This week, many people found out about Ashley Madison. Not a person, but a website, an online hookup spot where every member shares one goal. To have an affair. How many members, you might ask? About 40 million.
Yes, there is one place online where 40. Million. People… are paying for the opportunity to cheat on their partner. Even though it’s difficult to be shocked by much these days, the sheer volume of people bent on cheating tends to boggle the mind.
So what do we think about people who would go online and create a profile in hopes of committing adultery? What should we think? What should we feel? Most of what you can read online about the story falls into one of two camps…
- The “It’s no big deal…everyone cheats…it can even help improve your marriage” view (alternately known by me as the “Steaming Bull-Crap” view). This is obviously the perspective of the owners/operators of Ashley Madison. It glosses over the overwhelming horribleness of adultery and the utter devastation it causes when the truth comes out.
- The “Anyone who would use a site like that is a miserable, low-life scum-bag who doesn’t deserve to live” This is the perspective of people who believe that all sympathy in these situations should be reserved for the betrayed spouse, with absolutely no pity for the lousy piece-of-filth cheater. This view is an easy bandwagon to jump on, but forgets that there is very often more to the story – and I don’t mean an excuse.
As someone who has cheated – and used the Internet to facilitate it – I want the first point I make to be this.
There is ZERO excuse.
None. Period. There’s no excuse for cheating. It’s selfish. It’s destructive. It’s a violation of your spouse, of the person you’re cheating with (and their spouse), and of God’s standards. It has been a catalyst leading to countless divorces, broken homes, heartbroken children, and more pain than anyone’s blog post could adequately describe. So, no, I don’t think it’s OK.
Having said that, I want to humbly submit that there can be more than one reason that a person may cheat. It isn’t always because they’re a “horny S.O.B. who doesn’t give a rip about all the people they’re hurting.” It often isn’t about the person’s spouse, or about sex. It’s always about some form of brokenness that the person cheating isn’t dealing with. It’s often an ill-conceived attempt to escape, medicate, or distract from something else that’s wrong in life. So much of the time, it’s the same motivation that leads people to pornography. Very often, it’s a next step in the escalation of a sex addiction that started with pornography but didn’t stay there.
So what do I think about people who cheat? I think they’re people who need to experience God’s grace. They need to be broken, and they need to be put back together by a God who loves them exactly where they are and who knows exactly what they need (which is Him).
“OK, Greg,” you may be saying. “So what? So they have pain in their life. So do I, and you don’t see me cheating on my spouse. Why do they deserve grace when they’re being so selfish?”
When did you hear me saying that they, or anyone, deserves grace? They don’t deserve it. People whose secret Ashley Madison account information has been posted online and are getting caught…they’re getting what they deserve. They deserve to have to receive the full weight and consequences of what they’ve done. And many of them are already experiencing some or all of that.
Grace isn’t something that anyone deserves. The cheater doesn’t deserve a gracious response. The liar doesn’t deserve it either. The gossip doesn’t deserve it. The butchers at Planned Parenthood who are inventing new, increasingly evil ways to murder babies for money don’t deserve the first sliver of God’s grace.
A lot of us who grew up in the church learned a definition of grace that read something like, “Free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in salvation for sinners and bestowal of blessings.” It’s God being (seemingly) inappropriately kind, because He wants to. Why does He want to? Because He loves us. Why does He love us? That’s a good question.
We (specifically, I) certainly bring zero to the table that adds to God’s “plus column.” The gospel doesn’t provide for an equally, mutually beneficial relationship. God doesn’t need me at all. Too often, my life, my words, and my motives reveal lots of stuff that doesn’t look anything like God. And yet I have been the consistent recipient of grace upon grace upon grace.
Grace is so much more about God’s character than it is about mine.
I have been a liar. I have been a cheater. I have been a sex and porn addict. I have been judgmental and manipulative. I have taught about holiness and been involved in holding others accountable for their sin, while hiding secret sin myself. I have been a hypocrite.
But that’s always sort of been God’s thing…giving grace where it’s not deserved. The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, the relationship we are offered as sons and daughters, the constant grace when we continue to fail; all of this seems so unnatural, but it is exactly His nature.
But extending grace is an unnatural human response to betrayal. So unnatural, in fact, that anyone who talks about cheaters needing grace usually gets scoffed at, criticized, or attacked. I guess there’s no getting around that. There are always people who are quick to pick up stones. Throwing the first stone feels right, it feels good. But it’s not God’s heart.
One quick thought, just to make sure it gets said, is this. I mentioned before that a lot of the people on Ashley Madison are experiencing the consequences of their decisions. That’s appropriate. That should happen. Receiving grace is absolutely not the same thing as removal of consequences. What I’ve been describing is a mindset that says, “You’ve put your life in the ditch, and you’re going to have to deal with what comes next. But while you do, know that you have someone who loves you, won’t judge you, and will walk with you and do whatever I can to help you get better.”
So whether you’re Jared Fogle, or Josh Duggar, or Greg Oliver, or any other person who’s monumentally screwed it up, can we agree that we all need grace? Even cheaters. I’m just glad that God doesn’t make me wait until I deserve it.
The Author: Greg Oliver
Greg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in January of 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey have experienced deep healing & restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken they walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness.