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).
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.