My mother-in-law wants to be reconciled to her husband who married his secretary

Someone emailed:
My "Christian" father-in-law initiated a non-biblical divorce (no grounds) and is now remarried (according to the State) to his secretary, 20 years younger than himself. My Christian mother-in-law is still single and is waiting to be reconciled to him even though he says he does not want to come back to her (he says it would be wrong for him to divorce his current wife).

I understand from your writing that you would say that she can remarry (as the "innocent" party), although she does not want to. This happened 2 years ago and my wife and I do not fellowship with him (though we always welcome attempts for reconciliation and discussion), and we are of the opinion that we cannot have fellowship with him until he repents and separates from his current wife.

Reply: Based on what you say, your Father-in-law clearly wronged his wife when he divorced her, and he needs to repent of this and ask her forgiveness. But he is also right to say that it would be wrong for him to divorce his second wife, to whom he has made vows.

The Bible isn't clear on what should happen in such situations, so I apply the simple aphorism "Two wrongs don't make a right". In any case, if he did divorce his second wife in order to 'do the right thing', and then reconcile with his first wife, this would not be a recipe for a good marriage.

The Bible does however tell us that someone in the situation of your Mother-in-law is 'no longer bound' - ie free to remarry (1Cor 7.15) - she has been divorced against her will, without good grounds, just like those in Corinth who were divorced by the Roman divorce-by-separation. Although this wasn't based on Biblical grounds for divorce, Paul appears to allow the wronged party to regard it as a proper divorce, presumably because they have been deserted (a severe form of neglect).

Follow-on question:
In your estimation, what is it that cancelled my father-in-law's covenant with his first wife? What was the coup de grace? To me, this seems to be the crux of the matter. He vowed "until death do us part" to his first wife and so I can't see anyway out for him (though I might even grant him divorce if he had some justifiable reason that could be supported to some extent biblically. But that was not the case, and he doesn't argue that.)

You wrote, "In general the first marriage is irreparable, so he should remain faithful to the second." --That is usually the case, I agree. In this case, though, his first wife is patiently waiting for him and has a measure of forgiveness that is commendable in my eyes. She is bright, energetic, feeling, submissive, and very beautiful as well.

Reply: I agree that your father-in-law is at fault, if there were no biblical grounds for a divorce, and it sounds like he was very foolish as well, to leave such a devoted wife. Perhaps he will come to regret it, and perhaps he will even return. But (not being personally involved) I also take into considerations his second wife - which you are entitled to take less interest in.

We both agree that he was wrong to do what he did, but I am unsure which is the best way forward. Legalism might demand that he break up his second marriage and go back to his first, but legalism isn't always the best way. At present his motive is to find what is best for him. We need to pray that he will repent and be motivated to find what is best for everyone else instead.

See more at Can I Get Married Again? in Divorce & Remarriage in the Church


herewegokids said...

I thought the Old Testament addressed this somewhere? That anyone who divorced and entered a second marriage couldn't have the first spouse back?

Christine said...

Dr. Instone-Brewer:
As you are unsure how to proceed in this matter, let us look to Scripture for guidance:

1 Cor 7:10-11: "To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the LORD): A wife should not separate from her husband--and if she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband--and a husband should not divorce his wife."

Mk 10:11-12: "[Jesus] said to them, 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her hsuband and marries another, she commits adultery."

This man's father is clearly committing adultery in this marriage to his secretary. He should leave her immediately and be reconciled to his wife--his lawful wife in the eyes of God. Until he does so, he continues to commit grave sin each time he engages in sexual relations with his secretary. May God bless his lawful wife for her willingness to forgive and be reconciled to her wayward husband.

Katie Novack said...

If a person reading these comments beleives that divorcing in order to repent is correct then I would invite you to visit my blog. Two wrongs do not make a right this is true. Also God does not say the 'marriage is adulterous' as some claim. Nor does God say He only joins the first marriage. The point is people shouldn't divorce to begin with.

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