Ashley Madison is not merely a fashionable woman’s name; it’s a website that promotes adultery. Their slogan is: Life is short, have an affair. It’s run by a couple who say this is just business; they’re faithful to each other (so they claim). Reminds me of drug dealers who sell heroin but don’t do it because they realize how addictive and destructive it is. Yet they don’t care how many people the drug ruins or kills, as long as they make money. After all, it’s only a business.
The reason I know about Ashley Madison is the same reason many of you do. Hackers stole their private client list and publicly posted it (not easily available unless you know your way around the web, however). The media has exposed reality TV Christian Josh Duggar, as well as Sam Radar, who hosts a show with his wife on YouTube about raising their kids. Both have apologized. There is also a Muslim preacher, who has denied his involvement. Is it wrong to reveal these people’s private choices? Do you think this whole affair (forgive the pun) is sad? How should we feel?
What is wrong is that this service exists at all. What is sad is that 37.5 million married people have been using it to betray their spouses. I am not at all upset that any of them got caught. I am concerned about those who have harmed themselves as the result of being exposed, rather than seeking mercy and forgiveness.
Is this anyone else’s business, though, beyond the couples involved? Actually, yes, it is. Marriage is a commitment to one other person, but it is a public commitment. In a wedding ceremony promises are made before family and friends, and by extension to those friends and family. The promise is this: I will remain true to this one person, he or she is mine and I am theirs for life. The cheater is betraying not only their spouse, but everyone else who has any kind of relationship with them. The betrayal moves out in concentric circles beginning with the spouse, then to the children, close relatives, friends, coworkers and so on. Adultery is the breaking of a promise made to everyone.
How should someone feel who has committed adultery? Ashamed. I mean it, you should feel bad about what you’ve done, or are doing. You feel guilty because, well, you are guilty. And I don’t mean just because you got caught. Don’t justify yourself; don’t make excuses. Alleviating guilt by rationalizing your choices won’t change anything. Shame and guilt are not enough, though. That will only serve to destroy you emotionally, and perhaps socially as well. You must feel and think, and believe and do something more. You must repent. That means you have an honest and real change of heart. So much so that if you could go back, you wouldn’t do the same thing again. Make no excuses. Just admit it’s wrong. Then seek mercy and forgiveness from God, your spouse and everyone else in your life. Change your thinking; change your ways.
You need to fear God. In my estimation, that is precisely what is lacking in our nation today. People don’t fear God so they do whatever they feel like doing… until they get caught and have to face the consequences of their actions. In the Bible there is an entire book called Judges, which narrates a time in Israelite history when the people did some pretty shocking things (even by our standards today). The book concludes by explaining all of the moral insanity: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The people had neither an earthly king, nor did they live in submission to God as their king, and so it is in our day.
Yet in the ancient world even those who had no faith or allegiance to the God of the Bible were made to realize that adultery was evil and posed grave consequences. Consider a situation that arose with both Abraham and again years later with his son Isaac (Genesis 12, 20 & 26). Both father and son were blessed with beautiful wives, and both stayed among foreigners whom they feared. Abraham stayed among the Egyptians for a time and called Sarah his sister (a partial truth) in order to protect himself from any who would kill him to marry her. Indeed, Pharaoh took Sarah into his harem and gave Abraham favor and many gifts as a result. However, the Bible reports: “But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.” Pharaoh recognized that the calamity had come as the result of taking another man’s wife and returned Sarah to Abraham and sent them away. This happened again when Abraham lived near a king named Abimelech, then with his son Isaac and Abimelech’s son of the same name. In each case the reaction was the same: fear of God and repentance.
God offers forgiveness, even if your spouse doesn’t. You have to admit you are wrong. You must repent. You have to stop the affair. God forgives because Jesus died the death you and I deserve because of our wrongdoing. Too often, though, we want freedom from guilt and shame, but we fail or refuse to admit we’ve done anything truly bad. I believe that repentance involves a deep sense of guilt and shame. Then we lay our guilty selves at the crucified feet of Jesus and cry out for mercy. Because of the Lord’s grace anyone who repents and has faith in Christ will be granted forgiveness and set free!
So, even if you haven’t been caught cheating, stop now. Even if your cheating is only in your imagination, and via porn sites, it’s already adultery of the heart. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Cry out to God. Run to his merciful arms. Allow his Spirit to convict you of your wrong and to forgive you and raise you up and give you new life. If you feel that conviction now, don’t even finish this article before you pray…
Adultery is particularly confusing to children, and destructive to families. “Why is daddy with a different mommy?” The adulterer is teaching their kids that it’s okay to lie, cheat, steal, betray and break your promises. They are showing no respect for their family. So, what happens when those kids reach the teen years? They may be jaded. They may see the adulterous parent(s) as having no moral authority (at least in the sexual area). They may perceive that marriage has little or no meaning. A recent movie called Trainwreck illustrates this reality. It is a cynical comedy about a woman whose father has taught her by word and example: “Monogamy isn’t realistic.” She spends her adult life moving from one meaningless sexual encounter to another, until she meets a guy who tries to steer her toward marriage. As in this movie, the children of adulterers will be tempted to see sex as an end of its own, instead of the special expression of love to one other person within the bounds of marriage.
Adultery starts before you’re married. Moving from one sexual partner to another reinforces a desire for novelty and change. It also fails to develop genuine intimacy and the necessary skill to please one other person consistently for a lifetime. The hook-up culture that predominates in high school and college today fails to develop healthy relationships. It is pleasure seeking and inherently self-centered. Patience is essential in marriage. Any relationship that has sex as the primary goal will not encourage tolerance for the shortcomings of the partner.
What about married people who are bored with their partners? How about those who no longer feel the same attraction, or even love, for their partner? The marriage covenant is not based on feelings, but promises. How you feel at any point in time is irrelevant. You made promises. You are responsible to keep them. Marriage requires work, and that work doesn’t stop.
If you are having difficulty, communicate with your spouse. If things are going well, tell them how much you appreciate them. If they don’t think sex is as important any more, talk about it. If sex is no longer fun, talk about what made it enjoyable earlier in the marriage. Communicate with one another regularly and with detail. In order to communicate effectively, you must listen more than you talk. You must be empathetic. As Atticus says to Scout in the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Say, “it’s not about me.” Now, repeat. “Let each of you look not only out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). Selfishness destroys relationships. Love is inherently unselfish. Put your partners needs above your own.
Finally, learn to compromise. Both partners must practice this important discipline for the relationship to remain strong. This applies in the sexual area as much as in any other. Many times one partner (often the husband) wants to have sex more often than the other. Studies have shown that women may have a lower sex drive after having children. This coincides with a time when many marriages end in divorce. If you are the less motivated partner, compromise is necessary to keep your spouse satisfied. On the other hand, if you are the partner who is more sexually driven, it is important not to treat your wife (or husband) as the object of your pleasure. She’s not your porn project. If your partner is not as adventurous as you want them to be, you will need to be understanding and patient. Above all respect your partner. There are some sexual acts that don’t belong in anyone’s bedroom.