Repentance - A Case Study
Joe Clark ~~ Sep 24, 2002

This is a "case study" to make us all think about repentance and what it really means. I don't know the correct answer -- I'm only presenting the question.

A man and a woman are married. However, they have their issues that only seem to get worse and worse. Eventually, they separate and move to separate states and go on with their lives. They both "get over" their bad marriage experience and leave the pain behind. However, they do not get a divorce.

Later on, the man falls in love with another woman, and the two marry. The woman does not know that the man is still married to another woman. The man and his new wife build their new life together, and are quite happy. They begin to raise a family and become involved in their local church.

Many years pass. Through some chance occurence, "wife #2" learns about the existence of "wife #1". At this exact point in time, what is wife #2 supposed to do? Wife #2 feels that the situation she is in amounts to adultery. All at once her world falls apart when she realizes that she has been living in "virtual" sin with her husband. She chooses to have the marriage annulled. The family is torn apart, the local church is shaken, the woman is distraught, the man is extremely ashamed, and the old wife, who had gone on with life, suddenly is reminded of the bitter past by the revelation of her existence.

So, the problem here, to the objective third party, is that the revelation of sin and the act of repentance have taken a situation that was ostensibly "good" for all the people involved, and caused serious harm to the lives of all of them. Repenting for the sins of the past has destroyed the future. We are trained to think that repentance is a good thing, and not just in a spiritual "eternal perspective" sense, but also in a down to earth everyday sense. But in this case, if they had all lived in happy ignorance (aka, sin, perhaps), they would all have lived happilier ever after. What is there to say about such a quandary? Is it better to expose sin, if the exposition will cause more harm than the sin itself? I guess the answer is yes, because the spiritual life is about being right with God, not about being happy. But while my mind can say that, my heart isn't fully committed to such an answer.

Another issue that this brings up wife #2's situation, should she have gotten the divorce (annullment, whatever), or remained married and tried to rebuild upon a truthful foundation? Does forgiveness and repentance require going back to a pre-sin state (at least as far as is humanly possible)? Or does repentance mean carrying on from the present point in a manner free from sin. These rhetorical questions assume that the "righteous" thing to do is to gain freedom from the situation. But maybe wife #2 was wrong in her decision to annull the marriage. This is quite weird that in some strain of imagination she is in sin if she stays married, and in sin if she gets the annullment. What does God want in such crazy situations?

Okay, that's my hypothetical case study. If any of you out there have opinions on God's will and repentance and earthly consequences for sins of "commission and omission", I'd be pleased to hear them.