Two Common Christian Mistakes


Eliphaz replying to Job–

“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
    Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
    and those who sow trouble reap it.”

-Job 4:7-8, NIV

As I have blogged for closing on two years regarding infidelity and how Christians respond to faithful spouses, I can think of two very common mistakes committed. They are embodied in Job’s friends and how they responded to his calamity. To be clear, the words quoted above were erroneous as applied to Job and his situation. It would have been better for Eliphaz to never have uttered them (see Job 42:7).

Eliphaz Errors:

1) Blaming the victim.

Eliphaz goes right for the jugular on this one. Remember, Job has just lost all of his children–besides his vast wealth. Talk about “classy” for Eliphaz to essentially tell Job his “friend” that Job caused the death of his own beloved children.

For faithful spouses, this sort of frontal assault is usually framed as “The Shared Responsibility Lie. It is the idea promoted by some that a faithful spouse somehow did something deserving or causing their partner to cheat on them. In other words like Eliphaz, these folks are essentially blaming adultery victims by promulgating such a lie.

Christians seem especially to struggle with the very basic idea that a faithful spouse is never responsible–even in part–for their spouse’s sins. Ever. The Bible is crystal clear on this point: we answer to God for our own actions and sins alone (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:10).

It makes it doubly painful when this victim blaming–even in part–comes from once trusted sources like a Christian counselor, pastor, friend, or family member. Surviving infidelity and all the losses that come with that is hard enough without one’s support system heaping blame upon the victim of such sins and unjust losses.

Unfortunately, blaming the victim is a very common error I experienced and see all the time in the Christian world in response to infidelity discovery and its aftermath.

2) Pathologizing grief.

Eliphaz is clearly uncomfortable with Job’s extreme grief. That is apparent by just looking at the few verses preceding the ones quoted in this post. He treats Job’s grief as evidence that something is wrong with Job. Eliphaz moves to blaming the Job to escape the discomfort that is inherent in dealing with suffering people in extreme grief like Job.

To Eliphaz’s credit, he did not immediately go to pathologizing Job’s grief. He sat with him for seven days silently. That is much longer than most Christians will stay silent with a grieving faithful spouse.

I am convinced this discomfort with grief is why Christians move so quickly to pressure the adultery victim into forgiving the unfaithful spouse. This move is less about doing the spiritually correct thing than about those Christians relieving their own discomfort with sitting in a situation where extreme grief is warranted. Like Eliphaz does here, they may even frame their advice as all about the victim’s best interest when it really is about their own unwillingness to sit quietly in the midst of such pain and grief.

Another common way this pathologizing of grief manifests itself is in how Christians are quick to label all anger as bad. Anger is a facet of healthy grief. It is also an important emotion God gives us as a healthy response to injustice (e.g. Psalm 7:11).

Of course, faithful spouses will be angry at times with their cheating spouses or exes. If someone robbed you of all your life savings, wouldn’t you be angry with this person?! Do you think it is either just or comforting for the police to tell you to shut up and stop being so angry about being robbed? I don’t.

Faithful spouses have lost more than money in such circumstances–and often not less. Some wake up one morning to discover their spouse has been carrying on a double life of adultery for decades! That discovery comes with a lot of sudden and traumatic loss to process all at once. “Don’t be angry (that your spouse exposed you to potential STDs for decades)” does not seem to strike me as a particularly godly or compassionate response under such circumstances.

Playing the “unforgiving,” “bitter,” or “you’re too angry” card is just another way to avoid sitting in discomfort with the grieving. It suggests that the faithful spouse would not be suffering like he or she is if they had acted differently when that is not the case. They are not to blame just as Job was not. Nothing is wrong with them being angry over such unjust losses or generally grieving everything that was so violently taken from them via the cheater (i.e. assuming they are not committing a crime in said anger).

The Church has not learned well from the book of Job when it comes to helping faithful spouses. All too often Christians fall into the trap of responding like Eliphaz and Job’s other friends. They either blame the adultery victim and/or pathologize the adultery victim’s grief. It is past time the Church learned to do better and avoided these two all too common mistakes.

13 thoughts on “Two Common Christian Mistakes”

  1. DM, I realize that pain is a personal experience. (I am a nurse) I have to say I have witnessed the “best friend” walk away from the friend who suffered a spinal cord injury. Or the second bout of cancer. Or the back surgery that didn’t get you pain free. I don’t know why I was surprised when people walked away from the spiritually and emotionally pained, from finding out your spouse was a cheater. On CL a person used the term “moral cowards”. And not everyone can run into a burning building or take another tour in Iraq. There are amazing people and unfortunately you will find out at the worst time how many you didn’t know.

  2. The Christian counselor that my ex and I saw actually used this passage to bring comfort to my cheating ex because our friends “judged” my ex by confronting him in his sin. That counselor caused great wounds to me in how he counseled us. He definitely followed the “shared responsibility” theory. Very hurtful and I feel slowed my healing process.

    1. Yeah, how dare those friends take adultery seriously?! Pathetic…on the counselor’s part. I hope you fired him/her. Sorry that you had to deal with such poor and hurtful counsel. That’s not how God views the matter. Like your friends, God takes infidelity VERY seriously!

  3. I am convinced this discomfort with grief is why Christians move so quickly to pressure the adultery victim into forgiving the unfaithful spouse.

    I don’t think USA society is comfortable with negative emotions of any sort. Christians mirror that. We are told to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” [Rom. 12:15 NASB] But it is difficult to find even one who will do that.

    I don’t think most Christians have the conviction to recognize sin and the courage to confront the sinner. Even if the sin is recognized, they have been indoctrinated to believe that forgiving without repentance is what God requires us to do.

    In my divorce (no adultery, but I believe she had no biblical reason), I perceived that the church leaders wanted to sweep it under the rug as much as possible. They wanted everything to be as normal as possible in appearance, and they certainly did not want any commotion.

    1. I think I know what you mean. However, emotions aren’t “negative.” Some just are more demanding or distancing than others (e.g. anger). It is what we DO with our emotions that is the issue. In general, Christians struggle in holding tensions. A tension exists between healthy and unhealthy expressions of anger as well as godly and ungodly anger. It is much easier to simply treat all anger as BAD.

      1. Perhaps painful would be a better choice than negative. I meant emotions such as shame, fear, and resentment that are not enjoyable for most to share, whereas emotions such as joy, cheer, and amusement are gladly shared by the majority.

  4. My case involves a case of emotional adultery, possibly even incest… but I have no proof. What has really hurt is that she changed the very day we got married. This was more than 20 years ago. For more than 10 years she withheld sex. She has been emotionally abusive, withholding intimacy, respect, love, apology, information, communication, and gaslighting, all very subtle. I didn’t understand any of this until a couple of years ago. She performed character assassination on at least two occasions that resulted in my being railroaded and attacked by people who accepted her accounts out of hand. Of course I’d been out of serious work for about 5 years (I was doing yard work and the like as I could), and had become suicidal, with panic attacks, etc.. I had PTSD but didn’t know what it was… thought it was ADD and depression for a long time. So, when they saw me with “problems”, she had little trouble convincing everyone at our church that I *was* the problem, and that she was afraid to go home with me (NEVER have I threatened, menaced, or even joked about hurting her).

    We are not divorced, but she is very confident and absolutely remorseless. This is consistent during the entire marriage. I have communicated my needs and pain clearly and repeatedly. I have been patient and took her seriously when she said I had caused problems. She won’t even be honest about things I’ve seen her do. There are a lot of things I haven’t mentioned. I almost wish it were all as easily defined as adultery, instead of a subtle ubiquitous pattern that is often more about what *wasn’t* done. Lots of people don’t take adultery as serious as they should, but very very few care about emotional abuse, especially if it is done to a man.

    So, with my pain (which was also physical for a long time), I had to leave that last church (ALL the men came into the room and falsely accused me and called me a liar). We went to another that had elders that taught at a local Christian college. I talked to the lead elder several times and he seemed to understand and be indignant at the right places. When we both showed up, they simply assumed I was unloving and abusive because of my attitude — I told them I needed my wife to repent. I specified that I meant she needs to change her mind about me and the marriage (TONS of scapegoating and emotional reasoning) and stop withholding love. THEN I became angry because of their victim blaming, invalidation, pushing for automatic forgiveness, inflicting their foolishness and damage on my marriage. Given that I was given the impression that my situation touched that one elder and that the other elders were experienced and wise… I felt like they had betrayed me. It felt like treachery.

    At that point, I was very angry. They decided that I was even more wrong. Beforehand, I specifically asked to find out if they thought anger was a sin. They said no… but I later found out they think that only Jesus is wise enough to be angry without sinning. Only some Christians I talk to will admit that anger isn’t always a sin, but then they still act and talk as if it is. I think they really don’t know what they believe. Anger, grief, depression all just feel bad to them. They took probably our last chance to have my wife hear the truth and made her feel justified.

    I can’t find a church *anywhere* that actually will simply tell my wife that her wedding vow was a serious thing. Adultery isn’t the only way you can defraud a husband. She is quiet, but stubborn and contentious about every significant marital issue. Even when she does something I ask for, she sabotages it in some way. For a while she even started wearing a head covering, but it was only for show.

    The elders at the last church actually told me that A) I’m not allowed to ask for repentance because I’m not God. (what is a rebuke??) and B) that God doesn’t require repentance for salvation — and when we’re saved, forgiveness is automatic. I don’t believe we lose our salvation, but I do know that repentance is all over the Bible! I John 1:9 was among the first verses I memorized as a boy, but these professors from a conservative Christian college don’t know it.

    Almost forgot… one of the more conservative elders actually told me that the first thing that needs to happen is for me to get rid of all the wrong emotions… and that God can’t do anything with my marriage until I get the wrong emotions out of the way. I wonder… will God find their contempt and disgust for a brother to be wrong emotions?

    I am entirely isolated. I can’t even find compassion among Christians.

    Sorry this got so long.

    1. I should probably point out that after all these years of her disingenuous treatment, and ingnoring her vow, I don’t trust her at all anymore. I told her that I won’t be as easy to deceive from now on. I also told her that reconciliation wouldn’t just be from saying “Sorry”, but that she would need to set the story straight with the people that she had mislead about me… she’d have to admit that she had told partial truths and manipulated *them* in order to punish me. Of course she thinks I’m even meaner. She is being extremely cold to me now so that I will give up and divorce her. I already gave up. There are several reasons I simply can’t divorce right now. In the meantime I’m only barely functioning.

    2. It is not our job to get another person to do right. All we can do is point out how we have been wronged–i.e. rebuke–and exhort the other person to stop and change (and in some cases this would include church discipline if connected with such a solid community where that might be feasible). My point is that we only control ourselves.

      And emotions are NOT “wrong.” They are simply emotions. For example, you feel hot. That does not make feeling hot “wrong” even if it is uncomfortable.

      Finally, I would encourage you to focus on what you control–i.e. yourself. Focusing on what you do not control–e.g. your wife’s response to being rebuked–is a good way to continue in misery. I know this is easier said than done from personal experience. Look to things that make you happy or set your own daily goals. Naysayers will be naysayers. By meeting your own daily achievable goals, you can support yourself knowing that you ARE doing something even if outsiders think otherwise.

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