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Friday, October 22, 2010

Does Faith Hide Marital Abuse?

It seems my article Does Faith Hide Marital Abuse? has sparked quite a debate.  I hope you will click over and read it and then come back for an in depth study of this subject.

I'll do several posts that deal with different areas of this stay tuned.

I've counseled with many abuse victims.  Mental abuse, physical abuse, terroristic abuse, pastoral abuse, members abuse, parent to child abuse and child to parent abuse.  You name it, I've probably heard about it.  At one point I spent several days riding with a protective services agent.  I saw a lot of child abuse.  But...I wasn't prepared for "neighbor" abuse.  The child we were investigating was fine.  The neighbor was angry because the parents wouldn't share keys to the enclosed pool.  Logical....they didn't want neighborhood children getting in there unsupervised so they refused to give keys to anyone - even the next door neighbor.  The neighbor finally admitted she didn't think that was fair to any child social services.  Hum...

Most people can understand painful abuse issues that make the news. It's more difficult to define abuse that may be as damaging but can be explained with a flippant "ah...that's just family." 

Let's start with the biggest problem for Christians that are being abused.....Does the Bible give a man or a woman the right to abuse their spouse?

Absolutely not!  People who insist that you have to stay with an abusing spouse will quickly agree that the abuser shouldn't do that.  But....they still insist the victim has to take it.  Why do they believe that you have to stay in an abusive situation if they don't agree with the abuse?

This disturbing thought is most often based in the belief that God does not have compassion.  Every desire and will of God is unmovable and therefore if you break even one commandment - God may forgive but his punishment will be severe.  Since marriage is a big deal and is basically a covenant - contract - with God, if you break it - you will be punished.

One young lady that was being severely mentally abused was told by her father-in-law that if she dared to go against her husband in any way that God would never forgive her and that she would be in constant danger of Hell.  What???

That type of thinking stabs at the very heart of God's love for us.  While I believe that we "may" be required to suffer the consequences of our sin.  I also believe that God will always forgive a truly repentant heart.  People who think God doesn't have situational compassion should read Luke 7: 37-50.  It's a beautiful story about a "sinful" woman who heard about Jesus.  She came to the house where he was.  "as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them."  Of course this made the Pharisees angry.    "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is--that she is a sinner."

Jesus used an example of two men being forgiven a debt.  One owed a lot and the other owed very little.  When asked, Simon agreed that the man with the large debt would have felt more gratitude.  Then Jesus pointed out that the woman had not stopped anointing or kissing his feet while the owners of the house hadn't offered him anything to wash his feet with (Huge custom of respect).  "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."  
Why would he do that?  If it's all about keeping the law, why would he forgive a woman who simply anointed his feet with her tears and some expensive perfume?  Compassion.  The Bible is filled with God's grace and compassion.  We humans are constantly doing the wrong stuff.  We run from God, we lash out in anger, we mess up our lives and yes....sometimes we marry the wrong people.  But...God's forgiveness and love is always there. 
We do need more sermons on making good on our commitments.  We need to understand that when we make a covenant with God that we should do everything in our power to honor it.  But honoring our commitments and covenants goes hand in hand with God's compassion.  And without compassion none of us are safe.
This is where I think about Disney's Aladdin and the magic lamp.  What???  If you've ever seen the movie, the genie is talking to Aladdin about what he can do.  Sort of giving him the "contractual" agreement rundown.  He stops and softly tells him that there are some things he can't do.  He can't kill anyone, he can't bring anyone back from the dead and he can't make people fall in love.
While God has done the first two, God doesn't do the last one.  God doesn't make us fall in love.  That's something we do when we find a mate.  God doesn't even make us fall in love with him....It's all about free will.  God may put us in the same vicinity as another person, but the falling in love....that's our doing.  There was even an instance where God brought a good wife to the door of a prophet...but the falling in love - that was for the two of them to do.  Since we are the one doing the "falling in love" thing, it's inevitable that we are going to make mistakes. 
Should we, must we, is it a commandment that we take the marriage covenant seriously?!?  YES!  Will there be consequences if we don't?  YES!  But is divorce or any other stupid thing we do - the unpardonable sin?  NO!  There's only one unpardonable sin and that's found in Mark 3:22-30 ( of course many people have the wrong interpretation of this scripture as well). 
So, if Divorce or not doing everything your husband asks for.....if that isn't the unpardonable sin - what is it?  Why are people so dogmatic about the fact that somehow it's more Godly for someone to be abused than it is for them to seek safety?
I personally think that it comes down to one subconscious thought.  If abuse (especially mental abuse) were the grounds for divorce - every married person on the planet would have grounds for divorce.  We are all sinners when it comes to that issue.  We may not have thrown a punch or even a punch bowl at our loved one - but we have yelled some harsh hurtful words that we deeply regret.  We may have watched our loved one carry the burden of those stinging remarks for months or maybe even years.  We remember the tears and the sleepless nights.  We know that we've all been jerks at one time or another.  If we agree that mental abuse or a few bruises should not be tolerated and may be reasons for divorce....then maybe we too are in danger of losing our marriages.  Maybe.....our spouse won't forgive us the next time we are jerks.  It just feels safer to say no one can escape marriage.  It feels like we are somehow being uncommitted if we agree that some situations are not healthy and that we have the right to leave.
For those of us that can easily receive and give forgiveness, we understand an occasional mistake.  For those of us that have trouble with forgiveness, trouble giving it as well as accepting it - we don't want to open the floodgates and give our spouse or anyone else a get out of jail free card.
When you study the forgiving nature of God....Moses, David, all the begin to see that he truly loves his creations.  His desire is for us to grow and to become all he created us to be.  He loves us through all our bad decisions and helps us grow into mature Christian adults who have the potential to make better decisions.  And yes....for many of us - we learn from our mistakes and we go on to have beautiful marriages that are all God created them to be.
Unfortunately, some abusers will never change.  They will always hurt those closest to them and in those cases it is right for the victim to leave.  God will not destroy them or us.  God will not abandon the victim or them.  As one of my dear friends said.  "God loves us.  He wants us to be our best. can't atone for another person's sin.  That's Jesus' job.  And victims can't atone for their abusers sin."
She's exactly right.  The emphasis should be on the abuser.  The abuser has sinned.  All too often in these discussions it seems more emphasis is placed on "loving" the sinner rather than the victim.  I asked one lady to answer this question, "Why would God say that he loves your abuser more than he loves his own child?  If you stay in a situation that might ultimately take your life that's exactly what you are saying."  She couldn't answer me - neither could her parents.  In a separate session the abuser pipped in..."Yeah, he does love me better."  (Almost lost my cool over that one.)
I'm afraid too many spouses stay with the abuser and enable him to continue his sinful ways.  Perhaps God's true will is for the victim to leave and cause the abuser to have to face his own sin.  Leaving may actually help more than staying.
A dear friend of mine was abused for over 20 years.  Most Saturday nights were filled with anger and physical abuse.  Most Sunday mornings I watched her pray and ask for God's help.  My Dad - her pastor - continued to tell her that alcoholics had to reach the bottom before they considered change.  He continued to tell her that it was her decision but she might help him more if she left.  Finally after 20 years of broken arms and a bruised body - she left him.  Within two months he faced his problem, got help, courted her and won her back.  She waited two years to marry him.  In the meantime he went to church and became a devout member.  After their marriage he was so respected that after 7 years of hard work he was asked to become a board member of the church.  Now that's God's love in action.  Can you imagine the thrill of this precious woman??? 
Every situation is unique.  Everyone is different.  I wouldn't dare tell you what to do in your situation.  What I will tell you is that God hates abuse as much as he hates divorce.  Be careful that you don't allow someone to hurt God's most prized possession - YOU!
God loves you,

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