Adultery and Divorce

Let me say from the start that this essay is not intended to state the obvious.  Of course adultery is a sin.  And so is divorce. 

Neither is this intended as either an apology or an excuse for my own transgressions.  I will be as open and up front as necessary to address this issue effectively. My personal perspective on my private sin is that the intimacy of my relationship with Jesus is of paramount importance - and that means total honesty in facing my past behaviour. That means bringing everything out in the open with Him, never pretending I am more 'spiritual' than I really am (and I'm afraid I'm more down-to- earth than spiritual), and even not asking forgiveness unless I am truly sorry. If entering that level of transparency requires me to plaster my own sin on the internet, then so be it.

Adultery is a sin today's churches have a lot of trouble coping with.  It is closely linked to the sin of divorce, which is also something the church would rather sweep under the carpet.  When my own marriage was in dire straits, we asked for help from the pastors. We received one hour of counselling from one pastor, and were never followed up, not even with a single enquiry as to how it was now going. However, when, a year after my bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia, I announced the marriage was over, condemnation came from all directions.  I was even told I might lose my healing, if I left my wife after twenty years of incompatibility. I will elaborate later.

The real purpose of this essay is to lend perspective to one of the most human of all quests: the search for love.


Almost without exception, all of us long to find a 'soul mate'.  Myself, I have never gone through a period of youthful development where I didn't like girls, as most boys apparently do.  I remember a time in Holland, when I must have been 6 or 7 years old and attending a Sunday school, where I was head over heels in love with a little girl with blond little curls. I don't think I ever spoke to her, cannot remember her name or what she looked like, and if the truth must be told, I cannot say with any certainty that she actually had blond little curls. I just remember the feeling.

One day the Sunday school decided to put on a presentation for the parents.  Twenty or so children had to stand on a stage in a semi-circle, each child to recite in turn one verse of a long poem.  During practices over several weeks, every time this little girl would recite her lines, I would stand and listen in complete awe and adoration. On the night of the presentation, I recall standing under the bright stage lights, with heads of parents bobbing in the darkness in front of us.  My turn came fairly early, and when I was halfway through my verse, I suddenly realised I was saying her lines, not mine!

I have been 'in love' many times since.  Whilst we long for our 'soul mate', our first encounter comes through the eyes.  And this is where the trouble starts. We long for that person we can communicate with, who understands what we are saying, that person who thinks alike, feels similarly, the one who enjoys our company and has similar interests and becomes our best friend. But the 'eye' thing always gets in the way.  We like what we see, then fall in love with what pleases our eye. Then we imagine that all the other things we were looking for are included in the package deal.  The little girl with blond little curls is the perfect example. I worshipped her from afar, never knowing whether we could even be friends. 

And those who do not please our eye, never even get a chance.

When I met my wife-to-be in 1970, I was a recent convert to Christianity.  I was twenty-two and I needed sex. I mistook sexual attraction for the 'soul mate' thing. Sex outside of marriage was not an option, so we wed and soon discovered that the expected fulfillment of all the other connections at different levels of husband-wife interaction were false promises, only imagined during the euphoria of courtship. But divorce was also not an option, so we hung in there for twenty years, had three beautiful children, and made the best of what we had. 

Eight years into my marriage, I met my soul mate.  

It began as a perfectly innocent friendship between two married Christian couples. But somehow we clicked, became best friends. We gradually discovered we had all the connections you should have before you marry: emotional, spiritual and communication connections, as well as compatible value systems.  For the first time in my life, and through the constraints forced on the relationship, I finally did things the right way round.  I got to know the object of my affection first. I came to love her for who she was, not for what she looked like. Unfortunately there was no acceptable way for the relationship to go further.  I stuffed things up by falling in love with her towards the end.  We never did anything more serious than holding hands, but my sin was one of the heart. My heart said, "I want you".  That meant we had to go our separate ways, as our Christian values would not allow those feelings to persist.

Towards the end of our twenty year marital stint, my wife and I led almost separate lives, yet most of the people we knew thought we were happily married.  I was going fishing sometimes five times a week, just to get away. My wife was a good, well-intentioned, Christian woman, we just weren't right for each other. Most of my friends seemed to define a 'happy marriage' as one where you had the freedom to do your own thing, but that wasn't my heart's desire. I needed a 'connection' that just wasn't there. In 1990, after 20 years of marriage, my very first reaction to finding out I was dying of leukemia was, "What a good way out!"  And when I realised I was going to make it, I also realised I couldn't continue the pretence for another 20 years. In the end, it became a choice between the sin of divorce and the sin of hypocrisy.   

There will be those in the body of Christ who will be horrified by these confessions.  Some will not want to read any further, or read anything else I've written.  That is your prerogative.  The reason I am so open about it is threefold:  


a) I can see no benefit to hypocrisy, 
b) maybe you can learn from my mistakes and 
c) I believe the real breakthrough in Christianity will come when we all take off our masks.


I guess I'm leading by example. 

We are dealing here with the sins of adultery and divorce. To start off we have to determine what constitutes adultery, what makes a marriage, and finally what constitutes divorce. I suspect that when push comes to shove, in God's view I have probably been guilty of adultery many times.



"You shall not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14)

Strong's Lexicon defines the act of adultery as either 'adultery, always involving the spouse of another', or 'idolatrous worship'. In the absence of further elucidation, we are forced to accept a dictionary definition.  Mine says: "Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and any other than the lawful spouse." (It is interesting that the concept of unfaithfulness to God Himself is encapsulated in the same word, through the secondary meaning: 'idolatrous worship'.  It is a further confirmation of the parallel comparing the husband-wife relationship to the relationship between Christ and the Church, as expounded in my essay "Vive la Difference".)

I have often thought that, because fornication does not seem to be specifically addressed in the Pentateuch, that the Hebrew word for adultery may have been intended to cover all sexual immorality, or least both adultery and fornication, but I have no way to prove that, either way.

Adultery as a sin of the heart, seems to be covered more by the 10th commandment, 


"You shall not covet your neighbour's wife." in Exodus 20:17


There are two perspectives on this.  One is a legalistic one, the other a spiritual one. Let's look at the legalistic one first.

The basis for monogamous, heterosexual marriage is established in Genesis 2: 23-24:


"The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman', for she was taken out of man."  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (NIV)

Jesus corroborated this principle by adding:

"So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." (Mark 10:8-9)

And Malachi confirms that God hates divorce:

"Has not (the Lord) made them one? In flesh and spirit they are His.  And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring.  So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. "I hate divorce," says the Lord God of Israel, ..." (Malachi 2: 15-16)

The joining together of two people in a marital union is based on these scriptures.  Originally there were no celebrants to perform a religious ritual, and I'm not sure just what was involved in terms of paperwork; I expect there was none. The emphasis seems to be on the becoming 'one flesh'.  Today the ceremony and licence give legal status to the union, but I wonder what constitutes a marriage in God's eyes.  I am inclined to think that heart attitude and commitment, consummated by sexual intercourse, make the union a marriage where He is concerned.

Just when the concept of polygamy became respectable, beats me. Already in Exodus 21:10, it appears God has given approval to the idea by saying:


"If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights."

By the time of the kings, both David and Solomon had many wives, a principle apparently condoned by God. While severely rebuking David for committing adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the death of her husband Uriah, He says through Samuel:

"I also gave you your master's (Saul) house and your master's wivesinto your care." (2 Samuel 12:8)

The spiritual perspective on when two people are married is far broader. In John 4, the woman at the well claims not to be married. Jesus corrects her, stating she actually has had five husbands, and the relationship she is in now is an adulterous one. It is my considered opinion, (without having much in the way of scripture to back it up), that any fully consummated sexual relationship constitutes a marriage in the spiritual realm. It would explain why so many second marriages fail.  If preceding 'marriages' are not fully dissolved and broken, remnant spiritual and soul ties could hinder the success of the current union. It is not for man to break these ties, so the only way to have them broken is to present each such union to God and ask Him to do it.


In my dealings with Jesus over this issue, I have tried very hard to avoid taking on board the condemnation so readily dished out by the church.  As far as I know, neither divorce nor adultery is classed as an 'unforgivable sin'.  I have asked His forgiveness for leaving my marriage, and know I have received it. I am still struggling with the fact that while I was married, I fell in love with someone else. I don't know that I am sorry for having loved my soul mate. The unfaithfulness was in my heart and not in deed. And I followed it up by accepting, albeit very reluctantly, that my marriage and my faith had to take precedence over my very deep feelings for my soul mate.  I grieved for her loss from my life for six months or more.  I suspect I had a nervous breakdown, but I was never diagnosed, never sought treatment and managed to hide it from my spouse.  Then I pulled myself together and buried my feelings and memories somewhere deep down in my being, hidden under rusty buckets and garbage and behind newly constructed walls. And I got on with life.

It is now my conviction that the sin of divorce happens not at the time the law says it’s over.  Divorce happens when the 'connection' is broken and the relationship no longer has any love to bind it together. The rest is just worldly red tape.

God grieves over the breakdown of relationships. Any relationships. It grieves Him when love fails and anger, fear, resentment or indifference takes its place. He also grieves when that happens in our relationship with Him.


It is one thing to have a divorce and another thing altogether to re-marry.  Jesus had some very interesting things to say about this.  He focuses directly on the spiritual impact and interpretation of unfaithfulness, while quoting the relevant legislation:


"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28, NASB)

A little later, He goes even further:

"And it was said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of dismissal'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."(Matthew 5:31-32, NASB)

The Church has used these verses legalistically to perpetuate much unhappiness in marital relationships, adopting a totally uncompromising attitude without providing real answers.  They breathe a sigh of relief when they can pin down the failing marriage to unfaithfulness, thus giving them legalistic justification for condoning a break-up.  And please don't misunderstand me - I am not trying to justify myself, or pretend that I have not committed a sin God hates.  However, I still find it very hard to believe that God would punish us for the rest of our lives, for a mistaken choice we made when we were young and naive. Jesus focused on the Spirit of the law, because God looks on the heart. God is more concerned with our heart's intentions and whether we meant well or were truly sorry for our mistakes, than whether the final outcome was strictly in line with His Law. That's how David got away with adultery and murder and still managed to be described as a man after God's own heart. My essay, "The Big Picture", sheds some light on what Jesus was trying to get across in His sermon on the Mount: -

"It was hard enough to keep sin in check by not acting on our impulses.  Now even our thought-life wasn't safe! Was He trying to make life so hard, it would be impossible to ever please God? No, of course not. He was trying to do two things.  Firstly, He wanted to explain the Spirit of the Law of God - keeping the letter of the Law doesn't merit salvation. Secondly, He wanted to make it plain you really aren't capable, in your fallen state, to keep the Spirit of the Law - you need God's forgiveness, grace and mercy."


Both adultery and divorce are sins from which few of us are exempt.  Is there any heterosexual married man willing to stand up and say he has never looked at another woman with lust in his eye?  Is there any unhappily married woman who can claim she has never seriously entertained how things might have been with a different partner? It seems to our way of thinking that sins of the heart are not as serious as actually acting on them, but Jesus didn't see it that way. To Him, wanting to and doing it were virtually of the same gravity.

But under the New Covenant, forgiveness is available, not as a blanket excuse to sin to our heart's content, but as a demonstration of God's immense grace and mercy. He understands our weaknesses and shortcomings better than we do ourselves.

Technically, God abhors divorce. Technically, it is not His will for us to experience marriage breakdown.  I believe the sin of divorce is not in the final processing of the bit of paper that legally dissolves the union. The sin happens when the spiritual connection is broken, when the true love and oneness that bound us together is no longer there. Very often the relationship can continue for years after that, both parties going through the motions of a learned-off-by-heart repertoire representing the relationship. Both parties, (but sometimes only one), can be left wondering what is wrong but unable to put their finger on it, missing the intimacy of true spiritual connection.
But technicality is not what Christianity is all about.  Christianity is a dynamic relationship with a living Saviour!  Since my divorce, both myself and my ex have thrived in our relationship with Jesus!  I find that so hard to understand, myself.  We were both Christians, yet we held each other back from growing in our relationship with Him! I would never dare suggest that divorce is not a sin.  But it is not an unforgivable sin.  I have asked God to forgive me and I know He has!
Marriage, divorce and adultery are biblical concepts which under the Old Covenant were closely linked and held no leeway.  But under the New Covenant, genuinely wanting to do the right thing scores more brownie points than physical compliance tainted with a reluctance birthed in rebellion. The Gospel message truly confounds secular thinking.  We, in our own strength, will never meet God's expectations.  But under the covering of Christ's blood sacrifice, we can.


Utter despair and darkness can envelop us when we find ourselves in a relationship that has died. Yet we continue to fall in love, blindly, millions of us every day.  We go to school to learn everything except how to choose our life partner wisely.  I am not an advocate for divorce. Every possible avenue should be explored to make a relationship work, before such drastic action is taken. And I acknowledge the dangerous trend of today's society to take marriage vows lightly, with close to half our marriages failing.  

On the other hand, the condemnation of the church, of something that can only be described as an immediate consequence of our fallen nature, the very thing the love of Jesus is meant to save us from, is totally uncalled for. The church should be the administrator of Jesus' love, not the judge and jury handing out a guilty verdict before it has heard and understood all the evidence.

The real answer here, is to take the necessary steps to prevent the agony from arising in the first place.

Once we understand our own motivations and inner workings better, we can do much more to avoid the errors of judgement that lead to relationship breakdown, and subsequently adultery. We can apply wisdom to situations that earlier were inevitable death-traps.  If we recognise the folly and deceptiveness of the 'eye' thing, we can spend more of our time appreciating the qualities of those who do not quite please our eye the first time round. And once we discover the deeper qualities we are looking for in a partner, (the 'soul mate' thing), we may just find that the old saying, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is something that follows quite naturally from the love we have found.

Finally, do I believe in that romantic notion, that there is only one person in this whole wide world who qualifies as my soul mate?  Surely not. Just pulling figures out of the air, (so don't hold me to it), I think you can probably have a wonderful marriage with one in thirty, and a mind-blowingly fantastic union with one in three hundred. The trouble is most of us choose a life partner out of half-a-dozen, leaving the success rate largely to either luck or divine guidance.  And as my own experience testifies, when we want something bad enough, we make ourselves believe we hear Him confirm what we have already made up our minds about. 

What don’t we like about God?  We prefer our own value system to His.