At such times, the victim (and all of u;s are prone to this) fails to recognize and admit to herself the devastating damage that is done to the victim by the abuser. We have looked, in these weeks in this study, of many of the horrible emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical havoc wreaked upon the abuse victim and upon her children. ALL OF US NEED TO FACE UP TO THIS AND ADMIT THAT WE, IN OUR IGORANCE OR IN OUR DENIAL, SIMPLY DO NOT COME TO TERMS WITH JUST HOW DAMAGING ABUSE IS.
How many times has the church – pastors, elders, church members – perhaps well-meaning, but well, ignorant or selfish – told an abused woman that God wants her to go back to Egypt and be a slave again under Pharaoh? I can tell you the answer – many times.
Divorce and Abuse
I am going to tell you something now that is guaranteed to stir up controversy, and worse, among Bible-believing Christians. Among people who are zealous to do God’s will. People, I hope, like us. And here it is. This is my conclusion –
“The victim of abuse, normally the wife but sometimes the husband, has a right before God to leave Egypt, to divorce the abuser. And I believe that anyone who comes to a true and proper understanding of the nature and tactics and evil of genuine abuse, will come to the same conclusion.”
Why do I say this is such a hot-button among Christians? First of all, because I have experienced the controversy myself. Secondly, because I have talked with other pastors who have come to the same conclusion and they have in a number of cases been attacked for their position. One pastor I talked to was really ostracized from the pastor’s fellowship he was in. Another paid the price of a long-time friendship with another pastor being lost.
Here is what I have experienced – that when I tell conservative, Bible- believing pastors and Christians that I have concluded that we must let abuse victims know that they have the right before God to divorce their abuser, at the very minimum there is often a look of shock and surprise. This amazes me.
By the way, I base my conclusion on (after coming to a true understanding of just what abuse is and what it is like and what it does to the victim) – I base my conclusion on 1 Cor 7 –
1 Corinthians 7:10-16 ESV To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (11) (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. (12) To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. (13) If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. (14) For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (15) 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. (16) For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Now, have you ever given real thought to just what it means to consent to live with a husband or wife? Or what it means (vs 15) to separate from a husband or wife? Far too many Christians, I believe, conclude and assume that this simply means –
- to not file formal, legal divorce proceedings
- to not physically throw the victim out of the house
I think that is the kind of application, or rather MIS-application that the Pharisees were characterized by.
Consenting to live with my wife, not separating from my wife, means rather that I keep my wedding vows made before God and witnesses to love, honor, cherish my wife. To live out a one-flesh relationship with her. To love her as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her. To refuse to do so, to have ill-will (malevolence) toward her, to see her as an object and a servant for my glory, is NOT living with her.
“Abuse is, therefore, desertion. It is grounds for divorce.”
NOTE: Lest the libertine take this position and use it to justify divorce from a non-abusive man or woman, let me warn that you cannot understand what we are saying here unless you understand it in the context of all of these sermons we have presented in this series. That is to say, you must FIRST understand clearly what abuse is. It is not just something that “drives you crazy” about your spouse. It doesn’ t mean that your wife or husband has some flaw that you don’t like. No, abuse is a habitual, characterizing, ongoing mentality of power and control, of entitlement and of justification.
Now, if some – perhaps well-meaning – Christian objects to this conclusion that abuse is biblical grounds for divorce, that it is desertion – then I would put the following question to them –
“Can you explain, in some detail and with accuracy, what the nature of abuse is? That is to say, can you show me that you understand the mentality of abuse – indeed, that you understand that it is a mentality? Can you tell me about the methods and tactics of the abuser? Can you explain to me in reasonable detail what the effects are upon the victim of abuse? Upon the children in an abusive home?
Because, think carefully about this – how can anyone come to a conclusion that something is NOT grounds for divorce as long as they really know nothing about it? Let me ask that again – how can anyone come to a conclusion that something is NOT grounds for divorce as long as they really know nothing about it?
“Well, you know, marriage can be hard at times. All marriages have their ups and downs. None are perfect. We are all sinners. We need to persevere through trouble and trust the Lord. Besides, you know, he has never laid a hand on her .”
Can you see yourself saying something like that? It sounds so biblical and true, right (except the last phrase – which is horrible).
“But what we are ignorant of and what we MUST come to grips with, is that this monstrous thing we are calling abuse is a unique animal of its own. What is true about other sins and troubles in marriage is simply not true about abuse. The diagnosis is NOT the same. The REMEDY is not the same.”
How do you deal with the abusive person – be it a man or a woman? The first place to begin, is to come to an understanding of what slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh is, what it is like, and what damage it does. And then to understand that the Lord wants His people FREE! Free from Satan, free from evil tyranny. He wants us walking in His truth, not in deception. Christ is the Passover Lamb whose blood delivers us from that bondage. And therefore, of ALL places in this world, the Christian Church must be the pillar and support of the truth; it must be a place where there is no place for abuse; where Christ’s people enjoy freedom from the enemy’s enslavement; freedom from fear. This is what Christ came for.
A Story to Read and Learn From
Here is a story. Be sure to read it! It is based on a true story but has been changed for confidentiality –
Once upon a time, a young Christian woman from a sound Christian family met a young Christian man. He was the most charming man she had ever met and he showered his attentions on her. She was swept away.
Now, this young man was a church member. A FINE church member. People thought very highly of him, and YOU would have as well if you had known him. He was the first to be there when someone needed help. He was respectful, a pleasure to speak with. He was a student of the Word and sound in reformed theology. Many thought him a candidate for the pastoral ministry.
The engagement proceeded up to the wedding day. It was a big wedding. Exciting. The perfect Christian couple. They were pronounced man and wife in a sound, reformed Baptist church. A great and memorable reception, and then they were off on the honeymoon and to their new life together.
And then it began – that very night.
This man, whom the bride and everyone thought they knew so well, on the wedding night, started his abuse. He interrogated her. In many other ways, he made it evident that HE was master and SHE his slave.
Later in that first year of their marriage, he hit her. She left. A few days later , unwisely but understandably, she went back and met him to tell him with Scriptural authority that what he was doing to her was sin. He flew into a rage and began to throw dangerous objects at her. She fled.
Later in the week, the young man’s father and representatives from his church (they had moved some distance from the church the bride grew up in and where they were married and had been attending his parents’ church. Also a sound church). They asked to have everyone sit down together , including the pastor and an elder from the church where they were married. They were sure they could work things out with some counseling. And they were certain that divorce was not an option in this case.
What do you suppose the outcome was?
- The pastor and elder of the church in which the bride grew up, and where they were married, along with the parents of the bride, said that there was NO WAY she could go back with her husband until and unless he went through some serious therapy and showed, over time, true change and repentance. They also maintained that divorce was justified – though they did not insist upon it immediately.
- The pastor and others, including the groom’s parents, from the second church, insisted on short term counseling and reconciliation as an obligation. Divorcee was not an option.
- The people in the second church had been completely taken in by this young man, could not believe he could have done such things, and surely the bride shared some responsibility.
- The young man said that he would agree to come back to the first church, the church where the wedding took place and where his wife was now attending church again with her parents. They would end their separation and live together again. He said he would submit to counseling, and that the people in that church would see, as he ministered to them, that he was very sincere and truly changed and repentant.
- The pastor of the bride’s church, who would be working with the young man in counseling, told him this – “No, you are not going to be serving others and having even much contact with them if you come here. The only person that I am going to be consulting in respect to your
behavior/change/repentance, is your wife.”
- The young man left, never to return. He is in that second church with his parents. A divorce ensued. The young woman is happily re-married. The young man has found another victim and married her.
- Those two churches’ fellowship remains broken to this day.
- The pastor who had married them was ostracized by many conservative pastors for allowing for divorce in this case.
Do you see how the enemy works? Do you understand why we must know his tactics and deceptions?