Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

We Grow Accustomed to the Abnormal and Think it is Normal

Gal 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.

When we were still dead in our sins, when we did not know God, we were enslaved. We were blind to our condition. Satan had us in bondage leading us to and fro. And we thought our lives were normal. Perhaps we wished for better circumstances, but in the wisdom of the world we thought things were going normally.

But then, when Christ in His mercy laid hold of us, sent His Spirit to us to enlighten our minds and reveal Himself to us, the light came on and we realized we had been living in darkness. In abnormality. This life we were in before was not the life God created us for.

But we still fight a battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. And in this battle we can often slide into thinking that what is happening to us at the hands of other people is normal. Let me explain.

I grew up in a family which professed to be Christian. We went to church pretty regularly. I made a profession of faith in Christ when I was about 8 years old. I thought that my family life was normal. It was what I knew. It was what my parents modeled to me. I mean, who wants to admit that their home and family are not normal at all?

But in God’s sight, my family of origin was abnormal. Things were not functioning as they were meant to function. I never saw my father pray or read his Bible. My parents never talked to me or my sisters about the Lord. There was a sense of shame regarding spiritual things. Talk all you want about plans for college, or hunting and fishing. But I knew not to speak of the really important matters of life. I was taught to be ashamed. How long does it take after the Lord shows us these things to get over and beyond the damage done? In ways, a lifetime.

When people spend years in an abusive relationship – be it marriage, parents, siblings, or other toxic people – the thing becomes like that old song – I’ve grown accustomed to your face….”. Toxic relationships are anything but normal, if we define normal as relationships in tune with God’s purpose and truth for us. There is a blindness to the thing.

For instance, I have actually defended narcissists who I believed to be my friends. I saw flaws and even sins in them, but I wrote them off as imperfections to be patiently borne with and forgiven. When others would point out narcissistic behaviors in these people, my tendency was to respond with, “oh yes, I know. That wasn’t right. But….”.

However, the point came when the Lord opened my eyes to the abnormal, to the evil, so that I started to see the thing for what it was and I realized that I had been in a very toxic relationship, used and abused by people who never loved me (or anyone) at all. Our tendency especially as Christians, is to believe the best and to forgive. But when it comes to evil, to unrepentant wickedness, to this RASN thing (revilers, abusers, sociopaths, narcissists), believing the best is to believe a lie.

I bet that most of you, like myself, have often beat yourself up a bit once you saw the RASN for what he/she is. “How could I have been so stupid?!” “Why in the world did I let him get away with that?” The answer is because sin and evil are incredibly deceptive, they wear a disguise, and we are not born into this life with a full deck when it comes to discerning wickedness. But in Christ we grow. The Holy Spirit works in us to enable us to discern the normal from the abnormal. Righteousness is normal in the sense that it is God’s will for us, even though the norm in a fallen world is wickedness.

It is not an easy thing for us to understand and admit that someone we believed loved us – never did. That, for instance, my father’s failure to instruct me in Godliness shows that he was an utter failure as a father when it came to the truly important things in life. That my family of origin was unhealthy in so many ways (and that I contributed to that unhealthiness too!).

One time, a few years before he died, I was visiting my parents and I told my father, “You know, dad, I was really very selfish when I was a teenager and I was not thankful to you for providing for me. But I want you to know that I am thankful and that I have changed.” His response was an uncomfortable, sheepish – “Oh well, I have changed too. Say, how do you like your new boat?” Cue to move on and stick to more comfortable (ie, shallow) subjects.

So I grew up in an extremely abnormal home where I was taught to be ashamed of Christ. Where discussion of deeper subjects was squelched. I thought it was normal.

When you were in bondage to your abuser, you probably did not realize just how terribly abnormal your life was. How terribly abnormal the things your abuser did were. And this blindness is a big part of the power the abuser holds over his victim.


The Abuser is an Immature, Selfish Child


Vengeance is an Ugly Thing – Unless the Lord is Wielding it


  1. JKR

    Wow. Perfect timing for this piece for me today! I’m in the middle of a pretty intense “rumination phase” right now (thanks Trauma Bond) fueled by studies on the Book of Hosea (specifically, Hosea 1-3 and the account of Hosea’s toxic marriage to Gomer, their separation, and their remarriage). I can’t believe I’m entertaining going back to the “slavery” and am finding ways to justify it after EVERYTHING she’s done to me and my kids, but here I am. This has helped to add some clarity.

    • Hosea’s marriage to an adulteress woman is not given as a model of how we are to deal with an abuser spouse. It is rather a model of God’s covenant relationship to Israel and their idolatry. It is not instruction for us to remain married to an abuser.


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