Why do men cheat? Some say because they are dogs in heat, incapable of and uninterested in fidelity. Because in their hormone-induced lust, they often desire greener pastures; perhaps an "upgrade" that feeds the sick needs of their mid-life crisis. Because they lack respect, admiration and appreciation from their significant other. Some would say, because they hate nagging. Because they fall victim to peer pressure, the kind that encourages them to care about no one and nothing in a world of chauvinistic bravado. Why do men cheat? Because they are genetically predisposed to it; meaning that, for them, to choose one flavor amongst 31 others is simply impossible. Some would say, because men--and men especially--are hell-bent on having their cake and eating it too, and thus like a penny with a hole in it, they are utterly hopeless.
These are but a few ways that we might answer the question, why do men (and women) cheat? The question is posed with men primarily in mind alongside a parenthetical reference to women because while women do also cheat--let's be real about that--inquiries that I have received through the years have overwhelmingly been from women seeking clarification as to why men seem to struggle so mightily in being faithful to one woman, and one woman alone.
In discussing a broad topic like cheating we could surely examine numerous other forms of its manifestation, such as in seeking an unfair athletic advantage by using human growth hormones or anabolic steroids, lying on your taxes, or insider trading. We could even talk about how you are known to hide Monopoly pieces underneath your seat in an effort to ensure victory over your family members and friends. While those are valid issues that need to be addressed, given the scope of what has most often been asked of me regarding cheating, our focus today will be its presence in relationships.
Cheating is no doubt an unsettling, volatile experience for even the most docile individual to endure, one that the entertainment world has clearly picked up on; musical artists in particular. Whether promoting or denouncing it, at one point or another almost everyone seems to sing a song about cheating. Garth Brooks did it with "The Thunder Rolls". Shania Twain did it with "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" Hank Williams did it with "Your Cheatin' Heart". Usher with "Confessions," part one and part two. Rihanna with "Unfaithful". Jazmine Sullivan with "In Love With Another Man". Brandy and Monica with "The Boy Is Mine". Stevie Wonder with "Part-Time Lover". Shirley Murdock with "As We Lay". Billy Paul with "Me and Mrs. Jones". Oran "Juice" Jones did it with "The Rain": I saw you (and him, and him) walking in the rain. You were holding hands and I'll never be the same...
Of course, however, none of this business about cheating is new. It has existed as long as human beings have. In the book of Genesis, chapter 29--not that it is history's first instance of proposed infidelity--we read of how Potiphar's wife tried time and time again to lure Joseph, her husband's head servant, into bed with her. Joseph is an exception to the popular characterization of men as cheaters, in that, "Many a good man has failed because he had his wishbone where his backbone should have been."
In digging deeper, possibly a more thoughtful answer to the question--why do men (and women) cheat--would be: Because they are seeking an emotional connection that is otherwise missing. Because unfaithfulness can, at times, be more exciting than the unavoidable monotony of commitment. Maybe some men, and parenthetically women, cheat as a means of self-sabotage because they are afraid of fully embracing sustained or lifelong intimacy with only one partner. In other words, they don't feel that they are cut out for monogamy. Or maybe they have been hurt so deeply in the past that they cheat now as a short-sighted coping mechanism or survival tactic; in the process illustrating that, as the saying goes, "Hurt people hurt people."
The writer of 1 John 2:15-17 challenges us this morning to lift our spiritual antennas higher towards God because as simple as it may sound, well, faith requires it. To that end, the sixteenth century theologian whose church reform led to the formation of what we today call Protestantism, Martin Luther said, "Faith is the 'yes' of the heart, a conviction on which one stakes one's life." A life of faith is one of ultimate loyalty, isn't it? Therefore, the provocative life decision as presented in this text is this. If we love what this world has to offer, meaning that in it we have placed our ultimate loyalty, then we don't love God. Conversely, if we do love God, then it is minimally manifested in our rejection of what the world promotes that opposes God's ways. Therefore, cheating is wrong no matter how you slice it.
As such, I think that I can now responsibly answer the question, why do men (and women) cheat. Please forgive me, though, for I have no statistics, no new-age philosophy, no cutting-edge sociological or psychological analyses to offer because when you really get down to the nitty-gritty, when you really breakdown the brass tacks of cheating it is pretty simple. Cheating occurs because of sin; sin that we actively pursue and then decide to jump in despite its consequences. No matter the particulars of your situation, there is never justification to do it and so when anyone cheats it is sin, simple and plain. In verse sixteen John uses three illustrations which represent how women and men fall: "the lust of the flesh, the list of the eyes, and the pride of life." My friends, whether through pornography or physical or emotional means, this is why men (and women) cheat. Let me explain.
The lust of the flesh is essentially what takes charge when human beings refuse to be led by God. Left to our own devices, animalistic tendencies become dominant and all levels of hedonism are validated in the societies that we shape. Our insatiable appetite for more renders us materially obese and spiritually anorexic, which both ultimately lead to death. In this state we reason that the flesh wants what the flesh wants, thus disregarding what God commands. Yet the godly are called not to live for evil human desires, but for the will of God. The biblical writer James reminds us that, "...each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."
It has been said that the eyes are the gateway or mirror to the soul, which is why not so much what we see, but what we do with what we see is vital in a world where anything goes. Left unchecked the people, places, and things that we are exposed to further promote what the flesh is already salivating over. So, the eyes see 36-24-36 and disregard everything else, caught up in the hype, utterly unconcerned with holiness. The eyes see cleavage spilling over brassieres that are designed to push up and jumpstart asset promotion, and fellas are in such a trance that they often fail to seek after godly attributes that will remain long after these supposed assets have begun to decline. In this way, because of their own sin, men begin seeing the fairer sex as "things" instead of equal partners in life whom God has called them to love and co-labor with. Indeed most of what our eyes see isn't necessarily good for us to then adopt as the standards by which we will choose to live, for if cleanliness is next to godliness then you can't be clean while standing naked before someone who isn't your spouse.
The pride of life illuminates our incessant desire to be happy in every way all of the time and to pursue it by any means necessary. To us, we deserve to be happy, and in pushing that mantra further we are so bold as to contend that God wants nothing more than for us, God's children, to be happy. Yet, true happiness is found only in living by God's guidelines with direction from God's word, and God's Spirit. Proverbs 16:18 explains: "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." Therefore, when we begin thinking that we ourselves are the masters of the universe, this is an affront to the ultimate Master, and bad things await us just around the corner. Prideful people live as though they are entitled to whatever they want no matter if God has prohibited it. However, Godly people live grateful lives, recognizing that it is only God's love and grace that entitles them to anything "good" on this earthly pilgrimage.
God's will is that we should love God and love one another, not theoretically in some mystical, magical manner that no one sees, but rather in practical ways that identify us further as followers of Christ. And so, when men (and women) live like animals, refuse corrective eye surgery, and believe themselves to be above God's laws, cheating likely follows.
We know why men (and women) cheat, but perhaps we can push the theological envelope a tad bit farther and deeper. For no one is cheating inevitable. With God's guidance, no one has to violate themselves or others in that way. We all should strive to be more faithful to God and in doing so better monogamously glued to one another in our relationships; relationships that seek, above all else (whether single or married), to please God. Thus, knowing that God sees all and knows all, to be or not to be committed? That is the question.
 This sermon was preached by yours truly, the Rev. James Ellis III, on August 21, 2011.
 Martin Luther, "Sermon for the Sunday after the Feast of the Circumcision, January 4, 1540," Weimar Edition (WA), vol. 49, p. 9.
 1 Peter 4:2.
 James 1:13-15.
 Matthew 27:37-39.
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