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Biff and Mable came in for counseling because Mable caught Biff in an adulterous relationship. She was hurt and angry, and the most important thing at the moment was to care for her soul.
There was so much to sort out, but the pain that she was experiencing required immediate counseling attention. Adultery is unlike most other sins because of the deep hurt it presses into a person’s soul.
This sin has a unique aspect to it. “Normal” sin is between you and God. If your sin is adultery, it’s not between you and God only, but it traumatizes another soul. And the complications increase because you’re sinning against yourself; the two of you are one flesh.
Did you get that? Biff sinned against himself, but the “himself” he sinned against was Mable because she is him–they are one, not two people. Adultery is a strange sin.
In Ephesians, Paul talked about how a lack of care for one’s spouse is a way to hate her. Some may recoil at the word hate, but that is God’s Word, not mine. The victims of adultery would not argue with Paul or God. It was the deep pain of hatred that this lady felt to the core of her being.
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:29).
After a few sessions, things began to level out, and Biff and Mable were starting to experience care, restoration to God, and reconciliation with each other. These things were good, but we had to do more.
Part of the counseling process needed to have a preventative measure to it. I did not want them to go back to this place again, but to accomplish this, we were going to have to do some deep digging that would shake up both of their souls.
Mable certainly did not want it to happen again. So we had to think about why it happened in the first place and how both Biff and Mable needed to change their views about God, each other, and their marriage.
One of the instructive things that came out of this conversation was how the adultery was not an anomaly for them but a continuation of a lifestyle that had been in place for nearly thirty years. Let me explain.
Mable and Biff have known each other since they were in high school. They both are in their late forties now. They began dating in their junior year of high school and separated briefly during college, and resumed their relationship in full after their respective college graduations.
They were dating–off and on–for six years before they were married. During this time, they engaged in premarital sex, which the Bible calls fornication. I was not surprised by this, which is why I typically ask a couple going through adultery if they fornicated during their dating years.
In almost every case, the couple had indulged in premarital sexual sin. Adultery usually has a trail that can be decades old. Infidelity does not just happen. There are patterns, as well as a lifestyle, that precedes the spouse hopping in bed with another person.
It was hard for Mable to hear how she was part of the problem and part of the pattern in her husband’s life. While she was not responsible for his sin, she was grossly irresponsible during the dating relationship and their marriage.
She never made this connection. As noted by the title of the article, somehow, she had convinced herself that sexual fornication and sexual adultery were on different planes and had no relationship with each other.
Truthfully, there is hardly a difference between sexual sin before marriage and sexual sin while married. Who wants to parse out those differences? It can be futile and wrongheaded if you don’t factor biblical self-examination into the process.
Somehow she had compartmentalized their fornication and recast it as love. The adultery, according to her self-denial, was another story altogether. It was a sin, wrong, harsh, uncalled for, against God, against her, evil, of the devil, and a few other condemnatory things.
I agree. And all of Mable’s descriptors about what adultery is apply to her fornication too. Her guilt before God is no different than Biff’s guilt before God when it comes to their choice to commit sexual sin before marriage. Do you think God would say,
Mable, your fornicating sexual sin before you were married is not as bad as your husband’s adulterous, sexual sin after you were married.
There may be a difference in shades of black, but if you group one sexual sin as “better” than another, you’re playing intellectual games while trying to protect your reputation, as well as a desire to hold on to your righteousness.
Rather than Mable trying to set herself apart as a better sinner, lesser sinner, or not-as-bad-as-him-sinner, it would be more honest for her to own what she did and seek to repent to God and Biff. And, yes, it would be wise, humble, and right for Biff to do the same.
The reason their mutual repentance is critical is that it is honest, and until they come full circle and deal with all the sinful sexual dysfunction in their lives, they will not be able to experience real life-changing help.
You can’t divorce the sexual sin during the pre-marriage years from the sexual immorality during the married years. They are contiguous and progressive. Mable wanted to think her husband loved her and they were “making love” as teens.
She also wanted to think her husband did not love the adulterous woman the way he probably loved her; both actions were sinful sexual lust. Her husband was in love with himself when they were dating, and that has never changed.
Mable needed to see the depth of his sin. It would not do for him to repent of adultery only. That would be removing the fruit from the tree but not rooting out the disease that caused the rotten fruit.
The disease not only caused the evil fruit of adultery, but the infection had been in the root system of the tree (his heart) for over three decades. It’s the same disease that caused the rotten fruit of fornication. This reality will be hard for Mable to hear.
Her husband did not change into a bad person at some point during the marriage, as perceived by his adultery. Her husband is not much different from how he was when they were fornicating together twenty-something years ago before they married.
I wanted to spend adequate time walking her through the adultery before we got into the patterns that were in place that led to the infidelity. The pain of the adultery was challenging enough, but this was going to be more painful as she comes to terms with his lack of love, plus her culpability.
One of the hardest things for her to accept was how she had twisted her conscience to believe they were “making love” and not “making fornication.” At some level of her heart, she knew this, but she was unwilling to admit it.
She even began to discern why she did not respect her husband throughout their marriage. Her smothered disrespect was emanating out from under the truth that she had suppressed about the fornication. She thought she had hidden her hurt, which came out as disrespect, but she had not.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).
Mable had been “suppressing the truth” about their fornication all these years. She had twisted what they were doing as foolish teens by recasting it as love. But it wasn’t loving. It was evil. Though she whitewashed over it, God did not.
Paul said God reveals His wrath against anyone who suppresses the truth by their unrighteousness. Mable may have denied, reframed, twisted, and republished her sin as “not-so-bad,” but she was the only one fooled. She could not defeat the displeasure of God upon her soul.
This response from God caused a backlash in her that affected their marriage. I have described Paul’s text in Romans like a person squeezing a hotdog balloon. If you put pressure on one end, the other end becomes exaggerated.
Mable had put pressure on her conscience to reprogram her premarital sin with Biff. She was suppressing the truth, not realizing that she could not push it out of her soul. Mable had an “exaggerated soul” that was reacting to her attempts to press the truth down and out of her life.
Rather than owning their premarital sex sin, by repenting of it, talking to her husband about it, and being fully released from it, they ignored it. But her soul was not ignoring it, and part of the backlash was the subtle disrespect and not-so-subtle anger that she had toward her husband.
Through the years, Mable had become a critical wife. She rarely encouraged Biff and seemed to communicate steady displeasure toward him. Imagine how much could have been accomplished in their lives if they would have admitted their sin to each other and God and effectively repented of it.
Perhaps they would have needed to get some help, but the embarrassment of what they did back then was more potent than coming clean with God and enjoying the freedom of a pure conscience. She chose to stuff it by relabeling what they were doing as love.
Biff did not love her. Oh, maybe he loved her to a degree. I’m sure he did. But his love for her was tangled and mostly an effort to satisfy his cravings. But before you think too harshly about Biff and how he victimized Mable, it’s only equitable to see Mable in a similar light.
She was a willing partner too. You must not miss this truth if you want to help them. Biff did not rape her. She wanted to have sex with Biff. She liked the “Hollywood notion” of sleeping together, being romanced, and having a man to want her.
Both Mable and Biff are self-centered people who give tacit acknowledgment to God and their Christian faith. Yes, they are Christians, the best that I can discern, but they are worldly Christians. God is not in the center of their thoughts or their lives consistently.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15).
This rejection of a God-centered life is one of the reasons adultery hurts so much. Mable was less concerned about God as she was working through her infidelity, and she was more concerned about how “he does not love me,” “how embarrassing this was to me,” and “what will others think?”
Adultery is complicated enough, but when it happens to a worldly person, it accelerates to another level. If the victim of infidelity had a deep and growing relationship with God, you could walk her through the adultery with quicker success because God would be battling for her.
If the victim of adultery is similarly selfish as the adulterer, two people have to make their way back to God. While God is merciful to the hurting, He is also a God of justice, which makes Him opposed to both of them.
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).”
Mable can’t play the exclusive victim card and blindly ignore the justice that needs to happen regarding her self-centered sexual sin. While she is a victim, she is also culpable in a marriage that has gone bad.
She can choose either to suppress the truth of her sin while paying for it by experiencing God’s ongoing wrath upon her or she can confess her sin and let the anger that God put on His Son satisfy her sin. If she chooses the latter, many blessings will come her way:
If she does repent, she will begin to learn and experience what real love is while being less needy and demanding. If her husband repents, she will be ready to experience real marital love instead of two lust-centered people.
If you are dating and you are fornicating, I recommend that you break up for a while, let someone know about your sin, get some help, and decide if you’re right for each other.
You’re a fool to continue in the relationship without getting help. Don’t think you’re impervious to something like Mable’s story. You’re not. Mable’s account is fictional, based on several dozen couples that I have counseled who fit this account.
Women reading this article, may not mirror Mable’s story precisely because they have not lived through adultery, but they did fornicate during their dating years, and things have never been right between them and their husbands.
While they are not experiencing the pain of adultery, they are experiencing the numbness of a lonely marriage with an emotionally detached and preoccupied man.
If you are married, I recommend you let your spouse know what you read here, what you think about it, how it has impacted your soul and marriage, and how you want help. Then make plans to get some help.
You must resolve your past. If it is not, it will take revenge on your soul (it probably already has), and you will not be the person that God wants you to be. Do not be fooled: you cannot suppress the truth by your unrighteousness.
God will press His wrath on you. Any person who hides the truth will experience internal turmoil and relational dysfunction. It’s the nature of sin and the nature of God. Get some help today.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).