God Answers Prayer in Abusive Marriages

Spending 20 years in an abusive marriage had a profound affect on my theology.  I believe I learned things I would never have learned were it not for that crucible.  The things I believed, based on years in church, Bible college, academic Bible study, etc. were tested in real life.  This is where theology matters.  Many people spend entire careers becoming experts on theology and stand as “voices of truth,” proclaiming dogmatically their theology is Biblically accurate.  But if it doesn’t stand the test of life, it is worthless.

One thing I believed for many years was that God would answer my prayers for my marriage, my husband and my children.  I believe in God’s sovereignty, I believe He is all-powerful, and I know the abuse in my marriage was not His will since it was totally unrighteous and utterly antithetical to His nature.  Since God answers prayer, and I believe He does, and abuse is a violation of His nature, He would certainly answer my prayers to change my husband’s heart, right?

Wrong.  Actually, right answer, wrong question.  God does answer prayer.  But many times He does so after changing the question.  I have learned He is more interested in turning our erroneous paradigms inside out so we learn the right prayer to pray.  Then He is able to answer our prayers. 

After years on my face with God I realized He would not force my husband to change against his will, no matter how much I prayed for this to happen for the sake of my children and me.  He created man with a free will.  His is able to force man to change his mind, but He limits Himself to the perameters He gave man as a unique creation.  It would not be free will if man could not tell God ‘no.’  (A first strike against my Calvinist theology.)  Rather, God shows His amazing sovereignty and creativity by accomplishing His purposes in, through, and around the choices man makes.

When in a prolonged impossible situation like I was in, I finally got to the point of being willing to ask God to change my understanding, even if it meant completely changing my paradigm of reality.  Because I was willing to get to this point, I am where I am now.  And I hope other people can be helped as a result.  Over the course of the years there were several times when God completely overturned my understanding of reality, with its attendant theology.

Various erroneous theological points have a domino affect on others once they are toppled.  When I understood that God would not violate Gary’s free will and force him to change, then I had to ask the question, “So does God abandon wives and children in abusive homes?”  This one took a LONG time for me to understand. 

There are church leaders who hold so rigidly to the point of not separating marriages they literally teach it must be God’s will for wives and children in abusive homes to stay there and “suffer for righteousness sake.”  This is easy theology for someone who doesn’t have to live in it every day.  But eventually I came to accept this theology cannot be correct because it is a fundamental violation of God’s nature and of Jesus’ stated purpose in coming to earth.

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. — Luke 4:18,19

In fact, this is what the Word says is the gospel (the definition of the word “gospel” is a sacred cow I’ll tip another day). It cannot be God’s will to abandon wives and children in abusive homes.

So once I understood it was not God’s will to abandon my children and I in our abusive home and He would not force Gary to change, I was left with the question, “how does God intend to save us from this situation?”

The next understanding was when I realized that legally I would be considered liable if Gary were accused of child abuse and I knew about it and had done nothing. The Word tells us to submit to civil authorities. You can’t pick one part of the Word to obey to the exclusion, or direction violation, of another. The sanctity of marriage is not more important than obedience to civil authorities. Since abuse is a criminal action and we are required to comply with the authorities and not protect, hide or aid abusers. The church has a responsibility to obey the law. When the church tells women and children to remain in an abusive home, they violate both God’s law and the laws of our country.

As a woman in an abusive marriage I had a responsibility to stand against that abuse. But I still wasn’t completely confident that stand went so far as divorce. At the two times I felt there was an imminent chance the children could be taken by DFCS because of the abuse (and the first time I was also afraid for our lives) I took the kids and left him. But I didn’t want to give up on our marriage or on Gary if there was any hope. While I realized his behavior was abusive, I didn’t understand the nature of abuse well enough to grasp its pervasive nature or the significance of non-physical violence. My eyes were completely on the physical violence until I left him for the final time. I tried to remonstrate with him about the verbal abuse and reason with him. I always thought if I could only get him to listen to reason I could get him to see what he was doing because it was so obvious.

Ultimately, I came to understand I had two choices – and the choice was up to me. I could stay in my marriage, allow my daughter to grow up in an abusive home and accept the fact I would physically die. The consequences of violence is murder and death. That’s in the Word.  The Word also says death and life are in the power of the tongue.  It means that literally.  My immune system had shut down due to the constant stress and I got cancer. My body would take no more. 

While I was recovering from chemo I realized every time Gary started yelling or started into one of his tirades I had an automatic, uncontrollable “fight-or-flight” reaction.  God made our bodies that way.  Our bodies release adrenalin in preparation to either fight or run.  When that happens excessively or constantly it will destroy the human immune system, leading to any auto-immune or stress-related disease there is.  These diseases can kill.  God won’t get in the way of the consequences we choose when we fail to obey the rest of His Word.

So, I could leave my daughter with an abusive father and die.  Or I could dare to trust God outside the box. God’s Word says I have a responsibility to obey civil authorities, I have a responsibility to stand up for the afflicted in my own home, including myself. God’s Word even says we are to separate ourselves from people who act the way Gary did – I dared to believe that meant me too. God says more about divorce than “I hate divorce” (subject for another day).

Bottom line, God wanted to answer my prayer to save me and my children from abuse. I merely had to trust Him enough to be proactive in my obedience, instead of passively waiting for a rescue boat when He gave me two feet to walk away. It was the hardest thing I have ever done but the fruit has shown it was the right choice.

So yes, God does answer prayer in abusive marriages. But perhaps not the way you are expecting. His answer may be to turn your theology upside down and ask you to step up to the plate and take active responsibility to save yourself and your children.

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A Telling Error by Huckabee

A day after canceling a Sunday-night sermon at a north Florida Baptist church facing pending lawsuits that allege molestation and cover-up, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee decided instead to address the congregation live via telephone…

This quote is from a more lengthy article at ethicsdaily.com

Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor and past president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, was petitioned by abuse survivors to avoid speaking at Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. The on-going scandal there due to clergy sexual abuse and blatant, continual cover-up by other church leaders who are still in authority at the church while facing legal charges, has made significant public headlines.

In making an appearance at Trinity, even though it was only via telephone rather than by satellite puts Huckabee’s stamp of approval on the leadership of this church. He is saying, by his appearance in spite of very visible clergy abuse and misconduct issues, these are his cronies, his associates, and that their behavior is of less importance than his political career.

If this church leadership’s actions in supressing known, on-going sexual abuse by their now-deceased pastor are of less importance than Huckabee’s political career is that the kind of man anyone, except those who are likeminded, wants in the White House? Even someone naive enough not to grasp that obvious cause-effect connection isn’t saavy enough for one of the most powerful political seats in the country.

In fact, this situation raises significant questions in my mind about who is pulling the strings behind Huckabee. Since he previously decided not to make an appearance when petitioned by abuse survivors, it makes me wonder if he was told by the SBC powers that be he should do it anyway. Who wants the SBC pulling the President’s strings?

If there were the remotest chance of me voting for Huckabee, which there definitely isn’t, this incident would cure me of that delusion.

Is Abuse Caused by Demon Possession?

I just read an op-ed piece where a Christian mentioned in passing the “…demon of abuse…”  This is one of the bits of wrong theology held by some Christians regarding abuse.  If you believe abuse is demonic, then it can be exorcised.  The antidote to abuse is to cast it out and all will be well; the end.

However, the huge hazard in this theology is that it makes the abuser a victim of demonic oppression or possession.  It implies they are helpless in the control of a demonic power.  And, most critically, it relieves them of personal responsibility for their choices and their consequences. 

Abuse may be rooted in any number of “causes.”  But everyone, unless they have had brain trauma that destroyed their capability of impulse control (which is possible and requires permanent institutionalization) has a choice when it comes to abuse.  I understand completely there can be contributing factors.  Any number of mental illnesses, which are completely legitimate, can contribute to uncontrolled behavior.  There are developmental disorders which lend themselves to abusive behavior.  There are psychological disorders that can contribute to abusive behavior.  And people who grew up in abusive homes often automatically repeat behaviors they learned by modeling.  But there is always personal choice involved. 

How is it that several children who grew up in the same abusive home don’t all grow up to be abusers if there is no personal choice?  How do others rise above those circumstances and stop the cycle?  I know it can be done; my parents did it.  Granted there were some other patterns of behavior, particularly victim mentality, that was passed along unknowingly.  But my parents never, not once, resorted to violently abusive behavior.  (One of my husband’s contentions was that my family was dysfunctional because my parents never fought; he said anger is healthy because people are being honest about their feelings – of course, he was the only one allowed this luxury.  I got the strong impression that this philosophy was overtly shared by his mother, though I can’t remember her specifically saying so.  She did say my family was dysfunctional because my parents never fought.  Yes, our family does tend to submerge emotions and not communicate well and that’s not healthy.  But abuse is not a good balance!) 

When developmental, psychological or mental illness factors are involved there is still personal choice.  There is therapy and treatment to enable a person to exercise self-control.  At one point Gary was diagnosed as manic depressive by a psychiatrist (who saw him for 30 minutes, one time).  He took the meds provided, which ultimately made his violence worse.  A year or so later when I was literally afraid for our lives I asked his nurse (who did all his 10-minute med checks) and another nurse who was also a Christian, whether his behavior could be excused because of his diagnosis.  Was he truly incapable of acting differently, as he claimed?  They both said he was not excused because of his diagnosis – a diagnosis which turned out to be wrong anyway.  The med-check nurse told me there were plenty of people with far more serious issues than him, such as bipolar disorder (which he was not diagnosed with) who participate with therapy and medication and learn how to be responsible for their actions.   She said it is still an issue of personal responsibility.  Perhaps people with these various disorders/conditions would be unable to control their behavior without medication and/or specific training in how to work with the way they are wired, but they can choose to be responsible.

 Yes, I think someone who is abusive may be allowing themselves to be controlled by a spirit of anger, violence, even murder.  But not in the sense of demon possession, to the point they are helpless in its grasp.  Nor will a prayer or a really fantastic exorcism change the behavior.  Only an abuser can change his behavior, starting with acknowledging he is choosing to sin against his family and then by taking responsibility for his actions.  He may need help (he will almost certainly need help) but he has to make a choice to get that help and cooperate with it.