Here is a very good question one of our readers asked recently. Her question and her insights are very good and we hope will be very helpful to all of you:
I have been studying 1Peter, and listening to several sermons on submission. Submission to the government, and in marriage and in suffering. My question and dilemma is that for so many years, almost 50, I thought the more I suffered, the more holy I was. I thought that to suffer well was a good thing. So I suffffffferred! It was like a badge of honor. Now that I have read your books and the books of others who understand abuse, I don’t agree with the concept of “morose” suffering. So, where do we draw the line?
I responded to the question with this:
The key is, this is my conclusion, that Peter was talking to people who were bound to the situation they were in – like slaves in regard to their owners, etc. Notice that 1 Peter 3 begins with “likewise.” That hearkens us back to chapter 2 where Peter was dealing with citizens of Rome and with slaves. And I think that wives in regard to divorce options in that day were in similar conditions in that these were states of life that did not provide a way out. So how does a Christian slave or citizen of an autocratic government or a wife married to a wicked husband and having no escape routes respond? Peter is giving all 3 categories of people hope. Here is something they can do. Submit and model Christ.
However – we are never required to suffer when there is a way out of it. Christ’s sufferings were redemptive. He willingly submitted to the Father and went to the cross for us. But we are not Christ. We do not effect the redemption of others by suffering. We take the way of escape the Lord provides.
Does God allow Christians to suffer? We know that He does. But when He does, He works it together for our sanctification and he provides a way of escape at some point. He will not test us beyond our ability to endure with His empowerment.
I am not crystal clear on all the verses in the Bible on submission. (Anymore in fact I am very suspicious of preachers and teachers and professing Christians who DO claim to have it all sorted out). Especially the verses addressing marriage. I do know that marriage as God ordained it is very good and that whatever is meant in the Bible by a wife submitting to her loving husband is very good as well. But surely this headship submission thing which prevails in churches today and that claims to represent accurately these Bible texts is not what God has designed. We know that the Bible clearly says the husband is the head –
Ephesians 5:22-25 ESV Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (23) For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. (24) Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (25) Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
But when Christ is the head of His bride, the church, He truly loves us and has given Himself for us. Our submission to Him is loving and willing and freeing. THAT is not what all these churches teach about marriage. They may claim that they do but when you look at it in practice it is a model of lording it over, of men being superior and women inferior. The real spirit of the scripture is ignored and the letter is what is taught.
I find it interesting that the church so often thinks it is necessary to teach at length on “submission.” Christ’s true sheep follow Him. We hear His voice. We submit to Him. So if a woman is married to a real Christian husband, that husband’s leadership in the home should be reflecting Christ’s voice. Everyone in the home, including the husband, will be following the true Shepherd of the sheep. We won’t need to have it hammered into us. “Submit you sinful rebel!”
Anyway this business of “submit to suffering and God will reward you” is wrong in that it leaves out “if you can escape it, do so.” Also it forgets that we do not need to earn more favor with God. We are in Christ. He has lavished grace upon us.
Our friend responded to my input with these very insightful points:
Thanks, Jeff, for your thoughts. I do appreciate you taking time to write these principles out for me. Last night just before bed I got my Bible out again and found 1Peter 4: 19 – “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” Off hand, what this verse is saying to me is, that my suffering needs to be of God’s will. Which falls in line with what you were saying.
I have never understood that if I could escape suffering, that I was to take the way out. I always thought it meant that if I was tempted to sin, that the Lord would provide a way of escape for me to not yield to the temptation. I saw the verse as a “series of doors” as it were, that could be a way of escape and that if I did not take a “door” out that He provided, I might find myself sinning.
So if I understand you, you are saying that if God provides a way to escape suffering, I should take it. Experientially, there may have been doors that God provided for me that I could have taken. I did not take any of them until the very end because I was almost willing to die, literally, in a bad marriage. I did not want my children to come from a broken home. Now I realize that it was always broken.
I now realize that my ex was a narcissist/sociopath. He was two people. To the world, he was a god, mr. wonderful, and to me, he was always angry – even though I was doing nothing wrong. My health suffered. Thankfully, I am out of it, though there is still some fallout.
There are so many books on the Christian market on suffering and I have read many of them. Tim Keller’s book on “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”; Elisabeth Elliots books, and many others. It is so very confusing. There are best sellers out there. It almost makes me sick to my stomach.
This is wisdom! We thank our friend and sister in Christ for sharing this with us. Here is freedom. It is truth and Christ’s truth sets us free.
“We do not effect the redemption of others by suffering. We take the way of escape the Lord provides.”
Yes! This. I was told for 2 decades that my suffering would lead my husband out of hell. Eventually, he would see the pain he was causing and feel convicted and make everything right. NOPE!
The same church people who rush to the alter for healing prayer for their disease, their sister’s mental illness, their financial struggles, proudly pronounced that I should stay in my suffering and sickness and pain, for the edification of my soul.
They sure were weeping on that altar, with everyone laying hands on them begging for escape from the stress of their money problems.
But I dared not bring up the torn muscle in my neck, caused by my own husband or the daily stress and exhaustion of trying to stretch my “allowance” to meet my children’s basic needs while their father was on his 4th “business trip” of the year with his mistress.
Suffering in the church, it seems, is required to continue in silence if the cause of said suffering will make others uncomfortable.
Because, Lord knows, Jesus does not like for his special children to be uncomfortable.
no one down here
There is a lot here, and it is a complicated question. In short, this is something that each individual is going to have to answer for themselves… God does not always work the same way in every person’s life.
1. God does not design “bad things” for His loved children. However, sin does happen, and the idea that once you belong to Christ, only good things will happen to you … is blatantly false. Scripture is clear on the fact that sin will not go away, suffering will happen, we are to honor God in spite of, through, and because of suffering.
2. God also always defends His name. He rescues His little ones. Over and over He is a refuge, a deliverer, a protector, a shelter, high tower….
3. God also tells us to flee from wickedness, to not keep company with wickedness, to not be in union with unregenerate… and gives many words describing what the wicked one looks like.
4. Throughout history (even Biblical history), saints are praised for rescuing the oppressed. Moses led Israelites out of Egypt; many judges led Israelites to victory; Rahab was blessed for even her deceit …; Esther was used to deliver the Jews from Haman; Paul was let down over the city wall in a basket; Christians hid in the catacombs… People like Corrie ten Boom and her family…. countless deliveries and rescues that are nothing short of miraculous.
5. Not every saint is rescued from bad situations. Many times we can see God receiving great honor and glory through what surely is a very bad situation.
So the question becomes – do we personally seek deliverance from an abusive spouse? Again, God’s answer and timing will be different for each situation. But mark the words of Holy God when He says that He will judge the wicked oppressor.
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:5
“Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you. For wicked men are found among my people; they lurk like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men. Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich; they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?” Jeremiah 5:25–29
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. Matthew 25:41–46
When it comes to marriage specifically… Marriage is supposed to be this lovely, although imperfect, picture of Christ and His relationship to us, His bride. This obviously breaks down to some degree in every marriage… But in an abusive marriage where the “head” constantly attacks the “body,” the damage done is extensive beyond words. Surely Satan is in the lies, in the oppression … he WANTS Christian marriages to fail. What better way, than to entice one spouse into this demonic oppression of the other?! Now, you have a flawed image to showcase before the world …; you have the destruction of one person’s heart and potential influence for good; and worse you have the little ones who are damaged sometimes beyond repair. Surely God will judge the wicked and rescue His own. Else, He lies, and God cannot lie. Let God be true and man a liar.
The final summary of this, if you take all of Scripture as a whole…
1. God always judges the wicked oppressor
2. God always delivers His loved child (even if that deliverance does not happen until death)
3. It is not a sin to seek escape from oppression (it IS a sin to “murder” a person by effectively blessing the continued suffering of the person’s very soul.)
4. It is always right to seek God for all things and to trust Him in all things, even in great suffering
5. God will always be glorified, whether in earthly deliverance or in judging the wicked or both.
6. The lessons learned in suffering are the hardest earned, and yet the sweetest.
There it is! Thank you for such a wonderful essay on this subject. This is wisdom indeed.
I once had a neighbor who was a pastor tell me after he witnessed an incident between my abusive then-husband and me, that one day I would be rewarded with a huge crown for my suffering. I remember feeling even more defeated at that moment because I truly believed he was going to say that he saw the abuse and it was wrong! But instead, it felt like another mill stone being placed around my neck for me to carry. I went inside my house and wept, asking God how long I needed to stay and suffer through the abuse.
Fortunately, years later I read a blog from a Christian counselor who addressed the whole stay and suffer issue, and she was the first one to truly address what it means to suffer for Christ, explaining that when we choose the righteous way which means standing against abuse, taking a stand against evil, we will often suffer for doing what is right.
For example, when I finally after 20 years decided enough was enough and I filed for divorce, I suffered by losing friends and many in my church turned their backs on me. I felt so alone and condemned for not staying and suffering as was the godly thing to do. I also suffered by losing a my relationship with my oldest son because I stood up finally said no more to his father’s abuse and he too fell for his father’s ‘poor me, look at what your mother is doing, she isn’t a godly wife’ whole attitude.
I did the right thing and stood against evil, but sadly many saw me as not having enough faith to continue suffering and allow God to work a miracle in that abusive marriage. I finally said, God opened a way for me to leave that suffering, actually He had made a way for years, and I finally took it. Once I became brave enough, I told people who berated me for leaving, that God could do anything He wanted in that marriage and didn’t need me to be there to do it. If He wanted to save my ex He could do that, if He wanted to turn that marriage around He could do that, but He didn’t need me there to make it happen.
Thank you for addressing this issue which I think many Christian abuse survivors have dealt with within the church.
Amy – I have had the same “pious” lies laid on me. “Oh how God is going to reward you.” Blah, blah, blah. And every time it was an evil motive by the person who said it.
And sadly, I heard these type of comments from people within the church. Really started to erode my faith in the church, fortunately God didn’t let go of me so my faith in Him never wavered. I’ve always said, God is the only constant in my life because people will always let me down.
As believers, this is an important issue for us to understand in all of its spiritual underpinnings and complexity. The most important thing I discovered is that several times in the gospels we see that people sought to kill Jesus before the crucifixion, and He refused to subject Himself to it. He endured only when His suffering served a higher, redemptive purpose. I wrote a piece several years ago on this subject and hope it’s okay to share it here. http://www.hurtbylove.com/suffering-love-a-redemptive-force-or-an-enabling-one/
Thank you Cindy. Exactly!
Even if you escape an unequal ungodly marriage. You will suffer for doing what is right.
Rae- true there is fallout. But I can’t think of any survivors I know who would say they are sorry they left.
This is so true – the consequences my ex has been making me pay for leaving him have been severe. He still continues to make me pay and threatens me for whenever I attempt to put up a boundary and reduce further contact. I am looking forward to the day when I can be 100% no contact with him.
Despite the costly battle of leaving, I still do no regret leaving. NO REGRETS. Learning about the nature and psychology of evil, narcissism/sociopaths and God’s promises for widows and their children, has helped keep my confidence in NO REGETS. God has truly sustained me in miraculous ways and continues to do this. I have no money, but I am free, Freer still to worship.
Isiah 54 helped a lot in the beginning when I was so afraid and so full of grief over lost dreams — dreams that were godly and pure dreams.
I do not know the why God allowed this suffering, nor do I know His plan, but I trust Him. In fact, He made it so that I really have no choice to trust in him! What a gracious God and savior!
Someday I hope to be able to tell the whole story and share all the miraculous ways He has saved and sustained me in the midst of all the seemingly never ending onslaughts of attacks in trying to escape a very real Pharaoh. Did you know that the initial reason the God had Moses approach Pharaoh was to ask him to let His people take a Sabbath day to worship? Pharaoh refused. I never knew that and did not learn that part of the story until after I left my Pharaoh. It is a powerful escape story.
Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD.
Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.
Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God…
…O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace.
In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you.Behold, I have created the blacksmith who blows the fire of coals and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy;
No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.
Thank you very much Lg. You made me think of this verse:
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, (4) who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:9-10 ESV Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (10) He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.
I forgot to add, in addition to Isaiah 54 and another verse that has sustained me in given me confidence and NO REGRETS for leaving is:
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
Oh so many Scriptures telling us to get away from the wicked.
“He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house : he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.” Psalms 101:7
Yep, yet another Scripture that in most churches, gets glossed over – if not just swept under a dirty rug.
Sue- it is interesting when you see it. All through the Bible. And yet from the pulpits you have this really opposite message to stay in the presence of the wicked and give them warm hugs. It is a false gospel as you follow it through to a logical outcome.
And the following verse (and last one of that psalm) says:
I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD.
Jeff, how are we to interpret it? O course, today’s ‘scholars’ will reason that it was the OT dispensation, the law of the talion, and in the NT Jesus showed a ‘better’ way of loving and dealing with your ‘neighbour’, right?
2Thes 2 and the book of Revelation dispel the dispensationalist erroneous theology.
Thanks for that Jeff. It’s worth investigating further. I’m tired of people viewing God as ‘angry’ in the OT and ‘nice’ in the New…
I often read these posts and messages in the early hours when I can’t sleep. The Lord gave me an ‘out’ from my abusive ex when I begged Him for one. I wanted an excuse to leave that would be valid in the church’s eyes. God spoke to me often through church sermons at that time. I knew my ex had spiritually and emotionally deserted me. It was a few months later that I discovered he was involved with another woman. By then I had endured nearly 30 years of an abusive marriage. It then took me several years to get divorced as he contested the Decree Nisi and I had to attend court for hearings. At the second one my ex claimed that his faith did not permit him to allow the divorce but the judge exposed his insincerity. (Monetary reasons were the main ones he did not want the divorce). (The fact that the judge was able to expose my ex’s lies was so affirming and liberating. No pastor had ever had such insight).
I am sure the Lord had given me other opportunities to leave but I stayed. One reason for this was that I believed divorce was wrong except in the case of adultery. Another was that I had (have) minimal family support – no one to turn to.
I still attend a local church, but a church in a very different tradition. Here, there are not the dogmatic views expressed in many proudly evangelical churches.
While it’s my faith that sustains me, it is very difficult when fellow believers question my divorce, on the grounds of faith. If anything, this is the cause of continued tension but I will never regret my decision.
One other point I want to make is that other Christian women seem to indirectly tolerate my ex’s current behaviour, which seems to devalue my experience of abuse.
Thank God for Jesus, his grace and love!
Thank you Aimee!