Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Tag: divorce Page 1 of 14

Does the Bible Teach Meritorious Suffering?

The following illustration has been used to convince abuse victims that the abuse they are suffering is God’s determined will for them, and they need to submit to it.  Divorce is out of the question –

There was a man, who was given a cross to bear through life. As he traveled he noticed that this cross was very long and it kept getting caught on stuff. He decided to cut it down a bit and make it easier to carry. After a while, it got heavy again and he decided to cut it down some more. He did this repeatedly until it was easy enough to carry. After all, it still looked like a cross. Well the day came for him to cross over to the “other side” and he was told that he needed his cross to span the great chasm between him and eternity. He laid his cross down but found it to be too short…

In other words, stay in the abuse, suffer, and you will make it to heaven.  Refuse to keep suffering and you will come up short on the day of judgment and end in hell.

There is nothing biblical about this illustration.  In fact, though a professing Protestant is telling it, this is far more Roman Catholic in its theology of suffering.  WE DO NOT SAVE OURSELVES BY OUR CROSS-BEARING.  Jesus Christ has made full atonement for every one of His people.  Following Christ in obedience, no matter how difficult, is to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him.  But WE do not pay a meritorious, suffering death on that cross.  It is the Cross of Christ by which we are saved.

Furthermore, when Christ calls us to take up our cross, He is telling us to follow HIM. Not for the purpose of carrying out supposed meritorious deeds of suffering so that we can earn our salvation, but to follow Him in obedient faith.  Every genuine Christian will most certainly do so.  Not FOR salvation, but because of salvation.  And we are following Him.  That means that if this illustration is correct, then every abuse victim must agree that the Lord Jesus Christ is leading them into that abuse and that if they depart from it by leaving and divorcing their abuser, they must necessarily leave off following Christ.

That would require any person pushing this illustration to be a prophet.  It means that they are authoritatively able to declare the Word of God to every victim of abuse – Thus saith the Lord, stay here and let this wicked man abuse you and your children.  I can only call such a person a false prophet.

Challenging the No Divorce for Abuse Fortress Which Has Been Raised Up Against the Knowledge of God

I continue to hammer on this business of abuse as grounds for divorce because frankly I see it as the non-negotiable issue in this battle against abuse and abusers hiding in the church and being enabled by pastors and Christians.  As long as anyone refuses to acknowledge that a victim of abuse has a right before God to divorce their abuser, then injustice is still going to be effected by them against victims.  They will keep right on insisting that victims remain in cruel bondage in Egypt.

Exodus 21:7-11 ESV “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

1 Corinthians 7:15 ESV  But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

A Christian woman was married to a wicked man for 25 years.  Although the husband had vowed to love and cherish her until death parted them, he never did.  His abuse of his wife might be called mere passivity.  He just did not care.  He was not available for a real relationship, focused himself on his own pleasures, ate the meals she cooked with unthankfulness and assumed he was as good as the next guy.

Is this abuse?  “Well, yes.”  Does this man’s wife have biblical grounds to divorce him?  “Well, no,” you say? “No adultery.  No desertion = no divorce.  It’s that simple.”

Then let me complicate it for you.

A Christian woman was married to a wicked man for 25 years.  He too had vowed to love and cherish her until death parted them, but neither did he.  He was more active in the abuse of his beloved.  He regularly used cutting words until her sense of self had almost died.  He mocked her efforts to beautify the home and told her she was a pathetic mother (though he never lifted a hand to help with either the house or the children).  Well, at least with the unpleasant aspects of child-rearing, like discipline or helping with schooling.  He was not a drunk.  He went to work regularly, but he controlled and begrudged every dollar she spent.  And sometimes he would rage.  Throw things.  Smash a wall.  Scream and yell about how stupid she was to do….whatever.

Is this abuse?  “Well, yes, of course it is!”  Does this man’s wife have biblical grounds to divorce him?  “Hmmmm….no.  No adultery.  No desertion.  No divorce.  Still pretty simple.”  And would you be willing to explain that to her?  That GOD has bound her to this man and that if she divorces him she will be guilty of a most heinous sin?  “Boy, that wouldn’t be easy, but I would have to do it.  What God says about all of this is really very plain.”

Let me muddy up the waters for you some more then.

A Christian woman was married to a wicked man for 12 years.  He turned from his vows to love and cherish her just about the time they left the church after the wedding ceremony.  The honeymoon was actually a crime of rape.  Three months later he choked her almost unconcious in a rage over, what was it now – his beer being warm.  He told her that if she ever called the police on him he would kill her.  You could write the script of the next 11+ years of hell, after which this woman barely knew who she was and she wondered – how can God let this happen to me and my children?  Why doesn’t He send someone – a rescuer?  But, of course, her Christian friends all reminded her many times that God hates divorce and that since all of us are sinners, she needed to look closely at herself to see where her faults were that contributed to the marriage “problems.”

It was in the 12th year of this marriage that final events occurred.  Having realized that she just could not permit her children to be exposed to this evil man any longer, she resolved to leave.  She developed a plan that would involve telling her husband in a public place that she was taking the children and leaving him that day.  And so she did.  She picked a restaurant.  She and the two girls and their father ate a meal first – it had been a normal “walk on eggshells” day – after which this brave lady told him of her decision.  After staring at her with those familiar cold eyes for what seemed like forever, he got up, went outside, and she thought it was over.

It wasn’t.  He returned with a shotgun – right there in the restaurant – and without saying a word or making a sound, pumped a shotgun blast into each one of them.  Just as cooly, it seemed, he turned and walked out.  He was arrested and put in jail later that same day.  The wife alone survived, though it was months before she recovered from her physical wounds.  The other wounds, well – that is another story.

Is this abuse?  “But of course!  And of the most devilish kind!”  Does this poor lady have grounds to divorce this beast called her husband?  That is to say, what does God command her?  I’m sorry, I can’t hear you very clearly.  Could you speak up?  Does this lady have biblical grounds to divorce this ‘man?’  Didn’t God say that the slave wife could go free from the marriage if her husband failed to provide food, clothing, and marital rights?  Is murdering children and nearly killing their mother not a rather clear example of failing to provide life?  So what do you say?  What are you going to tell this lady?  Does she have a right to divorce this murderer?  And if your answer is no, then are you going to be the one to tell her so?  Are you going to tell her that if she divorces the murderer of her children that she is guilty before God and that you will be forced to announce her sin to her church?

Luke 14:3-6 ESV And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”  And they could not reply to these things.

Zeal Without Knowledge: Bible Interpretation that Leads to Mercilessness and Injustice

I have written on this subject and on the following Scriptures in other posts. But they have been on my mind again the last few weeks. I keep seeing them violated by Bible teachers, pastors, and counselors of a certain type. Recently I have seen this “zeal without knowledge” pattern in publications by writers of the NANC (nouthetic counseling) school. In their zealous handling of Scripture and in their desire to be absolutely “biblical,” unswayed by any input outside the Bible, they come to erroneous interpretations and make harmful applications. The same kind of hermeneutic (interpretive method) is rampant in other conservative Christian circles. This approach to God’s Word creates the very thing such folks say they don’t want to create: man-made traditions that trump the Word of God. Read these Scriptures, and then I will try to explain more clearly what I mean.

And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:11-13

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,‘ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:1-8

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Matthew 23:23

Wooden literalism demands a specific proof verse for everything. And it proposes specific proof verses as a basis for a very literal, unbending application. Wooden literalism leads to applications that make no sense at all in real life and that are devoid of mercy. It takes one verse and derives from it an all-inclusive, broad principle which is divorced from the larger context of Scripture that, if considered, would reveal things like the mercy of God. This school of Bible teachers just will not listen unless you can give them chapter and verse. Oh, and that chapter and verse MUST use the exact, literal words on the subject you are discussing.

This approach to interpreting Scripture and applying it to real life is also characterized by an underlying legalism or works-righteousness. One of their underlying assumptions is that if we are to please God and be “perfected” in his sight, our marriage must be preserved at any cost. This is a fundamental plank in these teachers’ agenda, and it is the product of their flawed hermeneutic. The formula, in their eyes, goes like this: Jesus said marriage is forever. Jesus said let no man separate what God has joined together. Jesus said no divorce except for adultery. Boom! That’s it. That’s the rule that governs all cases. Therefore, no matter what kind of terrible abuse a victim might be suffering, Jesus did not use the “abuse” word. No divorce for abuse. You say that makes no sense? Well, my child, God’s ways are higher than your ways. And so it goes.

Let me give an example taken from a small book on abuse, written by a pastor who I believe truly desires to help people. And yet, his method of approaching Scripture leads him to merciless conclusions. Never once, not even by indirect allusion, is divorce mentioned in this booklet. Yet it is the elephant in the room as the abuse victim reads what this pastor has to say. [I say again, the acid test of whether someone is really going to stand with the victim and against her abuser is whether or not they grant that abuse is indeed a biblical grounds for divorce].

Ok then, listen to this excerpt and think about how what this pastor writes is a product of a fundamental, stiff handling of Scripture that leads him to embrace the assumption that there is no divorce for abuse:

God may use your suffering to bring glory to himself. Peter writes that our endurance through suffering proves the genuineness of God’s work in us, which will result in ‘praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’… We who follow him should not be surprised when we suffer…but instead should realize that all who follow Christ will suffer (2 Tim 3:12). Many preachers, missionaries, and ordinary believers have glorified Christ as they were tortured and killed for the sake of the gospel. Rather than being angry with God over our suffering, we should submit to his sovereign will and count it a privilege to suffer for his Name’s sake (Philippians 1:29; Acts 5:41). The faith of other believers will be strengthened and God will be glorified when, in the midst of your suffering, you declare with Job, ‘Though he slay me, I will hope in him’ (Job 13:15). I have known victims of abuse who glorify God by their ongoing joyful trust in him.

Now, once again (after you get your heart rate back under control), think about how in the world a Christian pastor could be led to such a conclusion. I mean, what he is saying to the abuse victim is that she should be willing to stay in the “marriage” and if it be God’s will, be killed by her abuser and ride off into glory land as an eminent martyr. What is totally confusing is that in a couple of places earlier in the booklet, the author alludes to the fact that perhaps in some cases a victim may need to get to safety. But here in his conclusion we see what he really thinks. The marriage must be preserved at all costs, and that means at ALL costs.

Mercy and Justice, Mr. Pastor. That’s what God desires. Yet you have done what the Pharisees did. You demand sacrifice, and disregard the weightier matters of God’s Word.

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