By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved
This question was asked here and I know the person who asked it is one voice out of many, many more who are wondering the same thing. The answer is both simple and complex.
For the simple answer, God does not want you to remain in an abusive marriage. But before you run out the door, be sure you read the complex part of the answer, too.
Jesus stated the purpose of His coming in Luke 4: 18,19.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
Jesus came for the purpose of healing the brokenhearted, delivering captives, and liberating those who are bruised. That perfectly describes the condition of someone who is being abused in their marriage. Jesus came to rescue people from abusive relationships!
OK, I just heard a whole bunch of “wait a minute…” voices from readers. Go with me here a minute. The church has reduced Jesus’ purpose to saving souls from eternal damnation. Do you see that in this verse? Certainly it could be considered to be part of Jesus’ stated Luke 4 mission. But why do we limit Jesus’ purpose to less than what the Word plainly states?
Nowhere in the Word is there a place where God applauds or supports abuse. In fact, abuse is inherently opposite to God’s nature. If believers are made new creatures in Christ and partakers in His nature, how can we possible justify or excuse abusive behavior by someone bearing the name “Christian?”
If we assume an abusive spouse is not a believer (which may, in fact, be supportable by Scripture) is a Christian abused partner expected by God to remain in that abusive relationship? The answer is still no. A Christian does not enable another person to continue in sin. By remaining in an abusive marriage, a Christian sends the message that the abusive behavior is acceptable – and affirms the abusers sin.
Here comes the complex part, however. God does not want you to remain in an abusive marriage. But there is also a process for addressing the abuse. If there is physical violence, even just occasionally, an abused spouse needs to call local domestic violence support and carefully, but quickly, get outside the home into a safe place. In this situation, further Biblical steps need to occur from a position outside the same home as the abuser. If there is not physical danger, all but the final step of dealing with an abusive spouse can take place without physical separation.
So what are the steps to dealing with an abusive spouse?
First, I think we are all called to bring every detail of our lives to God for His insight and timing. Almost without exception (I’d say without exception but maybe there could be one) we need to clean our own slates first. As abused spouses we need to maintain first an attitude of, “Lord, change me.” God uses our difficult circumstances to teach us things we would not learn otherwise. So we must appreciate God’s process, even in exposing our own places that need to be refined and conforming us to the image of Christ while we are dealing with an abusive spouse.
Second, we have to maintain a humble spirit, remembering that God loves us all equally. It is easy to get a prideful and judgmental spirit. We have to remember that every person is created in the image of God, even this abuser, and so is worthy of basic human respect. Gal. 6:1 says,
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
Third, Matthew 18:15-17 outlines a very specific process for dealing with an offender, which would include marital abuse.
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
So we must first learn how to respectfully address the abuse within our marriage and establish correct boundaries. This is a learning process that can take months.
If the abusive spouse does not change when confronted privately, the abused spouse is to take a couple witnesses to confront the abuser again. These witnesses should be people the abuser respects and that the abused spouse can trust. At this point, I believe professional counseling is in order. A professional counselor can, in fact, be that witness. Another of the witnesses should be pastoral church leadership. This can be problematic because pastors don’t know how to address abuse correctly. But at least give the church the opportunity to do the right thing.
If abuse continues, the Word says the issue should be told to the church. This step is almost impossible to fulfill in the modern church. Pastors generally won’t allow it because they do not understand the Word on the subject. So, the abused spouse should attempt to press the pastor to allow this step, but if the pastor refuses, the abused spouse may need to move on to the final step.
The final step is removal from the relationship. Matthew 18 says to separate from the unrepentant offender. I Tim. 5:8 says a man who does not provide for his family (provision = financial, spiritual, emotional protection and leadership) has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. God calls an unrepentant abusive spouse an unbeliever. That is not my judgment; it is God’s. I Cor. 5:11 says believers are not to associate with, are not even to eat with, a person who is verbally abusive (“railer”). And I Cor. 7:13-15 says that if an unbelieving spouse removes (walks away from the marriage covenant – which can include staying in the house but leaving the relationship) himself from the marriage, the believing wife is to let him go. It may seem backwards for the believing wife to leave – but we have to remember that the “leaving” happens when a spouse does violence to his house (Mal. 2:13-16). The believing wife who removes to safety is not the one who abandoned the relationship.
Some will say removal from the relationship should be for an open-ended period of separation (which could be permanent if there is no repentance); others recommend divorce. I recommend you have a relationship with God whereby you allow Him to direct you because there is not a universal answer at this point. It may very well be that the only way to secure safe custody of children and spousal support for those children is through divorce. This is not out of line. And if the abusive spouse chooses to remarry that will certainly be the final nail in the door to possibility of reconciliation – a choice made by the abuser, not the victim of abuse who took the necessary, and Biblically supported, steps to address an abusive spouse.
God offers hope, not a lifetime sentence, to abuse victims. If you are in an abusive marriage you need to 1) get support for yourself that will stand by you throughout, 2) be willing to take the time to work through the Biblical process, and 3) stay on your face with God throughout the process, asking Him to change you. As hard as it is, this can be the fire that makes you into the person God desires you to be. It is hard and seems far too long in the process, but God is faithful and He does work all things together for good for those who love Him.