Can a Christian forgive a spouse for adultery, but still divorce them? If you divorce your spouse over adultery, are you truly forgiving them? Or are you harboring hate and unforgiveness in your heart by divorcing over infidelity?
Can You Forgive Your Spouse But Still Divorce?
The Bible does have much to say about forgiveness. It constantly says we are to forgive others as God forgives us. After all, if God truly forgives us for the many sins we commit, shouldn’t we also forgive others against the sins they do to us as well? Here are some verses that deal with forgiveness:
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:21-22 ).
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
Does Forgiveness Mean You Have To Remain Married? What Does Forgiveness Mean Anyway?
Forgiveness is an interesting thing to consider, because many times Christians wonder, “What is true forgiveness?” Can we forgive someone, but still demand certain things? Can we forgive someone, but avoid allowing the same thing to happen again?
These are all interesting things to consider, but first let me define forgiveness. Here are a few definitions of the word forgiveness from the web:
•compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive
•the act of excusing a mistake or offense
•Forgiveness is typically defined as the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, and ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. …
So we see that forgiveness often means the willingness to excuse a mistake, and to not have feelings of resentment, anger, or plans to get revenge. It does not mean the person is free from the consequences of their sin. The biblical meaning of forgiveness can be summarized by the following:
- We have compassion towards people and make an honest attempt to let past mistakes “go” and forget about them the best we can and love them again.
- We do not seek to “get even” or take personal revenge against someone. Vengeance belongs to the Lord.
- In some cases we should no longer expect a person to be punished, but in many cases (even though we forgive), consequences still happen as a result of the sin. It is important to report rampant, sinful behavior to the authorities (ie, child molestation, grand theft, etc.).
- We let go of all bitterness and ill will. Instead, pray for blessings and forgiveness for the person.
Examples Of Forgiveness with Consequences as a Result of Sin
Even though we are to forgive people as God forgives us, we should also look at God’s actions to help us get a better understanding of what Godly forgiveness is all about.
One thing that we will immediately see is that even though God forgives us for our sins, we still have to deal with consequences of our actions. Consider these examples:
- Adam and Eve sinned against God. Even so, Adam and Eve repented during their life. Did God forgive them? Doesn’t he forgive us all? Yet notice this: He never let them back into the Garden of Eden during their time on Earth, and they had a sharp consequence that lasted their entire lives (death, childbirth pain, struggles, etc.).
- Moses sinned against God when he hit the rock with a stick to make water come out (without giving God the credit), and what happened? God didn’t allow Moses to enter the Holy land, despite Moses pleading with Him. Moses was only able to see it before dying. Yet didn’t God forgive Moses? Surely. But once again, even though God forgave Moses, there was still a consequence of his sin.
- David sinned against God when he numbered Israel. David repented, but notice that God still punished him as a consequence. So in this case, God certainly forgave David, but David still faced several consequences of his sin against God.
In those same ways, Christians should forgive all people. However, reconciliation is not always possible, even though you forgive them in your heart. Sometimes, forgiveness may involve a divorce. How can a person forgive in the case of rampant adultery? Forgiveness may involve praying for your spouse and treating him or her with respect, even though a divorce is inevitable.
Some More Extreme Examples of Forgiveness
Let’s say a child was molested by an adult. Should that child forgive the adult when they get older? Yes. Should that molester not face any consequences? Of course they should. Any molester should have to face the justice system of our courts. God has given us government so that wickedness can be punished (Romans 13:4). So, even though the child can forgive the person in his or her heart, they should NOT place themselves in a situation to be molested again by this person, and they should still report it to the authorities when the event happened.
Or let’s say a person murdered someone. The victim’s family can forgive the murderer, but does that mean the murderer shouldn’t go to trial and then jail? Even though the family forgives the murderer, they still must face the consequences of their sin.
Can Christians forgive an adulterous spouse, and still divorce them? The answer is: Yes, you can forgive someone, and still divorce them as a consequence of the sin. However, divorce may not be the best option, and you must be very cautious and prayerful about this. The ideal situation would be reconciliation in the even of the sin of adultery.
Is Divorce Always the Best Option? Should You Divorce Your Wife or Husband?
The Bible certainly does say that if you have a spouse cheat on you (adultery or fornication), you may seek a divorce. But keep in mind that you aren’t required to do so. In fact, if you feel things can be worked out, that is usually the best option. It’s one thing if a person has an isolated incident of adultery. In that case, the marriage may be saved through prayer, Biblical counseling, and so forth.
It’s another thing if a person has a long record of sexual immorality while married. I’ve known cases where a faithful wife discovered that her husband was having sexual relations with other men! They eventually divorced, and the man left his three children and moved away to continue in his homosexual lifestyle.
Christians should really consider their options carefully before divorcing, and consult with a local pastor who is a true man of God. If a spouse who committed adultery is repentant, and he or she bears fruit in keeping with repentance, the couple should try to reconcile and work through it. Divorce doesn’t always solve everything. Many times, divorces hurt just as much as the adultery did, and remaining married is sometimes the easiest and least painful option. God certainly hates divorce! Marriage was meant to be a lifelong union.
Other times, the consequences of the adultery are so bad that divorce is sometimes a better option, especially in the case of an unrepentant person. Sometimes couples can never overcome the adultery, and it is a constant strain and source of pain and conflict, and divorce eventually happens anyway.
Conclusion: Some Final Words on Divorce, and Forgiveness
We are definitely commanded to forgive in the Bible. God forgives us, and we should forgive others (see more about what the Bible says about forgiveness). When someone does something sinful, we can forgive them, but that doesn’t erase the cause and effect consequences of that sin. And while me must forgive over and over, that does NOT mean we must always place ourselves in a situation to be hurt over and over.
God forgave a great many people in the Bible, but the consequences of their sin changed their lives.
I do not believe that forgiveness means a person is forbidden to divorce an unrepentant spouse who engages in sexual immorality. We can still love and forgive, yet seek a divorce if it is on Biblical grounds.