Based on the comments to my previous post on emotional abuse, I want to clarify or expand on a few selected points. I’m also aware that abuse is a sensitive topic and misunderstandings will occur. My prayer is that this post might provide some clarity or at least encourage people to seek help if they have not done so already. The resources at the end are not comprehensive but provide a starting point.
10 Foundational Principles
- Let’s call abuse for what it is—abuse. Some Christians prefer to use other terms, for various reasons, but if carefully explained, the term “abuse” conveys the serious, not to mention sinful, nature of the mistreatment.
- Abuse occurs in various ways: physically, verbally, and emotionally. Sometimes, the term “abuse” gives the impression that it only applies to extreme situations. In general, if you have concerns or are unsure about something in your marriage, talk to a godly Christian for some perspective. Don’t wait until the situation becomes worse.
- Abuse is a spiritual problem. A person who abuses others has no fear of God. Until we interpret abuse as a sin problem, our solutions will be temporal, external-oriented, and ultimately unsatisfying. True hope for change is found in God.
- In the name of “submission,” don’t overlook the husband’s sin. (I’m not saying that we should constantly look for sin, but the opposite tends to be the problem in abusive relationships.) On the other hand, don’t overlook personal sins either (Matthew 7:4). We’re not responsible for other people’s sins, but do we provoke or tempt people to sin? Let’s approach God with pure hearts.
- Submission does not mean passivity, having no voice or being a doormat in marriage. The Christian concept of submission is not the problem. The problem is a sinful distortion of submission. Let’s not redefine God’s understanding of submission but seek a better understanding of it, so that we know how to submit, according to God’s design.
- It is not unspiritual to seek help from others. Sometimes, legal and other types of aid might be helpful. Seek help but don’t feel compelled to follow the advice if you’re uncomfortable with it.
- Related to point 5, trusting God does not mean passivity, doing nothing. Rather, trusting God results in obedience. Seek help and wisdom from trustworthy people, but trust God with the outcome.
- The authority for the Christian life is God’s Word, not people’s words. Hence, we need God’s wisdom found in Scripture, especially when our emotions are overwhelming. Psalm 119 provides short, simple verses that remind us of our need for God’s wisdom in life.
- We should do what is right and promotes peace but remember that the outcome is not in our control (Romans 12:17-18). See also the rest of Romans 12 on loving others and trusting God. No matter what happens, we need to remember that God knows everything and will judge us individually for our responses.
- Sometimes, we think divorce is the answer. While in some cases divorce may be a biblical option, it should be viewed as the last option. Seek counseling, even if your spouse is not interested.
4 Questions for the Person in an Abusive Relationship
Some questions for the Christian man or woman in an abusive relationship:
- What is the source of your faith or hope during this difficult time? Whether you find immediate help or not, will you continually trust God (Ecclesiastes 7:14) by seeking His wisdom found in Scripture, praying to Him, and fellowshipping with other Christians, whenever possible? It is critical that your ultimate trust is in God, not people or organizations. Trusting God gives us courage and wisdom to make decisions that are honoring to Him, and sometimes the decisions require tremendous courage.
- Have you shared what is happening with trustworthy, godly Christians? Also, what are your greatest fears? Is it related to finances? Reputation? Loneliness? Physical harm? Being specific can help others know how to help you more accurately. If you’re uncomfortable with their suggestions, let them know. Remember, other people can provide support, but they cannot make the changes or decisions for you.
- What is your end goal? Is it for your spouse to change? Is it for a happy marriage? Such desires are not necessarily wrong (and God certainly has a high view of marriage), but they can serve as false hopes, controlling your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. It’s easy to cling to a “good” moment, hoping that he or she has changed. But, inevitably, a “bad” moment occurs. There are several solid marriage books. One that might be particularly helpful is Dave Harvey’s book, When Sinners Say I Do. Harvey discusses the reality of marriage, especially when conflicts occur, and shares true hope found in the gospel. (Books, of course, do not replace the hard work of loving others, but they can supplement our understanding of God as revealed in Scripture and provide encouragement, especially if counseling is not an immediate option.)
For Christians, our goal in life is to glorify God, in every aspect of our lives. Indeed, it will look different for each person, each marriage. So, please talk to someone if you have problems in your marriage
Also, here is a link to a list of resources on abuse: 17 Top Resources on Responding to Abuse.
Join the Conversation
What foundational principles would you offer regarding abusive relationships?