God has an opinion on abuse. But, I feel as though we either think He is quiet on the matter, He doesn’t care, or we just don’t understand what we need to do in abusive relationships/situations while remaining on good terms with Him. We live in a time where difficult people are often labeled as toxic, and truly toxic and abusive people are demanding grace without change. Abuse is confusion, and God is not the God of confusion. So, what is God’s opinion of abuse?
Many within the church do want to please God, and do understand that part of the Christian job description is suffering. Yet, they want to know where God allows us to draw the line with abuse.
God and Psychology?
I think there is a lot of miscommunication and lack of knowledge within the church concerning abuse. This can cause hurt going both ways. We may define the key “terms” relating to abuse differently, causing harm, and separating us from the body. Now psychology isn’t the only area that defines these terms. They just give us common day terms for what we suffer at the hands of abusers. The Bible defined and denounced these sinful behaviors long before psychologists have (2 Timothy 3:1-9), and the body of Christ often misses the connection between the two.
The Cost is Too High
My favorite article circulating on abuse is by Gary Thomas called “Enough is Enough – Why the Church Has to Stop Enabling Abusive Men”. A friend of mine recently sent it to me, and I had read it before, but somehow forgot the gems of what he proclaimed in it. It finally put into clearer words what God’s heart is on the matter, especially for those struggling in their abusive marriages. My favorite quote of the article that hit the heart of the issue was, “If the cost of saving a marriage is destroying a woman, the cost is too high. God loves people more than he loves institutions.” Many people can take this and distort it to match what they want to fit it to their lives. People do this with Scripture all the time. It wasn’t Gary’s intent (from what I observed from the reading the entire article) to encourage a divorce. His intent was to stop enabling abusive people, while guilting/shaming/condemning their spouses to simply “love them better”.
No doubt, whether their is abuse or not, we are all sinful. If someone is being abused, the abuse is not their fault, but this doesn’t mean nothing is their fault ever. There comes a time in every relationship where we have to evaluate where we are wrong, where the other person is wrong, and what we are going to do about it. We can only change ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore or not approach someone about their actions and sins. The Bible gives us instructions on how to properly do this in Matthew 18.
I am starting to see an awakening in the church surrounding abuse, but it hasn’t been without opposition, even within the church. Within the body, we all have different gifts, callings, and personalities. But along with that, we also have different experiences, upbringings, beliefs, and even sometimes theologies/doctrines, etc. I don’t think we will ever be on a completely united front surrounding these big issues that call us to dig deep into the Word and draw close to the Spirit.
There are those who are being abused, whether they speak up or not. Then, there are those who lie about abuse, and abusers who vehemently deny abuse or claim abuse going the other way. There isn’t a way to know one hundred percent of the time what the right thing to do as a church leadership and body when the details remain unclear. But, that doesn’t mean that we should be overlooking it because abuse is messy, overwhelming, and a burden. God gives wisdom and discernment, He reveals things to us as we seek Him, but so often, we don’t step in on behalf of those going through these things. We push it back on them saying, “Your options are to continue being abused or stepping outside of God’s will”. I just don’t think those are the only two options, and it’s definitely not God’s heart.
Recently, a story about Theological Seminary President, Paige Patterson, surfaced about his perspective on abuse and divorce. He counsels women to stay with their abuser in almost any extreme circumstance (read Relevant Magazine’s account here). It’s dangerous, and I don’t believe it’s what God was talking about when stating that He hates divorce.
Thankfully, his statements didn’t go unrivaled within the church. Russel Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention came out with his own opposing statements (read Relevant Magazine’s account here).
Beth Moore has been actively using her platform to now stand up against domestic abuse as well as abuse within the church.
God HATES abuse. It needs to be said because we often quote Malachi 2:16, but only the first half of the sentence, without taking it into full context. Because, immediately after it states that God hates divorce, it says, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” (to clarify, God is saying He also hates him who covers his garment with wrong). I challenge you today, no matter what end of the abuse/divorce/toxic/difficult/boundary/tolerance side of the “argument” you are on, to read ALL of Malachi 2.
We need to stop pushing the “reconciliation and grace no matter what” agenda onto people because neither of these are Biblical. It’s forgiveness no matter what, grace within the obedience of God’s calling, and reconciliation only if true, proven repentance is present. God deals with judgement, and He is the ultimate grace giver. But, even God has boundaries, so why would He set us out into this world, telling us to deal with the same people, yet we aren’t allowed boundaries, we have to be doormats? He didn’t. He has given us the tools we need to succeed. We have access to Him, through His Spirit, and HIS armor, which are forms of boundaries in themselves.
Get Out of God’s Way
The abuse “argument” doesn’t have to be just about marital situations. I have heard people in the church calling people to stay in toxic relationships of any kind. This is where I think terms can be muddied. Like, toxic and difficult are very different, and abuse and disagreement are not the same.
We need to leave room for God to speak into people’s lives without us thinking it’s always so black and white. Some things are, but many things (without opposing Scripture) are very case by case. In my opinion, I don’t think it’s wise to counsel someone to permanently leave or stay in their relationships (in dangerous situations, please do encourage separation to get to safety). I think we are sometimes so set on the “rules” of the Bible, we forget that real people are dealing with extremely real, harmful, and dangerous situations. Are we encouraging them to seek God’s will for their lives and situations, praying with them, supporting them, and remembering that they are not for us to control?
At the end of the day, it isn’t ultimately about our relationships with one another (even though they are important).
It is always about our relationship with God.
It is always about seeking God.
It is always about bringing glory to God.
It is always about loving God.
If we encourage them to seek God, and promise them our prayer, at the very least, we can avoid adding shame to despair, and we can get out of God’s way to actually let Him do His work in abuse and relationships.
And for the victims, the people of the body that you should seek to have in your lives are those who do just this. They have your best interest at heart.
- What is the Church’s Role in Our Suffering?
- The One Thing an Abuse Victim Needs to Hear
- The Three Stages of Abuse
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National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233