Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

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Being Abused does not Justify Abusing

Rom 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

1Th 5:15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

1Pe 3:9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

I hope that all of you know by now that I fully understand the typical false nonsense laid upon victims of abuse that twists the Bible’s teaching on things like forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation, and so on. And I also, like all of you, hunger and thirst for righteousness, for justice, and even for God’s vengeance upon the wicked.

But I want to take the time in this article to be sure that in holding to these biblical and right positions, no one takes what we say here as grounds for doing to others what has been done to them. I am afraid that there are people and books floating around out there that justify such sin. They say things like “hurt people hurt people” and the implication is that somehow we are to give hurt people a pass when they hurt others. Not true. Nope. Having been the target of evil does not give me license to launch evil upon others.

Years ago there was a lady in our church who had gone through a bad marriage – I don’t know the details. But this lady was mean. She was demanding. And when she did not get her way she threw anger fits. She has hated me ever since the day I confronted her about her sin and told her that it had to stop. Her adult son took me aside one Sunday and said “we know my mother is a bitter woman. But we all have decided to love her anyway.” By “loving” her of course he meant “we ignore her nastiness and let her get away with it.” That is not love.

All of us have been abused by wicked people. Most of you who follow this blog have experienced deep, even intense evil and you have suffered greatly. The Lord knows and He will render His perfect justice to your persecutors. But this does not give us the right to be mean, to be seeking personal revenge, to snap at and lash out at anyone who does something we don’t like.

One form of this sinful nastiness is to become a person who hates men (or women) as a result of being wronged. I know such people. They have been abused by a man, so they resolved to hate all men. And they teach others to hate men. Where do you find that kind of thing anywhere in the Bible? You don’t. We are to love one another – love the brethren. That means loving both men and women. What are we doing to our children if we teach them such hatred? Girls, never trust a man. Men are evil.

Well, think that through. The Lord Jesus Christ is a man – the God-Man. While God is Spirit and in that sense without gender, nevertheless the Bible refers to Him as Father, as “He” and as “Him.” Can you see that a person who is taught to hate men is going to have a pretty tough time loving God?

We abused the Lord Jesus Christ. Our sins put Him on the cross. And yet He set His love upon us. Thankfully, He did not choose to hate all human beings.

So let’s examine ourselves carefully in this regard. Perhaps someone reading this has been taught to hate men – or if your abusere was a woman, to hate all women. And maybe you, as a result, have become, well, mean. That is a trap. It does not lead to anywhere good. And it is sin. Ask the Lord to show it to you, grant you repentance, and set you free.

Our Suffering is Not Redemptive – We do not Redeem Others

One of our good friends, knowledgeable about evil and the wickedness of abuse, wrote the following excellent essay. It deals with this common business of people telling us that we need to endure suffering in order to save our oppressor. The scripture she examines is 2 Corinthians 5:21. Many thanks to her for her work:

So why do people have this mentality that when we forgive like Christ, we should just absorb the consequences and let the guilty person go free without any repercussions for their sin? As if that’s what Jesus did on the cross? No, that’s a superficial and distorted view of the cross.

What took place is much deeper than that.

“God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor 5:21

First, only perfect justice can make forgiveness possible. God cannot and does not forgive at the expense of justice. It’s an abomination to Him to justify the wicked or to condemn the innocent. (Prove 17:15, Rom 3:23-26) God is a just God. Forgiveness is just.

Second, note, that while Jesus as an atonement for sin was indeed the sinless sacrificial lamb of God who propitiated God’s wrath, AT THE SAME TIME, He didn’t exactly die as an “innocent” person. He BECAME SIN. God MADE HIM, the sinless one who knew no sin, to become something He wasn’t. Jesus died as The Offender, except that it wasn’t His own offense.

What happened on the cross was something extremely unique that only God can do and can never be replicated. It was in Christ at the Cross that sin and innocence, wrath and love, justice and mercy were meshed together. Once and for all. None of us are able to repeat that, nor are we ever called to try.

There was an incredible and miraculous and supernatural and unspeakable exchange at the cross. My sin for His righteousness. Not only did Jesus die as an “offender” but I also live because I’m now considered righteous. I don’t go to hell because I’m no longer the offender. He TOOK my sin. My offense and guilt and sin has been placed on Another Person. Sin was imputed to Christ. Guilt was attributed to Christ. THAT is why God poured out His wrath on Him. God was punishing the “offender” and letting the “innocent” go free. It was not an “innocent” person who bore God’s wrath, but because guilt was imputed to Christ, God was punishing the “guilty”; because God is JUST.

There was an exchange between sinner and God that cannot be replicated between sinner and sinner. What Jesus did on the cross was UNIQUE and impossible in human relationships, humanly beyond comprehension and it’s something only God-made-flesh can do.

So what does the cross teach us about dealing with offenses? For one thing, justice must be done. Nobody is getting away with anything. Tolerating another person’s (unrepentant) sin is an abomination to God. (By the way, God “tolerates” only those He has set apart for destruction. He temporarily tolerates some people but will in the end give them justice in hell. You don’t want God to tolerate you). When God gives grace, God works REPENTANCE in the heart of the sinner and brings him in a right relationship with God. When God makes peace (forgives, pardons) with a sinner, He makes him a new creation with a new repentant heart that loves God back.

Then, it also teaches us that the onus for making things right is on the offender.

We as Christians are not called to be mini sacrifices for people. We are not little walking atonements for those who sin against us.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me so that I can then “die” for others’ sins against me. If someone sins against me I’m not called then to make an “exchange” between me and him, of his sin for my righteousness, his guilt for my innocence, my bearing of the consequences for his freedom. That would be quite absurd actually, and to apply the Cross that way in human relationships we would turn Christ’s sacrifice into something vulgar.

But the fact that Christ was willing to do that for us on our behalf, that is part of why the Cross of Christ is so EXTRAORDINARY, so other-worldly. In human relationships the offender and the innocent person must be kept separate and in human relationships the innocent person does not and should not take on the sin or guilt or the consequences of the offender.

So if someone sins against me, then Jesus dying on the cross does not mean that now I need to just suck it up and take it and let the other person go.

I am not an extension of the cross, and I don’t “get to” absorb someone else’s shame, guilt, loss, and punishment on the offender’s behalf. The offender takes the loss. The offender takes the punishment and consequences. But one thing the offender cannot ever do is take my pain away. That’s where forgiveness comes in.

The cross shows that it is in fact the offender who must make amends, take full responsibility for his guilt and sin, make restitution when needed, take on the cost of the damage he’s done. He is not to be let go free with impunity precisely because Jesus wasn’t “let go” when sin was placed on Him. I’m afraid too many times we get that backwards.

The guilty must be punished, the offender must repent, justice must be done, before forgiveness is extended.

If the wrath of God came down crashing on the Son  of God to make forgiveness possible, how much more should we not insist that the offender repent at his own cost when seeking forgiveness? Forgiveness is not free, and it is not unjust.

Desiring Justice or Craving Revenge? Two Very Different Things

Rom 12:19-21 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (20) To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Rev 6:9-10 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. (10) They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

Desiring God’s justice is a good and right thing. In fact, Christ said that His people are characterized by a hunger and thirst for righteousness. I think that righteousness longed for includes divine justice for us via the judgment of the wicked:

2Th 1:6-8 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, (7) and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels (8) in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

But that final judgment is effected by the Lord, not by us. We are not, as Paul tells us, to avenge ourselves. Vengeance is not ours to exercise – we are to leave it to the Lord. We look for it. We pray for it. But we are not to become veangeful people. We can exercise our rights under the law and call the police or report an assault. We can testify in court and even work to have an evildoer prosecuted. But that is seeking justice. It is much different than craving revenge.

Recently I was talking to a good friend who has survived years of evil abuse and betrayal. She told me that she has found peace by leaving justice against her abusers to the Lord. She said that she knows examples of other victims who are characterized by a desire for revenge. And here is the problem with going down that road:

If you seek revenge, you will be overcome with evil.

We are to overcome evil, not be overcome by it. The way we overcome it is not by repaying evil for evil, but by repaying it with good. This is not contrary to a desire for justice. Not at all. I am not certain what “heaping burning coals on their head” means, but I suspect it has something to do with adding conviction, accountability, and ultimately apart from repentance, more severe judgment when Christ returns.

If we crave revenge, we are craving something that we would do ourselves. Do not avenge yourself, is how Paul puts it. Leave vengeance to the Lord. If you try to be an avenger, you will not be able to handle evil – it will handle you.

What does this look like? It translates into a person who is angry. Who hates. Who is not at peace. Who is unsafe themselves to be friends with. Who, as they are increasingly overcome by evil, become abusive themselves.

So many people today are taking their theology from entertainment channels. Movies are filled with the drama of Avengers. Of people who are sorely assaulted and wronged, so they decide to be as tough as nails, pick up a weapon, and go get revenge. This has a very wide appeal to people and they try to emulate in real life what they see in fiction. They have been wronged, so like Charles Bronson they launch out with a Death Wish, or like Keanu Reeves as John Wicks they in some way set out to destroy and kill everyone who wronged them. Violence characterizes them increasingly as they morph into their false god of revenge.

I know domestic abuse victims who are in this very trap. They want revenge. And when you allow yourself to be taken over by this craving for vengeance, you become the center of your world. Everything slopes toward you and how you were wronged and how your abuser needs to pay up – now. And woe to anyone who gets in your way – collateral damage, you see.

Where is faith in Christ in all this? When we choose to obey the Lord and leave veangence to Him (it is His all along, not ours), we are exercising faith in His Word. He has promised to repay, and you can bet that He knows how to exercise perfect veangence upon the wicked – we do not. We desire justice and pray for it. The imprecatory Psalms are our prayers. But veangence? We leave that to the Lord.

Are you someone who has traveled down the revenge road? If so, I can assure you that you are not experiencing the Lord’s peace. You are angry and you are looking for payback. You are being overcome with evil. Stop. Stop right where you are and turn around 180 degrees. Go back. Get off that revenge road and get back in step with Christ.

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