Recently someone asked me if God would forgive an adulterer. I answered: Absolutely! There isn’t any sin too big for God.
The Revelator is thereby over all preceding commands, as is shown when Jesus said to the woman that was a sinner, who bathed His Feet, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” although the sin of adultery, according to the law of Moses, was one of the gravest. (Compilations, Baha’i Prayers 9, p. 61)
All we have to do is ask. He loves us so His mercy exceeds His fury! Once we’ve been forgiven, our sins are washed away!
Wherefore, hearken ye unto My speech, and return ye to God and repent, that He, through His grace, may have mercy upon you, may wash away your sins, and forgive your trespasses. The greatness of His mercy surpasseth the fury of His wrath, and His grace encompasseth all who have been called into being and been clothed with the robe of life. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 130)
Having said that, adultery is a serious offense that retards the progress of the soul in the after life:
When we realize that Bahá’u’lláh says adultery retards the progress of the soul in the after life — so grievous is it . . . we see how clear are our teachings on these subjects. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 345)
It will, in the future, be punishable by a fine in this world, and humiliating torment in the next:
God hath imposed a fine on every adulterer and adulteress, to be paid to the House of Justice: nine mithqals of gold, to be doubled if they should repeat the offence. Such is the penalty which He Who is the Lord of Names hath assigned them in this world; and in the world to come He hath ordained for them a humiliating torment. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 37)
The purpose of the law is to expose the offenders so they are shamed and disgraced in the eyes of society:
God hath imposed a fine on every adulterer and adulteress, to be paid to the House of Justice # 49 Although the term translated here as adultery refers, in its broadest sense, to unlawful sexual intercourse between either married or unmarried individuals (see note 36 for a definition of the term), ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has specified that the punishment here prescribed is for sexual intercourse between persons who are unmarried. He indicates that it remains for the Universal House of Justice to determine the penalty for adultery committed by a married individual. (See also Q and A 49.) (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 200)
In one of His Tablets, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá refers to some of the spiritual and social implications of the violation of the laws of morality and, concerning the penalty here described, He indicates that the aim of this law is to make clear to all that such an action is shameful in the eyes of God and that, in the event that the offence can be established and the fine imposed, the principal purpose is the exposure of the
offenders — that they are shamed and disgraced in the eyes of society. He affirms that such exposure is in itself the greatest punishment. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 200)
The House of Justice will (in the future) determine the penalty for adultery committed by a married individuals:
Although the term translated here as adultery refers, in its broadest sense, to unlawful sexual intercourse between either married or unmarried individuals (see note 36 for a definition of the term), ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has specified that the punishment here prescribed is for sexual intercourse between persons who are unmarried. He indicates that it remains for the Universal House of Justice to determine the
penalty for adultery committed by a married individual. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 200)
There are two reasons which come to mind as to why Baha’u’llah didn’t determine penalty for adultery committed by a married individual, as He did with other crimes like arson and murder:
1) If people were to learn about the severity of the punishment at this stage, it would become a major obstacle for many to accept the Faith.
2) The Universal House of Justice at present has no civil power to impose the punishment. If we remember that in at least two past Dispensations the punishment of adultery committed by married people was death by stoning, we tremble at the gravity of the problem, as Baha’u’llah explains in the Kitab-i-Iqan:
Yea, in the writings and utterances of the Mirrors reflecting the sun of the Muhammadan Dispensation mention hath been made of “Modification by the exalted beings” and “alteration by the disdainful.” Such passages, however, refer only to particular cases. Among them is the story of Ibn-i-Suriya. When the people of Khaybar asked the focal center of the Muhammadan Revelation concerning the penalty of adultery committed between a married man and a married woman, Muhammad answered and said: “The law of God is death by stoning.” Whereupon they protested saying: “No such law hath been revealed in the Pentateuch.” Muhammad answered and said: “Whom do ye regard among your rabbis as being a recognized authority and having a sure knowledge of the truth?” They agreed upon Ibn-i-Suriya. Thereupon Muhammad summoned him and said: “I adjure thee by God Who clove the sea for you, caused manna to descend upon you, and the cloud to overshadow you, Who delivered you from Pharaoh and his people, and exalted you above all human beings, to tell us what Moses hath decreed concerning adultery between a married man and a married woman.” He made reply: “O Muhammad! death by stoning is the law.” Muhammad observed: “Why is it then that this law is annulled and hath ceased to operate among the Jews?” He answered and said: “When Nebuchadnezzar delivered Jerusalem to the flames, and put the Jews to death, only a few survived. The divines of that age, considering the extremely limited number of the Jews, and the multitude of the Amalekites, took counsel together, and came to the conclusion that were they to enforce the law of the Pentateuch, every survivor who hath been delivered from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar would have to be put to death according to the verdict of the Book. Owing to such considerations, they totally repealed the penalty of death.” Meanwhile Gabriel inspired Muhammad’s illumined heart with these words: “They pervert the text of the Word of God.” [1 Qur’án 4:45.] (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 84)
It’s better to be punished in this world, because if we are, God won’t punish us again in the next world:
As to the question regarding the soul of a murderer, and what his punishment would be, the answer given was that the murderer must expiate his crime: that is, if they put the murderer to death, his death is his atonement for his crime, and following the death, God in His justice will impose no second penalty upon him, for divine justice would not allow this. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 179)
God does forgive everyone who asks! For those who sincerely want to change, He’s already forgiven us because he knows our intent.
We have assured forgiveness of sins, as known in the presence of the Best Beloved and in conformity with what Thou desirest. Verily His knowledge embraceth all things. (The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 54)
Not only does he forgive us, but he doesn’t want us to worry about our sins; but to be confident that we’ve been born anew from his forgiveness:
We have attired his temple with the robe of forgiveness and adorned his head with the crown of pardon. It beseemeth him to pride himself among all men upon this resplendent, this radiant and manifest bounty. Say: Be not despondent. After the revelation of this blessed verse it is as though thou hast been born anew from thy mother’s womb. Say: Thou art free from sin and error. Truly God hath purged thee with the living waters of His utterance in His Most Great Prison. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 77)
For this gift, He wants us to teach His Faith as a way to strengthen us from further temptation in this area.
We entreat Him—blessed and exalted is He—to graciously confirm thee in extolling Him and in magnifying His glory and to strengthen thee through the power of His invisible hosts. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 77)
Also, adultery is NOT the worst sin. Backbiting is the “most great sin” and lying is the “most odious”. Remember, He’ll even forgive Covenant-Breakers!
It is important to note that should a Covenant-breaker recognize his mistakes, become conscious of his transgressions against the Cause of God and find the urge to repent, the Centre of the Cause, when satisfied he is sincerely repentant, will forgive his past deeds and restore his credibility and status as a Bahá’í in good standing in the community. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 240)
I think it’s much harder to forgive ourselves, though . . . We love Bahá’u’lláh and want to do the right thing, but it’s hard when we live in a society whose behaviour is so at variance with the Faith.
It is often difficult for us to do things because they are so very different from what we are used to, not because the thing itself is particularly difficult. With you, and indeed most Bahá’ís, who are now, as adults, accepting this glorious Faith, no doubt some of the ordinances . . . are hard to understand and obey at first. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights Of Guidance, p. 343)
The House of Justice asks us to point out that the recognition of the Manifestation of God is but the beginning of a process of growth and that as we become more deepened in the Teachings and strive to follow His principles, we gradually approach more and more the perfect pattern which is presented to us. Bahá’u’lláh recognizes that human beings are fallible. He knows that, in our weakness, we shall repeatedly stumble when we try to walk in the path He has pointed out to us. (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)
The key is to be patient with ourselves:
We must be patient with others, infinitely patient, but also with our own poor selves, remembering that even the Prophets of God sometimes got tired and cried out in despair . . . He urges you to persevere and add up your accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and bright side. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 456)
In the meantime, there’s a big elephant in the room between us and our spouse who we betrayed. Do we tell our spouse that we’ve been unfaithful?
The spiritual principle that comes to my mind is:
Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 22)
Let’s consider what this means: first of all it’s the foundation of everything else. This means you can’t have love without truthfulness; you can’t have trust without truthfulness; you can’t have friendliness, compassion, understanding, support, encouragement, patience or any of the other things you want from your spouse without truthfulness. The bottom line is you can’t have a relationship without truthfulness.
Secondly, without truthfulness, you can’t have any progress for yourself or in your relationship without truthfulness. You won’t have success at work, in your finances, in your friendships, or in any other area of your life without truthfulness, and worse, when you die, you won’t be able to make progress either. So truthfulness is very important.
Two other quotes which come to mind on this same topic are:
Consider that the worst of qualities and most odious of attributes, which is the foundation of all evil, is lying. No worse or more blameworthy quality than this can be imagined to exist; it is the destroyer of all human perfections and the cause of innumerable vices. There is no worse characteristic than this; it is the foundation of all evils. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 215)
I love this quote because it says “the worst of qualities and most odious of attributes” is lying and it’s hard to imagine any infidelity that hasn’t been covered up with lies.
Lying destroys all human perfections. This is what we’ve learned in the quotes about truthfulness. Only this quote goes further. Above we learned that no progress or success will be made without truthfulness; so that we can’t develop any of the virtues without it. In this quote, it says that it destroys all human perfections: so think of all the things you want from your relationship: love, forgiveness, support, compassion, encouragement etc, and imagine each one of them being destroyed because of your lies.
The next quote takes it even further:
If the sum of all sins were to be weighed in the balance, falsehood would, on its own, countervail them; nay its evils would even outweigh them and its detriment prove greater. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Trustworthiness, p. 12.)
That’s a pretty powerful image, and good reason for being truthful with your spouse, no matter how difficult or how distressing the consequences.
And another quote in the same vein:
Again: be ye most careful that, God forbid, not one single word contrary to truth issue from your mouths. One falsehood throws man from the highest station of honour to the lowest abyss of disgrace. Always guard yourselves against this enemy so that all you state may correspond with reality. Forever supplicate and entreat at the Court of Majesty and beg confirmation and assistance…. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 213)
This quote means you can’t tell white lies; you can’t rationalize; you can’t speak anything that’s less than 100% truthful, if you don’t want to fall into disgrace with God and society. And then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells you what you can do: pray fervently.
Chances are good that your spouse already knows or suspects your infidelity.
When we find truth, constancy, fidelity, and love, we are happy; but if we meet with lying, faithlessness, and deceit, we are miserable. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 65)
Ask yourself: is she happy or miserable? She may not know the reason for her misery on a conscious level; and when you talk to her truthfully she might not at first be happy. She has every right to react unkindly:
Kindness cannot be shown the tyrant, the deceiver, or the thief, because, far from awakening them to the error of their ways, it maketh them to continue in their perversity as before. No matter how much kindliness ye may expend upon the liar, he will but lie the more, for he believeth you to be deceived, while ye understand him but too well, and only remain silent out of your extreme compassion. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 158)
Over time, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá promises that when she finds truth, constancy, fidelity, and love, she will be happy. It will take awhile for her to regain trust, and feel confident in your love. It will only come when she sees that you are constant in your fidelity. All 4 virtues need to be met for her to be happy, but it starts with truthfulness.
Obviously every person’s situation is unique, which is why the Faith doesn’t set precedents in anything. Every situation is considered separately.
After reading the above quotes, it seems self-evident to me, but of course in the end, it’s entirely between you and God, and in that sense, it’s a case by case decision.
Does it make any difference if technical adultery was not committed but betrayal through unchaste acts was porn viewing or going to strip clubs?
This is the standard:
We have directed all in the nights and in the days to faithfulness, chastity, purity, and constancy; and have enjoined good deeds and well-pleasing qualities. (Abdu’l-Bahá, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 46)
If you betray your spouse through unchaste acts, you are not being faithful to her, because your sexual energy is engaged with other women. You are not achieving the standard of purity because you are having impure thoughts focused on someone else; and you aren’t being constant by being faithful to her alone.
Does the degree of offence even matter with regards to ‘confessing’ to spouse.
I don’t think there’s a “degree of offense” except for lying (which as we saw, is the most odious of sins). The following quote suggests that all the sexual sins are equal:
Such a chaste and holy life, with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance, decency, and clean-mindedness, involves no less than the exercise of moderation in all that pertains to dress, language, amusements, and all artistic and literary avocations. It demands daily vigilance in the control of one’s carnal desires and corrupt inclinations. It calls for the abandonment of a frivolous conduct, with its excessive attachment to trivial and often misdirected pleasures. It requires total abstinence from all alcoholic drinks, from opium, and from similar habit-forming drugs. It condemns the prostitution of art and of literature, the practices of nudism and of companionate marriage, infidelity in marital relationships, and all manner of promiscuity, of easy familiarity, and of sexual vices. It can tolerate no compromise with the theories, the standards, the habits, and the excesses of a decadent age. (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 29)
How do you have this conversation with your spouse?
Obviously it won’t be easy; perhaps it will even be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says you have to be kind with the truth.
Be kind in truth, not only in appearance and outwardly. Every soul of the friends of God must concentrate his mind on this, that he may manifest the mercy of God and the bounty of the Forgiving One. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 216)
I love the following quote, because it gives you something concrete you can do:
If any differences arise amongst you, behold Me standing before your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name’s sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 315)
So how do you “behold ‘Abdu’l-Bahá standing before your face”? Before every difficult interaction, where I want to invite ‘Abdu’l-Bahá into the process, I say the Tablet of Visitation for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (in the back of your prayer book). In the introduction to this prayer it says:
Whoso reciteth this prayer with lowliness and fervor . . . it will be even as meeting Him face to face. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 232)
The following guidance from the House of Justice might give you some more insights:
The Master advises the members to “take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise”. He affirms that:
This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should any one oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions…
It is important to note that truth emerges after the “clash” of carefully articulated views (which may well be expressed with enthusiasm and vigour), not from the clash of feelings. A clash of feelings is likely to obscure the truth, while a difference of opinion facilitates the discovery of truth.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá provides the following advice concerning the manner in which views should be expressed in the course of consultation. It is suggested that this guidance could also pertain to the expression of feelings:
They must then proceed with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care and moderation to express their views. They must in every matter search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for stubbornness and persistence in one’s views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling and the truth will remain hidden… (The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Feb 7, Issues concerning community functioning)
What this suggests to me is that you choose your time carefully, go into the discussion prayerfully and be moderate in how long your discussion will last (don’t let it go on for a long time). Give her time to absorb what you have said, and come back for a second discussion where you can discuss rationally where you will go from here, determined to not take offense to anything she might say; and focused on finding a decision you can both live with, in unity.
As impossible as this might seem, with prayer, God can make sure you have a discussion which will lead to the healing of your relationship.
The husband of a very dear friend of mine had an affair with her best friend over 20 years ago. He was honest, and they were able to work it through so that today they have a very healthy marriage, so I know it can be done.
Isn’t this confessing our sins to others, as implied by the following quote?
The sinner, when his heart is free from all save God, must seek forgiveness from God alone. Confession before the servants (i.e. before men) is not permissible, for it is not the means or the cause of Divine Forgiveness. Such confession before the creatures leads to one’s humiliation and abasement, and God—exalted by His Glory—does not wish for the humiliation of His servants. Verily He is Compassionate and Beneficent. The sinner must, between himself and God, beg for mercy from the Sea of Mercy and implore pardon from the Heaven of Forgiveness. (Bahá’u’lláh, Glad Tidings, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 84-85)
Yes, that’s right: We ask God’s forgiveness and tell our spouse out of honesty and not expecting she has the power to forgive our transgression. Shoghi Effendi clarifies the difference:
We are forbidden to confess to any person, as do the Catholics to their priests, our sins and shortcomings, or to do so in public, as some religious sects do. However, if we spontaneously desire to acknowledge we have been wrong in something, or that we have some fault of character, and ask another person’s forgiveness or pardon, we are quite free to do so. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 178)
God forgives anyone, anything, at any time! All you have to do is ask, and He will not only forgive them, but change them to good deeds!
Thy generous Lord will . . . forgive thee thy sins and change them to good deeds. Verily the Lord is the Forgiving, the Merciful (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 89)
How do you ask? First make sure you are severed from everything save God, then turn to Him in prayer, then accept the consequences (His Will).
He would advise her to turn her thoughts determinedly and intelligently — by that I mean unemotionally — to God, realising that He is forgiving, that in one moment He can, through His Blessed Mercy, take away our sense of failure and help us to do better in the future — if we sincerely wish to; to turn to Him in prayer and seek to draw closer to Him; and to accept His Will and submit her own desires and opinions to His Wish and plan for her. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
Here are some prayers you can say:
Cast, then, upon me, O my God, the glances of Thy mercy, and forgive me my trespasses and the trespasses of them that are dear to Thee, and which come in between us and the revelation of Thy triumph and Thy grace. Cancel Thou, moreover, our sins which have shut off our faces from the splendors of the Day-Star of Thy favors. Powerful art Thou to do Thy pleasure. Thou ordainest what Thou willest, and art not asked of what Thou wishest through the power of Thy sovereignty, nor canst Thou be frustrated in whatsoever Thou prescribest through Thine irrevocable decree. No God is there save Thee, the Almighty, the Most Powerful, the Ever-living, the Most Compassionate. (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, p. 337)
Forgive me, O my Lord, my sins which have hindered me from walking in the ways of Thy good-pleasure, and from attaining the shores of the ocean of Thy oneness. (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, p. 29)
Now that you’ve said them, you can trust that it is done! And go forward into the future, determined not to walk down those roads again:
God hath forgiven what is past. Henceforward everyone should utter that which is meet and seemly, and should refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 219-220)
What does God want from us (other than not breaking His laws in the first place)?
A careful study and reflection on the Bahá’í Writings will give you many insights into this question.
Reflect a while, and consider how they who are the loved ones of God must conduct themselves, and to what heights they must soar. Beseech thou, at all times, thy Lord, the God of Mercy, to aid them to do what He willeth. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 243)
As you know, the standards are very high!
It is an infinitely high standard and anything short of it will in the eyes of those who really count prove piteously negligible and utterly futile. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 377)
All that’s expected of us is that we strive.
Therefore strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers. Turn towards God, and seek always to do that which is right and noble . . . This is the work of a true Bahá’í, and this is what is expected of him. If we strive to do all this, then are we true Bahá’ís. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 80)
You might find the following articles of assistance:
Temptation (6 part series – make sure to read them all)
Have you heard of the Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions and Abuse (BNASAA)? Click here to see their website They run conferences every year, where you can find a safe place to discuss your problem and find solutions based in the Writings. If you watch the videos, they aren’t typical of a BNASAA weekend – they were specific to the 20th anniversary. You might find it very helpful if you could go to a conference.
How has this helped you understand this issue? Have you ever struggled with infidelity? What experiences can you share with others? Post your comments here: