God looks upon those Christian “do-gooders” with the same askance expression you had for the Christian “do-gooder” who was “consoling” Mary.