Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.” -2 Samuel 12:13-14, NIV
Forgiveness does not wipe out all consequences for the sin. We can see this in the verses quoted above. King David is forgiven, but his son still dies, and he experiences the flagrant rebellion of his own son, Absalom, trying to usurp his throne later for his adulterous, murderous sins (see 2 Samuel 12:9-12). Yet King David is forgiven.
God’s justice demands the adulterous spouse’s death (see Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22). This is God’s Law. That is the context of the Prophet Nathan’s pardon for David. He is telling David that God is mercifully not going to kill him for adultery and murder.
God forgives David.
That means David gets to live.
But David will experience severe consequences for his sins even though he is forgiven!
Somehow, evangelical Christians have interpreted and twisted the idea of forgiveness to mean an adulterous spouse is entitled to the marriage he or she destroyed through committing adultery. Like David here, the adulterous spouse has shown contempt for God and their spouse by committing adultery. They are fortunate God does not strike them dead on the spot for such flagrant rebellion.
God is patient.
And God is merciful.
And God is also just.
Let me use an analogy to help us grasp what forgiveness entails and does not entail in the situation of adultery:
Say an inmate rapes a victim. He is caught and sent to prison for a ten year term. The rape victim may forgive her rapist but that does not mean the rapist is set free from prison. He broke the law and must pay for his crime.
An adulterous spouse has raped the soul of his or her spouse. They have obliterated trust and violated their partner in the deepest of ways. It is a crime against the soul. While the faithful spouse ought to forgive the adulterous spouse, this does not restore the destroyed marriage or mean the faithful spouse ought to trust the adulterous spouse anymore than the rape victim ought to trust her rapist after forgiving him.
Along those lines, divorce is a Biblical option for a victim of adultery (see Jer, 3:8, Mt 1:19, Mt 5:32, and Mt 19:9). A faithful spouse can truly forgive the adulterous spouse and still choose divorce. They are not mutually exclusive any more than the rape victim choosing forgiveness and allowing the state to punish the rapist for breaking the law. A consequence of breaking one’s marriage vows by committing adultery is divorce may occur.
The adulterous spouse–like King David–can be forgiven yet still experience consequences–like divorce–for their sins.
They are not entitled to the trust of the faithful spouse, and therefore, they are not entitled to a relationship–i.e. marriage–that requires such trust. In fact, each day they are not divorced by their faithful spouse is a mercy that they do not deserve.