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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Letters from the Best Man (4)

The following is absolutely fictional and increasingly common. There is no Brad and definitely no Jill, in case that is not obvious. There are, however, way too many people in their position.

Dear Brad,

Firstly, I’m so glad to hear that your elders are comfortable with you breaking bread with God’s people despite the conflicting stories about your marriage breakdown. That’s most encouraging and speaks well of them, I think.

Secondly, no, I’m not really all that surprised to hear that Jill has not yet given you legal notice of pending divorce proceedings despite what she said in the letter she left behind.

Necessary Considerations

There are two possibilities here, I think: (1) Jill hasn’t made up her mind what she wants to do yet; or (2) standard Canadian legal process.

I suspect it is the latter, partly from the tone of the note she left you, and partly because if she were still on the fence about your marriage, she’d surely be more open to communicating with you by now, even if only through friends. I know that isn’t what you’d prefer to hear, and I hope I’m wrong.

There are currently only three legally acceptable reasons to grant divorce in Canada: separation, adultery or cruelty. So if it turns out Jill is waiting for the statutory one year waiting period to expire before filing a separation claim, I guess we can be thankful for small mercies. On the negative side, this leaves you hanging with no sense of resolution and little control over your own affairs; on the positive, it gives Jill an opportunity to reassess her choices. The phrase “wait for the Lord” has become a bit of an evangelical cliché, but few Old Testament examples are as powerful as David’s refusal to try to “make things happen” when on the run from Saul. When David wrote “wait”, he spoke from hard-lived experience.

As to legal representation, I wouldn’t retain a lawyer unless Jill does. Let her set the terms since you’re not the one trying to end your marriage. You may or may not need counsel, depending on what sort of separation agreement Jill has in mind. I do know a few Christian lawyers but none that practice family law. Better for their souls, I suppose, but hard on those who need their services.

The Grievance Clause

I understand your concern about the Corinthians passage. Paul’s comments are certainly relevant: “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?” Christians divorcing is just what Paul calls it: a shame. It’s a spiritual defeat. Now, the option does exist under Canadian law to simply not contest the divorce, in which case there is no need for you to even appear in court. That would certainly be taking verse 7 seriously: “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?

The danger, of course, is that you end up with no say at all as to what happens to your home, car, furniture, pension, the redistribution of existing debt, the issue of support, and so on. You would be depending on the wisdom of the judge you are assigned. The outcome may seem a small matter to you at the moment; you are understandably overwhelmed. But you may find yourself rethinking your motives in being so generous at a later date. I do not think, for instance, that overgenerosity in a settlement is likely to change Jill’s mind or suddenly make her see you differently. So by all means, obey the scriptures as you understand them, but make sure you assess your own motives as best you can as you do so.

A Good Conscience Before God

And really, I don’t think it’s necessary to apply the passage as you are currently doing. Brad, you did not choose this. It seems to me the apostle’s words here are directed at those who name the name of Christ and “go to law before the unrighteous”. You’re not “going to law”. Even if you were to end up appearing in court, it would only be to respond to Jill’s claim. (Filing a counterclaim is another story, of course.)

That said, I thoroughly agree that whatever you do needs to be done in good conscience before God, so I’m just laying out possible options, not trying to push you one direction or another. I know I keep referring you back to your own elders there at Winston Heights, but they’ve been great so far and I’m going to suggest that you run this by them as well. They may think of something I haven’t.

As to the other things you mention, I’m not sure it’s worth worrying about them until you hear from Jill. The answers very much depend on her choices, I think. “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” and all that.

Practical question: Can you continue making your mortgage payment without Jill’s salary? I have a little rainy day fund I would consider it a privilege to break into on your behalf if it helps you delay the inevitable until you have a better sense of what’s coming. Let me know.

I continue to pray much for both of you.

Much love in Christ,

Tom

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