Everyone has been tempted at one point or another to cheat in some way.
It might have been something simple, like cheating on a board game, or something more serious, like cheating on a spouse.
Regardless, everyone has been tempted to cheat at some point, and most people have cheated on something.
Is cheating a sin, though?
What if it is cheating on something that does not matter, like that previously mentioned board game? Or, how about cheating on a test at school? Is that a sin too?
The reality is that, yes, even a simple peaking at hide-and-seek is cheating.
Deciding whether it is a sin, however, is another story. The following explores the concept of cheating and whether cheating is a sin.
What Is Cheating?
In its most pure form, cheating is taking advantage of someone or something by violating a trust. It can happen in virtually every aspect of our lives. Here are a few examples:
- Your spouse or significant other trusts you not to cheat on them
- Your employer trusts you not to steal from them
- Teachers trust students not to cheat on homework or tests
- Professional sports teams and leagues trust players not to cheat
- You trust yourself to not cheat on diets, exercise, and other personal goals
- Friends and family trust each other not to cheat on many different things
It is difficult to find any part of life that is not affected in some way, shape, or form by cheating. In every example above, cheating brings a perceived gain to the person cheating and can only be done by violating a trust.
Key Elements of Cheating
Cheating manifests in several ways, but there is always an undercurrent of lying and deceiving to gain an advantage over something or someone.
A person cheats for one or many of several reasons:
They may cheat on a test or a game because they feel they are not prepared or skilled enough to pass or win the game.
People may fudge details on a loan application because they are worried that providing the real information may disqualify them from receiving the loan.
They may rationalize the cheating and lying because they need the loan or feel they deserve it.
To covet is to desire something to the point it is an obsession, including if someone else possesses it. For example, a person might be obsessed with another person's material goods to the point it is all they can think about all the time.
They might covet some aspect of a relationship they currently do not have in their relationships.
That person may look to someone else to provide what they feel is missing in their current relationship. That is unfair not only to the person being cheated on, but it is also unfair to the other party as they will never get the full attention of the cheater.
Much like stress, and it certainly is linked to it, desperation leads people to make bad decisions. An employee that is struggling and fearful of losing their job may cheat to make their performance seem better than it is.
Someone stuck in a dead-end relationship might feel desperate and cheat to try and fill the void of the relationship.
Desperation may also serve as an excuse for someone's behavior. A desperate person lies to themselves and justifies their cheating because they “deserve more” or feel like life is unfair.
They cheat to try and put off the desperation or even reverse the trend that got them there in the first place.
Jealousy involves insecurity over a lack of possessions or security. Almost every incident of cheating involves jealousy. The person cheating might be jealous of what another person possesses.
They may be jealous of what they have and are afraid of losing it. A good example is a student who cheats out of fear of lowing whatever grade they currently possess.
That student may have a legitimate fear, and there might even be a good reason for them not being prepared. Their behavior, however, is not only dishonest, it is self-destructive, and it is also unfair to other students who do not cheat.
When a student cheats on a test, it is not because they are incapable of learning the material most of the time. Often, the reason is that they failed to study adequately and feel they must cheat to make up the difference.
Another example is someone cheating at work by stealing someone else's idea and claiming it as their own.
In both cases, the potential and skills of either person are not in play. They are not cheating out of desperation but rather because it is easier to cheat than it is to study or tap into their creativity.
Envy is defined as discontent or resentful desire that arises from a desire to have what someone else has. It is different than covetousness because of the element of resentment towards another and what that person possesses.
It is different from jealousy because resentment is formed based on what a person lacks.
That could be resentment over a person's possessions. It could be a grudge against a person over a relationship with another person or what that relationship possesses.
Greed entails an insatiable desire to possess something. That could be a relationship, possession, or even emotions like adulation.
Greed prompts people to cheat because cheating often looks like an easier way to get something than going through all the steps to get it. Greed leads one to abandon all sense of morality and ethics to possess something.
The things greed can make a person do can be both appalling and drastic. Recently, one famous case is someone who cheated by fudging test results of a medical device.
They did so in part so that their company would be successful. Their behavior cheated much more than regulators, however. It cheated medical professionals, investors, and, most importantly, patients.
Lust is a form of greed. It is desiring another based on a carnal desire to possess it. Lust can often lead to starting to cheat and affairs in relationships. This emotion can be solitary, or it can be in conjunction with other emotions or needs.
When lust is the driver in cheating, an individual's sense of morality and ethics are compromised as much as with greed.
A person may meet someone that they are attracted to and become obsessed with them, even though they are in a relationship.
Their lust may lead to actual physical cheating, or it can lead to cheating on their partner mentally and emotionally. When someone cheats, the other partner is almost always damaged by the cheating.
Stress makes people do strange things. One of those strange things is cheating. Like abuse and neglect, this is not an excuse for cheating, but it does explain the motivation behind someone cheating.
For example, a student determined to go to law school might cheat in their undergraduate studies in order to maintain the GPA necessary to qualify for law school.
In another example, in Major League Baseball in the 1990s, many players took performance-enhancing drugs because of the stress imposed on them by contracts, fan expectations, and the actions of other players.
One famous player admitted in court to taking steroids because he was afraid if he did not, other players that were might hit more home runs than he did.
In relationships, people sometimes cheat because they feel neglected and find solace with someone else. Finding solace in a bad relationship is not a justification for cheating, but it is a rational explanation for the motivations some have for cheating.
Abuse is another driver of cheating, primarily in a relationship, but it also can happen in an employment environment. For example, an abusive boss might push employees to the point of cheating to reach goals, get customers or increase revenue.
What Is Sin?
Taking the time to understand the motivations for cheating helps understand why someone might feel the need to cheat. It also raises the question of whether cheating is a sin or whether it is always a sin.
That requires understanding what sin is. Not everyone has a concept of sin because of their religious background. For some, “sin” might be behaving immorally or unethically. In this case, sin is determined almost exclusively by a religious dynamic.
Sin has three characteristics:
- It is a breach of law, be it God's or man's
- It is a violation of relationships with people
- It is rebellion against God
It also usually involves at least two fundamentally wrong traits:
Read More: Is It Illegal To Cheat On Your Spouse?
Lying covers a lot of territories. There are direct lies and lies of omission. In either case, someone is hurt by the lie. In the case of cheating, at least the party being cheated on is hurt.
In a relationship, a person that cheats lies to their partner. Even if they never say anything or get discovered, they still lie to their partner. In fact, lies of omission can sometimes be more damaging than direct lies in that the person being cheated on may never figure it out or may find out by accident.
In either case, the emotional damage is much more than if the person cheating came out and admitted their behavior.
Every instance of cheating also involves deceiving someone, usually multiple people. Deceit is different from lying in that deceit is actions or behavior that intends to harm another. Lying is the act of telling someone something that is not true to avoid telling the truth.
Deceit might involve sneaking off to a hotel room with someone. Or, it might involve stealing a contact database when someone leaves a company. It could involve fudging figures on an inspection or deliberately letting someone fail to get ahead of them at work.
The key difference between the two is that while both are dishonest, lying may not have the intention of hurting another. Deceit almost always does.
The Harm Caused
Cheating goes far beyond harming the person or organization being cheated on and always impacts multiple parties. In fact, it rarely ends with just one person being harmed. Consider the following example.
For any of the reasons above, a husband begins to see a lover on the side. Eventually, that husband tells his wife, or she finds out and is crushed.
At that point, the two married people are hurt, and the person the husband was cheating on is harmed. If kids are involved, they are harmed by discovering their Dad was unfaithful to their mother.
It may not stop there, though. The kids may be damaged mentally and emotionally. They may take it out on their friends or teachers at school.
The wife will be damaged and have to figure out how to heal from the betrayal and learn to trust again. If the husband and wife cannot reconcile, the family may split apart.
The husband and the other party are also harmed. The husband might be racked with guilt and make bad decisions based on that.
The person he cheated with may have their psyche crushed if the husband goes back to his wife. Worse, they may lose confidence in their ability to have a normal relationship and end up in a string of bad relationships.
Read More: What Are The Biblical Grounds for Divorce?
Cheating involves sins like coveting, envy, laziness, and greed, and it almost always involves dishonesty, either by lying or deceit. Even if there is a good reason for cheating, the act of cheating is always wrong and never the correct path forward.
For those reasons, it is impossible to conclude that cheating is anything but two things:
- Profoundly wrong
- A sin in the religious context
Cheating is always wrong. It is also a sin. The best way to understand that concept is to consider that even nonreligious people view it as immoral or unethical. That makes cheating a sin (or wrong) and a universal belief across belief systems.
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.