One of the issues I’ve tried to be very clear on is the question of who is to blame for an affair. Or to put it another way, who is responsible for the affair. The answer is: me. I am 100% responsible and to blame for the affair. I can’t blame Scarlet, or Satan, or my wife, or my up-bringing, or anything else for what I did. There may be and were other factors that contributed to the affair, but ultimately it came down to a clear moral choice: do I betray my wife or do I run from temptation?
I’m not fully responsible for the temptation, but I am solely responsible for my response. I made the decision to sin.
It reminds me of when Jesus wandered out into the desert and was tempted by Satan. It was a necessary part of his journey from the manger to the cross. It was important because now the writer of Hebrews can say
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
The point is that even our Savior was tempted – and directly by Satan at that – and yet He did not sin. If temptation was a sin, then this verse makes no sense. But since temptation is not a sin, this verse gives us hope – hope for resistance to temptation, as well as hope for a savior who understands our struggles and forgives us when we fail.
Now, if you’re familiar with my writing, you know there’s a but coming. There’s actually several because this is a long post, even for me.
In the case of Jesus, He was responsible for not sinning, but Satan was directly responsible for the temptation to sin. Satan wasn’t merely tempting him, but was blatantly provoking Jesus to sin. We rightly give Jesus credit and praise for resisting the temptation, but what if he had sinned?
For one thing, Satan would have won and we’d all be his. But for Jesus whom we esteem for what actually happened, would it not be appropriate to hate Him for failing if he had? It’s not consistent to give full credit and praise in the first case and withhold any measure of accusation and scorn in the second. In other words, the responsible party doesn’t change with the outcome.
And so it is in our lives. We can’t claim credit for resisting temptation when we do the right thing and shift blame to the source of temptation when we fail. Otherwise one could say of any person that the only reason they have not sinned is because sufficient temptation has not presented itself. (Although, as an aside, I think there’s more truth to this than we’d like to admit. The grace of God protects us and strengthens us against temptations we could not resist in our own strength. But that’s a discussion for another post)
And here, finally, comes the but.
Whether or not it is sinful to create temptation is a completely separate issue from our moral and religious duty to resist temptation. The verse that immediately comes to mind is “You shall not tempt the LORD your God” (originally in Deut 6:16 and quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:12, Matt 4:7). By definition, God cannot sin, but He can be tempted to break his covenants because of our sin.
The observant reader should be able to see where I’m going with this now. If we the church are married to Christ and we can sinfully tempt He who is sinless, how much more can we as sinful humans tempt our human spouses? I’m not merely speaking of infidelity here, either.
I’m 100% responsible if I say something unkind to my wife, but she may also be 100% responsible for some other sin that tempted me to be unkind. Does this mean she deserves the sin? Of course not.
No one deserves to sin or to be sinned against – ever.
We always have an obligation to handle the temptation without sin. I want to make sure this is perfectly clear. No temptation has come upon any of us beyond what we are capable of handling. God always provides the strength and a way of escape. When an individual sins, there may be reasons it is understandable – mitigating circumstances – but it never ceases to be sin, and it never ceases to be the sole responsibility of the person who committed the sin.
Keeping this in mind, the person or persons who created the temptation may have something to repent of as well.
In my fictitious example above, I yelled at my wife because she bought a $300 dress without asking. I was wrong for yelling, but she was wrong for buying the dress without asking. (Again, this is 100% hypothetical. Assume for the sake of argument that we’ve agreed to make no major purposes without discussing it first.) It gets complicated because while she was wrong, she may have felt like we didn’t budget enough for her clothes, maybe I’m too controlling with the money, maybe I’m hypocritical when it came to big purchases, or maybe the dress was just too good to pass up. It’s unlikely that she doesn’t care about my feelings, but she justified it for some reason, at that moment she cared more for herself than she did for my feelings.
The point is, there are more issues going on than just the fact that I yelled, and probably more issues than just the fact that she bought a dress. The yelling is almost certainly a sign that my wife and I both need to work on our communication and relationship. That underlying problem may be all me, all my wife, or some split between the two of us.
I hope I haven’t offended anyone by using a simple explanation to approach the Big Issue around which this blog is centered. Adultery is so much more complicated than the comparatively trivial example I just used. The pain and the lasting effects are several orders of magnitude worse. However, the same basic principles apply (and can you not also see how my continued verbal abuse of my wife might tempt her to seek kind words elsewhere?). The adulterer/adulteress are still 100% responsible for the sin (the affair), but the temptation and circumstances surrounding the affair are not necessarily so clear cut.
This is one of the hardest things for both the loyal spouse and for the cheating spouse to get through. I, as a cheating spouse, had to understand both logically and emotionally that I was the only responsible party. Whatever problems were already in our marriage, whatever problems were in my past, I still made a choice to sin when I should have chosen to flee from temptation. I was completely wrong in choosing the affair and I had to “get” this in order to be fully repentant.
My wife, the loyal spouse, had to realize the same thing. She was not in any way responsible for what I did. Whatever problems we had, I still betrayed her instead of choosing to work them out. No one – not me, not herself, not some other Judgey McJudgeypants – can rightly say to her “You caused this.” She had to get this in order to fully forgive.
We also had to realize that our marriage and our relationship was far more likely to survive if we addressed those preexisting problems. My wife and I had to acknowledge the different ways in which we contributed to the environment that made an affair a tempting proposition to both of us. We both had to work on fixing those problems, even though I was solely responsible for the affair.
It sounds obvious, but the temptation is to say the affair trumps all, erases all past problems prior to the affair. But that’s not true. My affair didn’t wipe the slate clean on her side of the ledger, although it did sandbag mine to the point where I could never recover.
That’s where her gracious forgiveness was key. Without forgiveness, we never could have settled up, as it were, because my debt was too great. We could never have truly fixed the relationship and brought it to the point where we are married as equals, able to love and respect each other as spouses should.
I know this has been a long post, and thank you if you are still reading, because here’s the point I’ve been trying to make.
It might be tempting to say “But aren’t you excusing the affair or at least trying to shift the blame?” It’s a fair question, but the answer is no.
The blame for having an affair lies with the one who made the decision, not the person or circumstances that created the temptation. I hope I have made that clear. I also hope I have made clear that the temptation that led to the sin is the result of a lot of factors. In fact, there are so many factors, that I hope you will not try to assign blame to them. The important thing is to restore the relationship; to bring love back into the marriage through repentance, forgiveness, and grace; and to safeguard the marriage against temptation in the future by creating a strong marriage. Picking through the past with a fine tooth comb, trying to assign blame is not conducive to any of those things.
It will still come down to each spouse saying “no” if and when temptation does arise, but that temptation may look less like filet mignon and more like tube steak when there is mutual love and respect. So those are my goals: to rebuild our marriage better than it was before and to run like hell the next time temptation arises. I hope you’ll do the same.