By Julie Ganschow
I have often heard it said, “I can forgive anything except adultery.” There is nothing quite as difficult as forgiving intentional sin, so when a wife is asked to consider forgiving sexual sin the challenge factor goes up astronomically.
Adultery and other kinds of physical sexual sin violate the most closely held tenants of marriage and are among the hardest to forgive. For a woman to deal biblically with the fallout of the sexual sin in which her husband has been involved, she will have to understand what it means to forgive him biblically and how to do so.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Colossians 3:12—13 (NASB)
I am not sure I can forgive
When it comes to forgiving sexual sin, one of the major reasons a wife may not want to forgive is because she believes the hurt and betrayal are just too big to get past. Sexual sin is the unforgivable sin in marriage in the minds of many people; however, is that what the Bible teaches?
Many people struggle to forgive in general because they are not clear about what forgiveness from the heart really is; they do understand and look for reasons or make excuses not to forgive.
The Bible teaches us that the greatest need we all have is to be forgiven for our sin. Without the forgiveness of sin we are all destined for hell and eternal damnation (Romans 6:23). You don’t have to be Bible a scholar to figure out that if God forgives us, He has the expectation that we will forgive each other on the basis of the forgiveness we’ve received.
To refuse to forgive will add to the internal misery and woe she will experience. The unforgiving person is the one who suffers the most. When a woman informs me she chooses not to forgive, I can guarantee she will become bitter. In choosing this path, the sins of bitterness and unforgiveness enslave her and will ruin her life. She may think that by refusing to forgive her husband will “get his,” but that is not so. In refusing to forgive, she will be the one who suffers even greater misery than she experienced as a result of his sexual sin.
I have also been told by a wife that she can’t forgive her husband until she forgets what he did. This is backward thinking and is indicative of someone who is holding on to the wrong that has been done to them. Each time she chooses to dwell on the offense and the hurt she has experienced, she engrains it a little deeper in her mind and heart.
The truth is that every time she rehearses the ooffense it only serves to exacerbate the pain which in turn leads to bitterness. She will not forget until she learns to forgive. When she forgives the wrong done to her, she releases it and then, in time, she will begin to forget the pain.
Some wives remain angry and unforgiving because their spouse has not asked to be forgiven. They say, “I’ll forgive when he says he is sorry.”
Jesus teaches on forgiveness
The Lord addresses this with Peter in Matthew 18. Peter thought he was being very generous by boasting that he would forgive the same man seven times. The Lord Jesus revealed his heart by instructing him to forgive 70 times seven!
The same instruction was given in Luke:
Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him. Luke 17:3—4 (NASB)
At first glance it appears that granting forgiveness is conditioned on the person actually asking for it first. Sometimes a woman is reluctant to forgive because her husband has not asked her for forgiveness nor has he repented of his sexual sin.
This suggests that unless someone asks for forgiveness, you can never really forgive them because without them asking, there isn’t any taking ownership of their sin as one would when repenting to God. This is true as far as it goes. Unless a person asks, obviously there is no admission of sin; however, that does not that mean we are free to withhold forgiveness.
The first thing a wife must understand is that forgiving her spouse is not an option for the Christian; it is required.
The level ground on which she stands
She must understand that her position before God is exactly level with that of the worst sexual sinner, because the ground is level at the foot of the cross. There is nothing exceptional about her or any non-sexual-sin sinner; this is because we are all sinners and all in need of God’s grace and mercy. She must choose to forgive her husband on the basis of what God has forgiven her.
God intended to forgive her of her sin before she asked. In fact, He did forgive her at the cross, which was long before she was born. How then can she withhold forgiveness from her husband for his sin?
By forgiving her husband she chooses to release him from the sense of debt she believes she is owed because of the hurt he caused. It’s like saying, “Husband, you do not owe me anything, nor will I personally punish you for what you did to me. I choose to forgive you this debt just as I have been forgiven my enormous debts by God.”
This takes big faith! In order to exercise big faith, she must believe that she serves a big God who is able to work in all circumstances of life.
Julie Ganschow is the director of Reigning Grace Counseling and a member of Faith Community Church.