I sometimes wondered if there was something wrong with me. You might think that a decade would be enough time to leave hurt far in the distant past.
And yet sometimes it came back, as fresh and as raw as ever it was. It was the hurt of having been wronged, or of having had something taken from me that was rightfully mine. At least that’s what I had always thought it was. It was the kind of pain that could ruin my day, ruin my week, take the wind out of my sails.
Here is the situation: Before I met my wife, before she was my girlfriend, she was the girlfriend of another guy. And in the years they were together, they carried on a sexual relationship.
When she was young and vulnerable, just a high schooler, she met a boy who swept her off her feet. For several years they were sexually active.
I met her shortly after she had broken up with him, shortly after the relationship had soured and they had realized that they were just making one another miserable. She had just become a Christian and was eager to make the past the past and to begin her new life as a child of God. I fell deeply in love with her, my first and, as it turns out, only girlfriend.
We married a few years later and have since enjoyed a decade together. God has blessed us beyond measure with children and success and shared love for Christ and for one another. I truly do love her more than I would have thought I could ever love another person. I cannot and would not want to imagine my life without her.
And yet every now and again the pain would return. Every now and then, perhaps when I was feeling vulnerable or when life was getting difficult, I would find myself wishing that she had never had that first relationship; I found myself wishing that I was her only one.
At my worst moments, I fought with images that seemed to appear suddenly in my mind — images of her with that old boyfriend doing the things they must have done. It made my mind recoil and my heart sink. At times I would feel almost sick, disheartened with the thought of what had gone on in her past.
I had forgiven her years ago when, even before we got engaged, we had discussed her past and she had sought my forgiveness for giving away what she should have held on to. I forgave her then. I knew that neither of us could be free from that sin if forgiveness was not offered and received. But still, it would creep into my mind, arising sporadically throughout the years.
Finally, I came to realize that I must not have dealt with the issue as I thought I had.
I forced myself to wrestle with the old memories, the old emotions, to put them to rest once and for all. Through these times I had to think deeply about her past and my past. I had to fight with my theology of forgiveness and with my whole understanding of what it means to be forgiven. And I am glad to say that God was exceedingly gracious.
I know that I am not the only one who has wrestled with this issue. I once searched for information on this very topic, the topic of moving past a spouse’s sexual history, and found very little that was of any help. I found many people crying out for help, many people battling images and thoughts and anger — but very little that turned to Scripture to seek out God’s solution for letting the past be the past and finally letting it go.
I want to share with you how I went about doing just that. This is not an article telling you whether or not you should discuss sexual history with your future spouse (I think you should) or whether you should do so in great detail (probably not). Instead, it is written for spouses or future spouses who are looking for freedom from the sexual history of the one they love.
Though written by a husband I hope it will be as applicable for a wife whose husband has a sexual history that troubles her still.
Who Is God Here?
My search for freedom began with a simple question. I had spoken to a friend about this issue, telling him how I wrestled with it all these years later and how it was humiliating to realize that after a decade, I had not let it go.
His question made me angry in all the right ways: “Do you think God made a mistake?”
He knew that I hold tightly to my belief in the sovereignty of God — that there is nothing that has ever happened or that ever could happen that in some ways slips past the gaze of God. He knew that I can quote the Apostle Paul and his great statement that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Could anything be more comforting that these words?
And yet here they offered me little comfort. No, God does not make mistakes.
And yet somehow this had happened to one of His children. So if this was not a mistake, not a case of divine apathy or regret, what then was it? Was I passing judgment on something that seemed good for God to permit?
Humbled, I had to admit that I had placed myself over God, passing judgment on Him as if I know better how to rule this world and how to order my wife’s life. Already God was using His people and His Word to dismantle some poor theology.
My pride was to suffer a further blow. My next stop was in Psalm 51. Here David has admitted to the murder of Uriah and to committing adultery with Bathsheba. He has committed horrible crimes against a husband and wife, against a family and, as king, against his whole nation. And how does he respond?
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
David tells God that his sin was first and foremost sin against God. And right there I had to pause and ask, “Do I see my wife’s sin as sin that was primarily against God? Or am I once again putting myself in the place of God and acting as if I am the ultimate offended party?”
You can guess how I had to answer. “Against me, me only has she sinned!” I had effectively told myself. “Never mind God! I’m the one who is hurting here.”
Yet the Bible once again dismantled my bad theology. Suddenly I saw that it was God who had been most hurt and most offended. And actually, I didn’t even place second. What about her old boyfriend? If he sinned against her, then surely she sinned against him as well! And what about her old boyfriend’s wife? Maybe she sometimes sits quietly and regrets her husband’s sexual history.
And here I was feeling so sorry for myself as if I was the only one. But now I knew that I was thinking far too highly of myself and far too little of God and of other people. I was hurt, to be sure, and something that was rightly mine was taken away. But still, God was the one who was ultimately sinned against. No wonder I was miserable. Not only had I elevated myself beyond God, but I had shrunk God down so He was less than me.
At the same time, I had used my wife’s sin against her even while conveniently ignoring my own. Could I say that I had never committed any kind of sexual sin, even something seemingly so innocuous as a lustful thought? Of course not. I could spend years cataloging my sexual sin and would run out of ink long before I ran out of sin. Yet I was content to take pride in sins I had avoided only because of lack of opportunity.
Does Forgiveness Forget?
So there I was, realizing that I had been quietly believing first that God had made a mistake in allowing this to happen and second that my wife’s sin was the foremost sin against me.
Still, I had to ask myself, “Have I really forgiven her?” If I had forgiven her, shouldn’t I have also been able to forget? Shouldn’t forgiveness also let go of a sin?
I found Romans 8:1 which says of Christians, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” God no longer, God can no longer, condemn those who have placed their faith in Christ, for Christ has forever washed away their sins! Yet here I was essentially condemning my wife. Though I had said to her, “I forgive you” and though I truly felt I was harboring no bitterness toward her, still I was quietly condemning her.
By continually turning to her sin, I was digging up the past, digging up the sin that God had long since cast away: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). God throws sin as far away as ever sin could be — an infinite distance. I would not even throw it 10 years away.
I had a short-sighted view of forgiveness. I thought that forgiveness was really just words. I failed to realize that forgiveness is also an act of turning away, of casting off. Forgiveness is only half-hearted if it offers the words “I forgive you” but continues to dwell upon and hold onto the sin it claims to have forgiven.
Here I was, extending forgiveness with one hand while holding bitterness tightly behind my back with the other.
Now I was finally able to see things from a better perspective.
Copyright 2009 Zach Bradford. All rights reserved.