Monday, September 05, 2022

Anonymous Asks (213)

“Should adultery be confessed to one’s spouse?”

The pseudo-justifications that present themselves for keeping past adultery secret once an affair has ended are numerous. They all sound practical, spiritual or lofty; are mostly specious; and usually conceal motives that are less about love than about protecting the sinner from the rightful consequences of his or her actions.

The following are some of the most common excuses for concealing the truth from a life partner. For the sake of avoiding a million uses of the “he or she” construction (or, worse, “they” and “them”) — not to mention for the sake of equity — I will alternate between male and female adultery. These days they are probably equally common.

So let’s hold a few of the most popular evasions up to the light and see how they fare.

“But she might want a divorce.”

Yes, she might. And she has that right. The “infidelity exception” to the no-divorce rule is something the Lord Jesus gave her. John Piper doesn’t believe in it, but his reasoning is not terribly credible. (That should probably be another post.) If the Lord Jesus had wanted to teach unequivocally that divorce is never acceptable under any circumstances, all he had to do was leave out anything that might be interpreted as an exception clause. Instead, he stated it twice, which to my mind makes it doubly difficult to dismiss.

That doesn’t mean a wife is obligated to divorce her husband if he commits adultery, but it does mean she has the right to interpret Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 for herself, not as you would like her to read them, and to apply those verses to her situation as she sees fit. Continuing or not continuing the marriage has now become her call, not yours. To rob her of agency on that count is to steal yet another thing from her in addition to everything else you have already stolen. You are manipulating the circumstances to keep her from getting off a bus that may well be going nowhere good.

On the bright side, if she doesn’t view your infidelity as a potential jumping off point, that is something worth considering.

“He will never trust me again.”

Possibly. But if you have been committing infidelity for a long period — or, God forbid, multiple times — your husband probably has a good idea something is wrong. He may not know precisely what, but he could likely make a fairly-on-the-nose guess. He has probably avoided bringing the issue up in hope you would do so first. The reason is simple: if the guilty partner confesses voluntarily without getting caught out, there is a slim chance trust may be restored and some kind of marital equilibrium reestablished. But if the guilty partner simply gets nailed on the evidence, there is zero chance of that.

Confession after getting caught is still better than nothing, but confession that comes without coercion and clears up all kinds of nagging questions is better still.

“It’s selfish to seek relief for my guilt at the expense of my wife’s pain.”

Now we are really reaching. This excuse also gives the guilty party an unearned pat on the back for being so wonderful that losing him to another woman, however briefly, would be the end of his wife’s world. In fact, the more pain it posits trying to avoid, the higher the value it puts on the guilty party, which seems a genuinely odd way to think about yourself after days, weeks or even years of putting your wife a distant third behind your own desires and the woman with whom you had an affair.

Here’s a better way to look at it. Suppressing the truth is promoting the lie that you have been a good husband, when you know you have not. When people conceal the truth from one another, they quickly come to dislike the person to whom they are lying (“A lying tongue hates its victims”). Not all lies originate from hate, but all end in it when they go on long enough. This is quite understandable. When you have concealed the truth, anyone who digs it up, picks away at it, asks you questions about it or makes you dig the hole you have dug for yourself even deeper becomes your enemy. You may not hate or resent your wife yet, but you will if you keep lying to her, even if you tell yourself it is really for her own good.

Moreover, chances are the truth will come out eventually even if you refuse to confess it. “Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest.”

“But it’s over now, and I’m not going to cheat on my husband again.”

How do you know? Presumably, as a Christian, you didn’t plan it this time either. Hiding the truth about a previous infidelity makes it easier to hide the next one. After all, you become increasingly adept at deception the more you practice it. Part of the value of confession is that it is thoroughly humiliating. It makes you never want to go through the experience again. Dodging the necessary step of humbling yourself before your husband and begging his forgiveness doesn’t change the wickedness of your past actions, it just makes it easier for you to minimize their awfulness in your own mind.

If you want to find out how destructive your behavior really was, tell someone who can correctly evaluate it. Your husband will have a crystal clear picture, and his visceral reaction may help you develop a healthy desire to avoid causing that kind of pain again.

“Some Christians say it’s not necessary.”

That’s true, apparently. Dr. Willis Newman is one. Doesn’t mean he is correct. I’ll let you judge for yourself:

I would not suggest that you confess your sin to your husband. A very good Vietnamese pastor friend once told me this Vietnamese proverb: ‘leave the dead chickens buried, if you dig them up they will just stink.’

If you confess your affair to your husband, it will surely ‘stink.’ In fact, your husband may not ever want to have sex with you again, and actually divorce you. As the news comes out into the open public (and it will) you will wreck the family of the man you had an affair with. Your church will find out, and the news of the scandal will ripple through giving people juicy gossip to savor. Your own family will be shamed and lose face. The church may even want to publically ‘discipline’ you. It seems selfish to put all those people through grief just so you might feel better.”

This is about the lamest series of justifications for doing what you already want to do that I have ever seen collected in one place. It consists of zero biblical evidence, one Vietnamese proverb about chickens, a bunch of fearmongering that could be used to justify failing to confess almost anything, and the desire to avoid church discipline that might be entirely appropriate under the circumstances. The worst line is the last one: that you will be “putting all these people through grief”, when the more realistic danger is that you may tempt uninvolved parties to gossip.

Furthermore, confessing your own infidelity does not mean naming names in public. That’s for the other guilty party to work through.

“But I’ll lose the moral high ground when we disagree.”

Probably. It will certainly feel that way at first. That would be a good reason to argue less, and a good reason not to commit further infidelities. However, you may be projecting a bit here. If you have a loving wife, she may opt not to bring up the subject again no matter how difficult it is for her to bite her tongue. Love “covers a multitude of sins”.

Rationalizations, Rationalizations

In the end, the hard thing to do is almost always the right thing to do. No amount of rationalizing away our responsibilities changes the fact that we are told to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another. Amazingly, this is still the case despite our fears about what terrible things confession will produce and keeping quiet will avert. Christians are to “owe no one anything”. That includes owing and withholding a confession. Did you take a vow to “forsake all others”? Then you have broken that vow and need to give an account to the one you made it to.

Furthermore, Paul teaches that a married person’s body is not under their own authority, but under the authority of their partner. So then, what you have done amounts to theft. Would you confess theft? Probably. And if you wouldn’t, your rationale for not doing so would have to be as lame as your rationale for not confessing infidelity. Moreover, there was a third party involved who has received stolen goods. He or she is in a position to reveal what you have not revealed at any moment if his or her circumstances change. Do you want to live with that over your head?

The man who confesses the truth may hurt others, but he also gives them a chance to be bigger and better people than he believes them to be. He gives them a chance to show Christ’s love to the world and to him. The man who conceals the truth diminishes his partner, robs her of a chance to display grace and show forgiveness, and condemns himself to a lifetime of looking over his shoulder and remaining unforgiven.

As to whether he is likely to make much of a husband while lugging around all that baggage, you tell me.

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