I don't know if you're still doing answers to questions, but I notice that you have answered a great many questions on your website, and I would like to ask one of my own. I am in a difficult situation and hoping for Christian guidance. I am an expatriate in my thirties living in China. I have not been a practicing Christian for any part of my life, but I have been considering conversion for the past couple of years.
However, I am presently in a relationship for over five years with a Chinese woman who is in her forties, which began with an adulterous affair. Although neither of us originally intended this affair to lead to her divorce, it did after the husband found out and cut her off without alimony. After this happened, I began cohabiting with her at her request, and have financially supported her since I moved in with her. Originally, she had no place to live other than with me, but this changed after I borrowed money from my parents and used it to help her buy back her apartment from her ex-husband.
Over the years of cohabitation, I have vacillated on the question of marriage to this woman, mainly because of personal exasperation with her overspending, paranoid jealousy and chronic idleness. However, we have built up a loving and faithful relationship and gradually begun to solve these problems; and I have had no thought of leaving her because I always assumed that supporting her was "the right thing to do," given that it was our affair that caused her divorce. As such, I was happy to start making preparations to get married to her from around the autumn of last year. But when I looked up the Christian doctrines on this subject, I found our relationship condemned within them as a state of mortal sin and permanent adultery (I had previously assumed that her having been divorced for marital unfaithfulness gave her the right to remarry according to the Bible). This hit me hard, given that a sense of moral duty was a major factor in my decision to stay with this woman despite her character flaws and consider marrying her (or at least this is what I have been telling myself all these years).
So a few days ago, I told her that we could not get married, mentioning the Christian doctrine on adultery and remarriage and bringing up my own longstanding grievances against her behavior. She dismissed this as a reason. Once she had calmed down from her initial shock and anger, however, she made the argument that breaking up our "de facto marriage" would only compound the original sin of our adultery. She says she is sorry for what she has done, but she no longer has a husband to return to, given that he despises her for running off with a foreigner and would never take her back even if she wanted to go back to him. She asserts that we have effectively created a new marriage, and expresses disbelief at the fact that I am considering breaking it up after "she divorced her husband for me" (this isn't really true because it was her husband who unilaterally divorced her because he got sick of her adultery, but I can see the point she is trying to make).
This is why I am writing to you for guidance, having reached the limits of personal research. As far as I can see, the Christian verdict is about as clear and unequivocal as can be; but there is always a sliver of a chance that I am interpreting things in accordance with my own self-interest, given that I did not really want to marry her in the first place, and only considered doing so out of a sense of duty. In any case, I have decided that I cannot in good conscience cut her off from all financial support, given the immense difficulties that she would face trying to find gainful employment as a middle-aged woman in China; thus, I have told her that I will borrow enough money from my parents to tide her over until her retirement age in the event that I decide to break up with her. Thus, all I wish to know is whether it could ever be acceptable for us to marry within Christianity or not.
Needless to say, as a Chinese whose only religious beliefs are Buddhist, and a citizen of a regime in which all marriages are sanctioned only by the state, she did not contract a sacramental marriage with her ex-husband. The marriage was also unhappy, without issue, and only agreed to by her after quite a lot of persistence and emotional blackmail on his part. I am not sure whether this is relevant, as by my understanding it was a "natural marriage" according to doctrine, but I thought it best to clarify the point anyway. Please tell me how I can best redeem the considerable sins that I have committed.
You mentioned that you were concerned that your own feelings were biasing your views on this matter. You are correct about that, but not in the ways that you might think.
You are committing adultery with a woman. You stated that you did not intend for it to lead to her husband divorcing her, but that sounds like a man who is refusing to the think about the consequences of his actions. Did you really expect a husband to gladly accept that another man was bedding his wife? "The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; he who would destroy himself does it. Wounds and disgrace he will find, and his reproach will not be blotted out. For jealousy enrages a man, and he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not accept any ransom, nor will he be satisfied though you give many gifts" (Proverbs 6:32-35).
Also, consider that your information about her former marriage comes from a woman who seduced a younger man. She also has demonstrated that she rewrites history to suit her own purposes. To accept her word about her life and circumstances in her past marriage is not reasonable.
Throughout the note, you try to redefine events. She calls it a de facto marriage, which only makes a mockery of true marriage because no marriage exists. You call it a loving and faithful relationship when its very foundation was the destruction of a marriage due to a marriage covenant being violated. You talk as if you have obligations where none exist.
Wrong is not corrected by further wrongs. "And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"? --as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:8). You had no responsibility to this woman just because you had sex with her. The reason she was divorced was because she dishonored her husband and had sex with another man for several years. That was her choice, her responsibility, and her consequence. You too have responsibility for your actions. You helped to ruin a man's marriage, but you were never responsible for the adulteress. "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body" (I Corinthians 6:18). You state that staying in adultery was the right thing to do, but it never was right. It has always been wrong.
Marrying this woman is not going to solve the sins you've committed. "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 5:38). Your relationship with this woman is adulterous and it will remain adulterous, even if you marry her. I suspect the reason for God's rule in this matter is to prevent people from "profiting" from their sin.
Marriages do not have to be conducted in a church to be recognized by the church. Those who were married before becoming a Christian were still recognized as married after becoming Christians (I Corinthians 7:14). Her original marriage was legitimate. Even the Buddhist religion sees adultery as a wrong ["Adultery in Buddhism"]. Thus, saying that somehow what happened was excused is not reasonable.
As difficult as it will be, the only righteous solution is to leave this woman.