In our last article we highlighted some of the research surrounding infidelity and how affairs begin and how to protect your family from experiencing the first one, or to keep a family from experiencing another affair. Today, let’s look at the fundamental fix for the family once an affair has been discovered or owned up to. This fix is extremely basic and easy to do if you are a Christian and are trying to develop and hone your God-like characteristics. The fix I’m talking about is the SIMPLE act of forgiveness.
You might be thinking that forgiveness is never easy, especially with something as major as infidelity. Well, that’s because you are looking at the world’s view on forgiveness. You don’t have to read too much literature out there before you come upon a statement like this one regarding forgiveness: “The key to your marriage’s survival after infidelity is forgiveness. Forgiveness is earned and your spouse has to be willing to work at earning that forgiveness and restoring the trust you have lost in him/her…” Now, I’ll show you in a moment why that statement is not in line with Biblical forgiveness. But before that, here’s another nugget of worldly wisdom: “you don’t want to enable their behavior by continually forgiving bad behavior.” Forgiving someone in true Godly fashion is not a type of enablement.
There’s such a mixing of the elements of forgiveness and trust in today’s recovery process from affairs, that these two facets of recovery are barely recognized as being entirely separate entities with entirely different focuses. Trust must be earned, but forgiveness does not have to be earned. In fact, as we’ll soon see, true Scriptural forgiveness cannot be earned…it’s impossible. People look to help the couple earn trust and help the infidel reach a point where they become “worthy” of forgiveness. That’s backwards thinking. The fundamental, basic, rudimentary first step in recovering from an affair is forgiveness, and forgiveness alone. So let’s focus on dispelling myths and rumors and wrong ideas about what forgiveness is with Biblical truth.
Way back in Genesis 1:26-27, the Bible accounts for the fact that God created man in His image. That’s not referring to our physical bodies, but rather that we have been given a soul, which provides us life, and an opportunity to live eternally in either Heaven or Hell. We also have been given the ability to develop Godly characteristics, such as the ability to love, as He commands us to (Matt 5:44; 22:37). But God also gives us another divine attribute to use, and that is forgiveness. In Matthew 6:12, Jesus teaches us that we need to seek forgiveness from God, but that we must also be willing to extend our forgiveness to others: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” So, the ability to forgive is a divine characteristic that has been afforded to us also, through creation.
Forgiveness is seldom easily extended in the midst of anger and wrath. Imagine your spouse coming to you for forgiveness and you are ranting and raging around the house, unable to put together a rational thought. Forgiveness will be extremely difficult to extend. So take a moment to get alone and process this thought from Proverbs 19:11, which says, “The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.” By the way, it’s another Godly characteristic to be slow to anger, as God revealed that of Himself to Jonah (Jonah 4:2) and the prophet Nahum (Nahum 1:3) as well as in Psalms 103:8; 145:8. So it’s possible to be slow to anger when a spouse has wronged us, especially when they are coming to us for forgiveness.
By the way, ever hear those people who have been offended say things like, “I’ll never forgive him/her!” Well, that’s not an option Christians have. Consider this: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; Forbearing one another, and FORGIVING one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, SO ALSO DO YE”(Colossians 3:12-13). We are commanded to forgive. “But I don’t think I could ever forgive him/her!” Yeah, you can. God can’t put a general command to all Christians to forgive if it isn’t possible for all Christians to forgive.
Remember the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15? The youngest son was the prodigal and displayed selfish and impulsive tendencies that adulterers often display. He was disenchanted with his living arrangements. He sought greener pastures and wanted his inheritance immediately, which wasn’t legally his until his father died. The inheritance allowed for new opportunities once his father died, likewise, a spouse has all new opportunities opened up to them once their spouse dies, but not before. So off he went, leaving a grieving family behind with a void that had to be filled by the remaining family members having to take on extra tasks, duties, and jobs to fill the role vacated by the prodigal. Now, his father was not harboring ill will toward his offending son while he was away. I’m sure he was praying for his son’s return, and as the Bible says, his father ran out to meet him and forgave him totally. The prodigal was immediately restored into the family.
Remember I argued earlier that Biblical forgiveness couldn’t be earned? Look at the father in the story. He didn’t know his son became sorrowful and remorseful as he ate the leftovers from the pig’s trough. The father didn’t know his son was willing to come home with humility and become one of the servants. No, the father just willingly and immediately forgave him upon his return…no questions asked. The moment of forgiveness is not the time for questions and a deep look into the how and whys an affair developed. There is a time and place for that later in the relationship, and it’s important, but it’s not needed for forgiveness.
Then, there was the seemingly self-righteous older brother who did no wrong. I call him the “Tabloid Son.” He’s the one who would despise the right thing to do (forgive) and encourage the cynical crowd to never forgive and forget. Despite the tabloids, 64% of couples surveyed say they have a willingness to stay together. But, even if you choose to forgive and stay together, you will have those people who think you should leave the infidel high and dry. These people take a delight in the downfall of a person and get bitter and jealous when the offender is restored through forgiveness. Their attitude is what drives them to take the position that the offender must be made to pay!
There are those people who show a complete ignorance to what the Bible says about forgiveness when they advise others that forgiving the infidel only condones the activity. Well of course that’s not the case at all! “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, FORGIVING iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will BY NO MEANS CLEAR THE GUILTY” (Exodus 34:6-7). So forgiveness does not condone the behavior. Nor does forgiveness excuse bad behavior. Nor does forgiveness enable bad behavior. Forgiveness simply allows for the restoration of a relationship that had once been breached through the violation of one by the other.
Now, this is the part of the study on forgiveness that I will have the most people argue against me, but I think I can back up my position with Scripture. What is Biblical repentance? Look in Matthew 21, when Jesus is telling the parable of the two brothers. The father asked both to go into the field to work. The first son said, “No” but later repented and went to the field to work. The second son said, “Yes” but later did not go and never repented of his decision to do wrong. The Greek term is metamelomai, which means, “to have a feeling of care, concern, or REGRET.” This word can represent true repentance, quantified by a change in behavior. The first son refused to help then repented. The second son offered to help, then did not, and never repented as the first son had.
Now, repentance has to do with a turning from sin through a commitment to alter our habits, activities, and the like. That can’t be seen or determined at the time of forgiveness. Remember, the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son ran to his son and forgave him immediately. There is only an initial hint of repentance (for the moment) by leaving the world and returning home. Likewise, the infidel does show repentance (at that moment) by returning home to confess their sins. However, if you want to attach repentance to whether or not one should be forgiven, it has to be weighed and recognized at that moment and repentance can’t be something you need to have proven to you over a period of time that makes the infidel “earn” your forgiveness
Why do I say that? Because of the conversation Peter had with Jesus: “Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). A leopard never changes its spots. Well, until the Lord gains a victory in the person’s life regarding that sin, the person will fail. If the person shows remorse, humility, and contrition, and momentary repentance, we should be able to forgive and restore one to fellowship. If you’re the one being offended over and over again, ask God for wisdom in dealing with the situation. Remember, I did say that there is a need for reviewing the how and why of the affairs, and if it’s a repetitive occurrence, the root cause needs to be discovered and addressed. I’m not trying to minimize adultery, but remember, a sin is a sin is a sin. Alcoholics have a last drink…gamblers place that last bet…adulterers commit adultery for the final time, but until that person dies, no one knows for sure if that’s the final drink, bet, or affair. That’s why if you wait for proof of repentance to offer forgiveness, you will do so only at the person’s grave.
Here’s an interesting contrast between offering forgiveness…and not. First, if we do not offer forgiveness, we allow the devil to have a huge foothold in our lives (II Corinthians 2:10). A preacher showed the characteristics of a forgiving person in the epistle of Philemon. Paul knew Philemon was willing to forgive Onesimus for earlier transgressions. Paul was so confident of that fact, he allowed Philemon to hold Paul accountable for the wrongs that had been done (vs. 18). So what was it that made Paul so confident that Philemon had a forgiving spirit? Philemon had a love for God (vs. 5). Because of his love for God, he had a love for the brethren (vs. 5). Then, he had a heart for Christian fellowship (vs. 6). Lastly, Philemon desired to extend blessings to others (vs. 7).
So, as Christians, as we grow in our faith, we should have developed a love for God and a desire to be more Christ-like, exhibiting those Godly characteristics such as long-suffering and forgiveness. We are able to forgive and be slow to anger because we love our fellow man, especially those of the house of God. Our desire for fellowship and unity in the church among the brethren makes it necessary to forgive. Lastly, just as Philemon was a man that“refreshed the saints,” isn’t extending forgiveness to one who wronged us the ultimate blessing we could extend?