I came across your letter from the man who was within a day of divorcing his wife when suddenly he got the idea to see what the Bible had to say about his choices.
I was bothered by what you left out of your letter, if in fact what I read was all that was said to him. First, before I say anything else, let me commend you for not soft soaping this man's sin. You are right about his behavior and what God's word says about it, as well as his attitude that because he felt his wife had treated him badly, she deserved to have him stick it to her by passing her over for a "better" woman. You are right, that is a cruel and deliberate revenge on his part.
I would also be one of the first to wrinkle my nose in distaste at those who would be quick to offer him cheap grace and easy believism. However, it took some humility to risk writing to you and admit the whole truth of what he was doing. He showed considerable restraint in not spending numerous words explaining why his wife was really the problem, and went straight to admitting his sin. In addition, there is evidence that the grace of God is at work in his heart; many people, when they've found a more alluring partner, find a way to rationalize keeping the new paramour, while this man is actually willing to give up a woman he is in love with even though he knows it is going to hurt.
There was no mention of God's heart toward him, God's response to his repentance should he carry it out, or God's call on his life and desire that he should begin to rise to true biblical manhood. The reply offered him very little in the way of hope though it did offer him irkedness, and rebuke. There was little discussion of God's incredible love for this man or the preciousness of his life and his wife's life. No mention of the delight of knowing Christ or of the joy of being changed from the inside out. Basically you offered him much rebuke and little mercy. I do not say this without knowing however, dear brother, that I am often guilty of this same sin and probably much more than you, hence why it was easy for me to recognize it. I once had a man come to me who was known to have emotionally and physically abused his family while putting on quite a performance of godliness in church. His family must have felt like Jews under Pharaoh's guards with this man as a father and a husband. When he came to me one day and haltingly began to mention that he was realizing he had some problems, I shamed him. I did not offer him truth spoken in love. I have always regretted that, and obviously did not know at that time, that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.
I would like to end my comment with a remind about how Jesus treated the woman taken in the very act of adultery. She received more than confrontation about her sin. I would like to encourage you to contact him again and offer him the whole good news of the gospel. Thank you for entertaining my thoughts on the matter.
It took me a bit to locate the letter you mentioned. I believe it was "How do I repent of adultery when I don't feel sorry for doing it?"
First off, let me point out that I don't keep records of the correspondence that I have for privacy reasons. What is posted on the web site is edited to remove personal information that might positively identify a person. When I answer a question, some of that edited material will color my response, and you are right, since you don't see the original, you might get a slightly different impression. After I send a reply, the original email is deleted. I have no way of contacting this man who wrote me in 2008. I have no clue as to who he is at this point.
One thing I've noticed over the years of answering questions is that people have a strong tendency to see only what they want to see in letters. Listening skills are not well developed in most people and the medium of writing makes it even more difficult when you don't have visual and audio clues to adjust the words that you are reading. I miss things at times, even being aware of the problem and working hard at seeing exactly what is said.
The next point is that like many people you are so eager to get a person across the finish line of salvation that you forget that there are steps which have to be taken. The man stated that he was committing adultery and wasn't interested in leaving his mistress (you missed that statement of his). Until a sinner repents of his sin, anything beyond that is useless to him. To talk about God's acceptance of him, while he remains in sin, is to paint a false picture. What happens in many people's minds is that as soon as they hear that God accepts them, they conclude that they can remain as they are. It would not be your intention to give such a message, but that is what happens. People don't change unless they are convinced they must change.
To gain repentance, there first must be sorrow over the wrong that was done. That was the key element missing in this man. Have you ever considered the first letter to the Corinthians? Have you ever wondered why Paul came down so hard on this church? "For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing" (II Corinthians 7:8-9). If my letter letter struck a chord with this man so that he truly realized the extent of his sin and truly regretted what he had done, then I would be showing him the way out of his predicament when he responded.
Have you thought why someone will write to a stranger about their sins? There are some who want to justify that they just have to stay in sin because they see no other choice, but the greater majority are looking for someone to confirm what they already suspect -- that they are wrong and need to change. They offer up their defenses for the purpose of seeing them shot down because then they can get the motivation to change that they didn't have before. More often than not, these notes are the beginnings of conversations toward converting hearts.
By the way, the woman brought to Jesus was not like this man. She did not try to deny or justified her sin. She was at a different point in conversion and so received the answer she needed based on where she was at. Closer to this man's point in life were the Pharisees who defended themselves in their sins. Read John the Baptists response to some of these people (Matthew 3:7-10) or Jesus discussion of them in Matthew 23 and learn a lesson. It is a grave mistake to assume that one solution fits all problems. I wonder if you would have taken John the Baptist to task for not speaking lovingly to the Pharisees who came all the way out into the desert to talk to him.
You made one error in your note. To rebuke a person for their sins is not a sin, it is a part of righteousness. "When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:18-20). It is a part of a preacher's job to learn when to deliver rebukes and when to offer encouragement. "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (II Timothy 4:2). Just because I handle problems differently than you would, it doesn't follow that I don't know what I am doing or that I'm in the wrong. Using your personal preferences as a standard is not a good thing to do. "For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise" (II Corinthians 10:12).
I doubt that I'm perfect in my responses, but I know that my attempts are reaching hearts in ways that I did not originally expect. Currently this web site has over 7,200 readers per day, so it doesn't appear that lovingly giving people the honest truth drives people away. Quite the opposite, people know there are far too many false teachers out there who will tell them anything they want to hear. But most of us realize that truth sometimes involves hearing things we need to hear, even when I might not like it.