If it Can Happen to General Petraeus, it Can Happen to You
“There is a sense in which sexual sin destroys a person like no other, because it is so intimate and entangling, corrupting on the deepest human level.” –John MacArthur
We all agree that adultery is wrong. The problem is once you get caught in its grip, you find yourself so drunk with its intoxication, you start humming the Debbie Boone hit, “This can’t be wrong, it feels so right.”
A pastor friend whose wife left him and the children for another man in the church–who had also abandoned his family–told me some women from his congregation drove to the nearby state to try to reason with her. She rebuffed them. “You are interfering with the will of God for my life!” (She came to see the severity of her mistake, but only after it was too late to repair her marriage. She lives in regret.)
It can happen to you, friend.
If you question everything else that follows, do not doubt that. Adultery can happen anywhere, to anyone. You do not have to be debonair, suave, handsome, articulate, successful, muscular, and every woman’s dream. You can be dull and overweight, unattractive and without a shred of a personality, and still be caught up in this firestorm we call an affair.
And, you can be mighty in the Lord, successful beyond your biggest dreams, and a warrior for Christ of the first dimension, and still be brought down by adultery.
“Flee fornication.” (I Corinthians 6:18)
Don’t argue with it, reason with it, discuss its ramifications with the object of your delight, and do not underestimate it. Just run as fast as your little legs will carry you. Get away, quick.
Even if the other person will be offended or misunderstand or get angry, nothing matters so much as putting miles between you and this temptation.
Do not toy with temptation. Do not dream about it, fantasize about it, and vicariously give in to its delights through your reading and television/movie-watching. All of that dismantles one brick at a time the defenses you have built up against such grievous sins.
General Petraeus. What a man. Every patriot’s hero, I imagine. Strong and disciplined, a soldier’s soldier, a man’s man.
And he gets blind-sided by adultery.
An attractive young woman interviewed him for articles which she turned into a full-length book. This required lengthy sessions with the general in which they talked about his life, his career, his philosophy. Evidently, the woman was a great listener.
My wife says listening is the perfect aphrodisiac. It works better than perfume.
Proximity was at work here also. A man and a woman, each holding the other in high esteem, talking about personal stuff, shut up in a room together for hours on end–it was a disaster in the making from the beginning.
Adultery’s biggest lies
“I deserve to be happy.” No, you don’t. You deserve to be faithful.
“This is just between us.” What a joke. When someone in the ministry commits adultery, he/she betrays every person who ever believed in them, and abuses the trust in irreparable ways of his spouse and children. Everyone who ever heard him preach is disappointed and hurt. Even outsiders–the unsaved–will discount their earlier respect for the man and his message and say, “He’s just like all the rest.”
“I can have all these wonderful blessings in my life and this forbidden fruit also.” This is one of the most popular lies of all. Satan never tells you that this dalliance is going to cost you your family, your church, your friends, your job, everything. But so many ministers who stepped across this line found out in a hurry the price for adultery was a hundred times what they were prepared to pay.
“The rules apply to other people, not me.” This is the lie which celebrities of all kinds, not just in the ministry, fall prey to most often.
“It feels so good, it has to be right.” This is the biggest lie of all. One’s feelings are no indication of anything, are influenced by everything, and can change at any time. To make them the barometer of truth is suicidal.
Adultery is a sin so prevalent today, even among the Lord’s people as with the population in general, but with one big difference: No one speaks of it except in general terms. When was the last time you heard an adulterous minister tell his/her story?
Pastors who have commit adultery and are caught, pay a severe price for their mistake and (we trust) repent and do everything they can to be restored to their family. But they do not speak to other pastors about what they did and the lessons they learned. The shame of it silences them.
Pastors who commit adultery and get by with it (and presumably end the relationship) cannot speak of what they learned. They are ashamed and protective of their loved ones and their ministry.
So, the subject rarely gets talked about. The Lord’s ministers then go blissfully on into each day giving no thought to protecting themselves against adultery.
A book you might like to read
Innocent is Scott Turow’s latest novel. Over twenty years ago, Turow burst onto the literary scene with Presumed Innocent, a novel about lawyer Rusty Savich whose affair with a prosecuting attorney ended when the woman was murdered. Savich was accused and exonerated in an unusual twist at the end (which we won’t mention here for anyone who wants to read it). Innocent is its sequel. Now, Savich is a judge, highly respected, still married to his wife of 30+ years. And once again, he finds himself in an affair, only the second of his life.
It’s not necessary to read the whole book for the part you need to see. Once the judge finds himself fully immersed in this affair – with its lying, trysts, maneuvering, sneaking, deceiving, and guilt – he becomes an object lesson for anyone considering violating his marriage vows. Read it and you will feel the judge’s pain in such depth that you will wonder at his stupidity. All that effort just for a few hours of stolen bliss.
Stupidity is the right word, my friend.
Over and over, Savich says to himself, “This cannot end right. There is no good way for this to end.”
He was right. Someone is always going to be hurt.
A word about the book. Years ago, I read the earlier novel, saw the movie starring Harrison Ford and Bonnie Bedalia, and recently rented the audio book of the sequel at a Cracker Barrel while on a long drive. Somewhere on the fourth disc, the audio malfunctioned and that’s where I ended (and turned the book in for full credit).
I had read enough. The story is too painful.
But the lesson is one every person needs to learn: Nothing about an affair ends well.
No wonder the writer of Proverbs goes to such lengths to caution his son about adultery.
“My son, pay attention to my wisdom; lend your ear to my understanding, that you may preserve discretion, and your lips may keep knowledge;
For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword….
Remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the cruel one.” (Proverbs 5)
May I add that “I know, I know,” the writer of Proverbs makes the woman out to be the “bad guy.” And sometimes, the reverse is true.
But the lessons are solid in either case. Protecting oneself against adultery is a never-ending task, one which God’s ministers in particular must give serious attention to. If it requires changing one’s methodologies of ministry, then so be it. Do whatever needs to be done, so that some day, at the end of your ministry you may look back with deep satisfaction, knowing that while you did not do everything right, you got this right.
That’s worth a great deal, my friend.
I thought of Billy Graham in this regard last week. On his 94th birthday, a religious network devoted a couple of hours to a program in which various men and women sent birthday greetings to the famous evangelist. As I sat in our family’s Alabama farmhouse watching and occasionally growing teary-eyed, I thought, “Mr. Graham set some borders for himself early in his ministry–not to ride in a car alone with a women, never to be in a hotel room alone with a woman, etc. And here he is at the culmination of his long lifework, with not a breath of scandal to taint his service for Christ.” How truly wise. How wonderful.
May the same be said of us.
— General —