And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
-Leviticus 20:10, KJV
“Don’t throw away your marriage over this,” the well-meaning pastor tells the sobbing faithful spouse upon discovery of the adulterous double life of their spouse.
He misses the point, though.
A faithful spouse cannot throw away what has already been thrown away. That is precisely what has happened at this juncture.
The cheater has taken the marriage covenant and selfishly thrown it away in order to indulge his or her sinful passions.
What is left of the marriage is a smoldering and cracked slab where the “house” once stood. This is not a remodel, but a total rebuild. The faithful spouse is not given the option to save the whole house.
He or she is just given the option to stick around to see if a total rebuild is even an option given by the home’s arsonist–aka the cheater–or whether the arsonist will keep burning down the building with his/her refusal to repent.
Sometimes it is just best for the faithful spouse to walk away from that smoldering mess.
I get that pastors and other Christian leaders are trying to advocate for the marriage. But I do not believe the godly way to go about that advocacy is to shame the victims of adultery into staying in infidelity-ravaged marriages.
That is precisely what the statement “don’t throw your marriage away over this” does to a faithful spouse. It shames them for considering divorce–an option given to them by God (e.g. Jer. 3:8, Mt. 1:19, Mt. 19:9, etc).
Such pastoral fire is better directed at the sinfully wayward spouse. A call to repentance and a rebuke is in order there. Only if repentance is taking hold in a cheater is staying in such a marriage even a godly or wise option for God does not teach toleration of adultery (e.g. Heb. 13:4). And only then is it an option and not a mandate for the faithful spouse to remain married to an adulterous partner.
“Throwing away their marriage” is what adulterous spouses did when they chose to lie and cheat. A faithful spouse choosing divorce after that is merely acknowledging the reality of what has already taken place.
Make no mistake:
The adulterous spouse threw the marriage away, not the divorcing faithful spouse.
That is how I see Scripture viewing the matter: Dealing with the evil of adultery–in this case via divorce–takes precedence over the “survival” of the marriage union (e.g. Lev. 20:10, Deut. 22:22, Jer. 3:8, Mt. 1:19, etc.).
*A version of this post ran previously.