It Is Not What It Appears To Be

Another pastor contacted me this morning with another report of another 40-something man leaving his family for an affair.

This seems to be a regular feature of late-modern life. There have even been several reports over the last 18–24 months of pastors committing adultery and leaving their churches (or being discovered and removed from ministry). Pastor or salesman, in some of those cases, to justify the affair the adulterous man will appeal to some alleged insight he has had in philosophy or theology. Do not believe him. His philosophizing and theologizing is just a smokescreen, cover for the reality: he’s a 40- or 50-something guy whose youth is behind him and he knows it. It has been 2o or 30 years since he was a carefree college student and now, however it happened, he sees the opportunity to be a carefree kid again. Sexual attraction is part of the chemistry but it is as much a symptom as a cause. What is driving his behavior is the thrill of being attractive again. This time it is probably not for his looks or virility as much as it is for his wealth. He may or may not be handsome but that someone flirted with him or responded when he flirted made his pulse race in a way that had not happened for a long time. He started thinking about an affair, playing with it in his mind as a possibility. Then he decides to act on it (James 1:13–15) and when it begins, the sneaking around is exciting. It is like being high school all over again. The stakes are much higher but the thrill of being wanted is powerful.

How is this possible? Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?” (ASV). The human heart is deceitful because it is corrupted and bent by sin, which is essentially deceit. The first thing the Evil One did was to lie: “Did God really say?” (Gen 3:1). The first thing we did, in response, was not to tell the truth but to lie to ourselves and to each other (Gen 3:6–7). The human capacity for self-deception is nearly endless. This is a great difference between us sinners and our sinless Savior, Jesus: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Pet 2:22; ESV). Jesus never deceived himself or anyone else. He told the truth and it cost him his life.

To the outside observer, the idea of a 40-something or 50-something guy taking up with or running off with a woman (or a man), usually younger, is obviously foolish. That relationship is as real as a day at Disneyland. The whole point of Disneyland is that it is not real life. It is a fantasy and so is the affair. It is real enough to cost a marriage, family, and a ministry but it is not a real relation. When you said, “I do,” you said, “I will help with the diapers and I will provide. I will rush the kids to the emergency room” or hold their hair while they throw up. That is reality. The affair? That is pure fantasy.

The substitution of fantasy for reality is foolishness but sin is foolishness. Proverbs is almost graphic in its portrayal of the relationship between foolishness and sin and that portrayal is told in sexual terms. Wisdom is personified as a virtuous woman in the streets, calling out (Prov 1:20,21). She is contrasted with Dame Folly, who is portrayed as a prostitute (Prov 2:16–19). Proverbs chapter 5 is powerful:

For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
her ways wander, and she does not know it (Prov 5:3–6; ESV).

“For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey…”. Because they are forbidden, her lips seem even more attractive. The tragedy is that, sometimes, perhaps often, the woman in the affair is almost as much a victim as the adulterer’s wife. The adulterer is not really interested in her as much as he is in her interest in him and in the fact that he is not supposed to have her. In these cases the affair is about him. She sees what she wants to see (“he is going to leave his wife and we will have an ideal life together”). She is a thief and he is a self-deceived liar. Typically, in reality, he will get bored with her and move on. He is off to the next fling, and the next until he wakes up one day and realizes that it has all been for nothing. He is no happier than when he began. His kids hate him. His friends no longer trust him. He has destroyed his life for a fantasy and, unless something changes drastically, he will be a lonely, bitter old man who threw away his family, in some cases his ministry, for a fantasy.

So all that palaver about the insights he has discovered via some atheist guru is just smoke. The adulterer knows it is just smoke but such is the blinding power of self-deception. God is still God. Christ is still risen. The truth is still the truth. Just because a fool idolizes his youth and virility and sears his conscience to justify it does not change the truth.

Dear adulterer, on the possibility that you have stumbled upon this, it is not too late. Today is the day of salvation. Stop lying to yourself and acknowledge your sins, sinfulness, and foolishness.

Dear adulteress, he does not love you. He loves himself. You are only a mirror in which he sees what he has lost, his youth. He is an idiot. No, you are not going to have the life you imagine. It will be a disaster. Sin always is and then the judgment.

To both of you: Fear God. He will not be mocked. Either you will give account for your choices or you will take refuge in Christ. There is no third way.

A penitent life after the affair will not be easy but it is better than the alternatives in this life and the next.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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7 comments

  1. “Dame Folly” (Prov 9:13, JB 1966); also, Orthodox Jewish Bible, 2002.
    “The Lady Stupidity” (Prov 9:13, REB, 1989)

  2. The only problem with the comparison to Disney is that a divorce settlement often costs less than a couple of weeks at Walt Disney World. There’s one thing for sure: In each case, fantasy gets crushed by reality.

    God’s Providence can be awe-inspiring in delivering us from evil. I was not that attractive fifty years ago. I’ve never been wealthy, and have no prospects for such a burden. And the Lord gave me the only woman in the world who would put up with me for three years, let alone fifty-three.

  3. I agree totally. At the end of the article, the author addresses de adulterer and the other woman exhorting them. OK, but many times a word of exhortation would be in order to the “innocent spouse” who may not be as innocent in the matter as it may seem. OK, I am not justifying adultery because the marital relationship is bad, but a woman who refuses sex for months or sometimes even years, or who only does it begrudingly, or the husband who does not love his wife as he should do have a part in the blame. The adulterer is totally responsible for his or her bad decisions, but an unloving spouse puts their mate right in the eye of temptation. Affairs definitely happen when there is a good marital relationship (especially men cheating their wives), but they are much less likely when things are well at home. I think that was missing in the article.

    • João,

      I accept that you do not intend to make excuses for men who commit adultery but that is the functional result of what you are saying.

      Men are responsible for the choices they make. They don’t get to blame their wives for their sins.

      If a wife is no longer sexually attracted to her husband, why might that be? The adultery is a symptom of a more profound alienation. Could it be that he hasn’t been paying attention to her, that she senses that he is no longer interested in her?

      Why did he not step up to find out what the problem is? Why did he not seek counseling? Why did he resort to adultery?

      If Christian men want to assert leadership in a Christian home, then they must lead. Copping out and blaming his wife is making excuses for his lack of love for his wife.

    • I don’t think that’s what he’s saying at all. He’s saying there are two sides to these stories and it’s more complicated than you’re making it out to be.

      The adulterer is totally responsible for his or her bad decisions, but an unloving spouse puts their mate right in the eye of temptation.

      This is 1 Corinthians 7:5.

      If a wife is no longer sexually attracted to her husband, why might that be? The adultery is a symptom of a more profound alienation. Could it be that he hasn’t been paying attention to her, that she senses that he is no longer interested in her?

      This could be the cause. It could not. Women are also sinners.

      More broadly, what affect are laws and family courts having on a man’s ability to lead? The government has the final say in a marriage because one-party can unilaterally end a marriage. Divorce statistics show that 70% of divorces are are initiated by the woman.

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