Heath Lambert: We are all familiar with the problem of a spouse leaving their marriage for another partner. But one particularly painful loss in this area is when a husband leaves his wife for another man. That is to go be a part of a homosexual relationship. This can raise its own unique kind of doubts and sorrow in the midst of that kind of betrayal. To help us address this matter, we invited as our special guest this week, Dr. Robert Jones. Dr. Jones is the professor of biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he is the author of Pursuing Peace. He’s also a Fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. The producer of Truth and Love, Amy Evenson, caught up with him to ask him some questions about this topic.
Amy Evenson: I would love it if you could help us understand what forgiveness should look like for a wife whose husband has left her for another man.
Dr. Robert Jones: Well, very good, Amy. I first want to say I’m so glad to be part of ACBC and I’m thankful for this opportunity. This is a tragic thing and a hard thing. And we’ve talked with women where this has been the actual case. I think that when this happens, this is a crushing thing. And I think of passages like Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the Earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” It’s a crushing thing. In terms of this particular question about forgiveness and how one should respond, I think there’s a sense in which we would want to see people thinking about two kinds of forgiveness here. A kind of forgiveness that really is from the heart, an attitude of forgiveness where the person must learn to release bitterness. And this is a common problem, of course, where a wife can become very bitter and resentful. And so, I think we have to help that person think through what it looks like to release the bitterness and deal with the resentment issues. There’s another kind of forgiveness that the Scripture would speak of at this point and it would speak of the forgiveness that we might call conditional forgiveness or forgiveness that is relational, or some would call it—as I would also call it—transactional forgiveness. That’s where the wife would have the ability to say to her husband, “I fully forgive you for your sin.” In my reading of the Scripture, I think most in our biblical counseling world would agree that that kind of forgiveness is dependent upon the repentance of the adulterer here, the unfaithful one. And so, apart from that, I would be reluctant to coach such a wife, to say to her husband or ex-husband, if that’s where it goes that I forgive you. Because I think there’s some promise that when we forgive someone; we’re telling them that we’re letting go of this, we’re not going to bring it up again, that we’re not going to hold it against you at all, and we’re not going to raise it with other people. And those kinds of promises cannot be made apart from repentance in any situation like this where we have a very serious sin going on.
Amy Evenson: This is a really hard situation to walk through. How would a wife speak to her kids about her husband’s sin?
Dr. Robert Jones: I think Amy, you have tensions in the Scripture here because, on the one hand, we want to train our children to discern between right and wrong and to be able to even speak against sin and evil like this. But we also have with children the call to honor, obey, and respect parents here. So, I think part of my answer will depend on the age of the child. If we’re talking about younger children, I would probably not want to say anything about the nature of the sin. With older children, we may end up disclosing, or they may have already found out the kind of sin. I think we always want to teach children of all ages that they are called to respect and obey dad, but with this case, particularly the older children, to be able to say, “Dad has made decisions to not follow Jesus Christ in this particular setting. And because of that, there is now a need for reconciliation and repentance by your dad. And so I encourage you to love your dad, pray for your dad about his relationship with Jesus, and encourage your dad to go to Christ when you see him.” And if it’s a divorce setting or there is already separate custody which can happen at this point that they respect dad while they’re with him on that weekend time. But they encourage dad to turn to the Lord.
I want to add something else here for those of you who are pastors and counselors. I think we play a very important role here that’s usually overlooked. That is, as a pastor, I think we may need to weigh in and take the opportunity ourselves to sit down with the children and hopefully both parents if the husband is willing to come—or the ex-husband at this point is willing to come. But even if not, as a pastor, I want to sit down with the children and try to say to them just what I said before, “you need to love your dad, and you need to respect him, but he’s made choices and we need to pray for him.” The reason I think pastors and counselors, in some cases, need to be part of this is because children get caught in the middle of the ‘he said, she said’ dynamic. And whether it’s homosexual adultery or any form of adultery, he can justify it. And you can say, “well, I left your mom because…” And these kids get caught in the middle. We, as pastors, can be that objective voice from God. We’re really not siding with the wife or the husband, we’re siding with God in His Word, and God in His Word calls him to repent.
Amy Evenson: So what would reconciliation look like if he does repent?
Dr. Robert Jones: What would that look like? I believe that it would require some intense counseling and pastoral shepherding with him individually. I’m always reluctant, whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual adultery, for the man to just say, “Hey, I was wrong,” and just kind of march right back in. I would say to the wife, “don’t take him back in on those terms. I think there’s a very serious breach that has occurred, and there needs to be both individual counseling for each of you and then marital counseling.” I would actually usually not encourage him to move back in. I would actually… if he’s truly repentant, which doesn’t require him to move back in to be truly repentant. He can be truly repented before he moves back in. If he’s willing to work through that and do the proper confession, then I would prefer perhaps, depending on the situation, for him to take a three-month apartment somewhere and continue the counseling with me and begin to date his wife or do whatever appropriate marital counseling. Until the place where she comes to feel comfortable about letting him back in. Now within reason, of course, if she’s dealing with bitterness in her heart, then there might come a point where we need to encourage her to let him back in. He seems fully repented. It’s been three months. It’s been six months. Until that happens, I think there needs to be very thorough repentance. This is very serious… not only is sexual sin serious, but the covenant of marriage is very serious, and to break it that way would require a very thorough repentance. So we’re talking about godly sorrow, not worldly sorrow, as Paul talks about.