My husband, Jesse, and I have been married for nine years. When we got married I had no idea that my husband had been secretly struggling with sexual addiction since he was a teenager. In the first year of our marriage I became aware of his interest in pornography and wrote if off as men being men. As this thread of addiction continued to unravel, our marriage began to unravel as well. Recently we were reading through the Bible together and a passage in Matthew led to a discussion about our addiction experience and some important lessons that we have learned as we move through recovery together. Some of the things we discussed have become common themes that we have heard as we work with others in recovery. We thought we would write this post together and share some of these thoughts with you.
I (Nicole) have heard more Sunday morning messages about God taking on the form of man to identify with our humanness than I can count. I don’t know that I’ve ever truly believed them. There are lots of reasons for my disbelief most of them having to do with my insistence that it would be difficult for him to truly identify with my personal experiences as a woman and a wife. Reading Matthew 26 and 27 helped me to see how wrong I have been. For many years Jesse and I had struggled with harsh truths in our marriage. Truths about our connectedness, purity, honesty, unconditionalness. How could a perfect God identify and connect with me, personally and empathetically, given the level of intimate betrayal I have experienced? Enter Judas Iscariot.
The first verse that really stood out to both of us was Matthew 26:23 “Jesus replied, ‘The one who dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me”. My Jesus, the God of the heavens and the earth, is a multidimensional God. He is more than the God who rides in on a cloud of glory. He is also the man who experienced the hurt that results from the most intimate betrayal in all of history. A betrayal that is signified by the very sign if intimacy itself – a kiss. He has experienced the betrayal of a friend and confidant who shared in the closest of traditions at one of the most personal moments of Jesus life – his last supper. And this God/Man can surely identify with the painful betrayals of my heart.
While I (Jesse) was reading I was thinking that Judas apparently didn’t really, deep down, know Jesus. He spent a lot of time with him, but we know that he had been dishonest with Jesus all along. At the last supper, right after Jesus has clearly stated that he knows he’s going to be betrayed Judas joins the others in saying, “Surely it is not I?” (26:25) It’s as if he thought he could somehow fool the Son of God. When I was active in my addiction I spent a lot of time fooling myself. In fact, I would argue that I spent a lot of time trying to fool God. Each time I rationalized what I was doing, tried to stop watching porn on my own will, or made bargains with God I was actually playing this same game. Which made me wonder, how well do I really know Him? Reading about Judas leads me to ask myself some serious questions.
What stood out to me (Jesse) the most in this passage is that Judas represents the difference between remorse and repentance. Matt. 27:3 tells us that Judas “felt remorse.” Remorse to the point of death. Judas publicly acknowledged his sin and obviously felt awful about it. But he didn’t repent. I wondered as I read this: how many times have I felt just terrible about something I’ve done – like looking at pornography – and that was it? The fruit of remorse is, at best, an abiding sense of guilt, shame, and self pity. As I acted out in this addiction over and over again I experienced the guilt and shame of remorse each time but never felt freedom from what was holding me. Repentance is something else again. A repentant Judas might have done something to show a real turning from sin, not just feel bad about it. This challenges me because for some reason, even though it feels terrible, remorse over my porn addiction has been much easier than true repentance. Probably because it doesn’t require me to do anything except sit with my self-pity.
There’s a song that I (Nicole) love with a lyric that talks about being “drunk on self pity, scorned all that’s been given me, I would drink from a bottle labeled Sure Defeat”. As I read Jesse’s reflections I think that’s the kind of hopelessness he’s writing about. The turn in the song comes when hope falls from the heavens allowing us to cast our worries to the sky. Grace.
So, here’s the hope of grace for us: I (Jesse) noticed that in the very midst of his betrayal, Jesus still calls Judas his “friend.” (26:50) That’s staggering. It tells me that Jesus isn’t writing anybody off, not even me. Even after all I have done and all that I have put my family through. At the ultimate moment, he was still ready to embrace Judas as a “friend.” And it tells me (Nicole) that our God is the God of reconciliation. The restorer of even the most broken, deceitful relationships. He is a God who can undoubtedly identify with my hearts desire to experience renewed intimacy and recovery from betrayal.
And so we both rejoice.