Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him.” Those who help individuals settle disputes and live at peace depend on this principle. In most people situations, this works. But a proverb is a proverb, not a promise–it’s true most of the time, given the right circumstances.
This verse does not say, “The first to plead her case seems right, until another disagrees,” or “proves her wrong.” It actually says nothing about the other person. It simply teaches that we need to be careful and examine a situation before reaching a conclusion. This is especially true in relation to domestic abuse. It’s important to seek and gain knowledge–not only from those involved–but also from God’s Word and people. Knowledge about domestic abuse, any abuse, is cause to stop and look differently.
The underlying assumption of many, especially men, is that a husband and wife stand on equal footing. It’s true: people are people. But in a Christian marriages, a woman honors God by placing herself under her husband’s authority. This is her gift to him. Husbands are not responsible for a wife’s submission. Wives are not responsible for a husband’s love, that’s his responsibility. 1 Peter 3:7 says,
“You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”
A wife who submits to her husband is weaker because she willingly forfeits her desires and autonomy to his headship, trusting God to use and direct him in meeting her needs. They’re a team with different roles. Each one has the equal value. Each is a person made in the image of God with the same attributes and essence. With practice, a husband and wife communicate and follow to God’s direction together as the husband leads and the wife assists. Because she does not call the shots or bear the weight of decisions, she is in a weaker position both practically and experientially. She is not powerless to disagree, confront wrong, pray, and depend on others, but she trusts God to provide through her husband’s leadership.
To the degree that her husband considers her “a fellow heir of grace,” and loves her as Christ loves the church, Christian marriage is a beautiful, supernatural picture of goodness. But when a man views his wife as an object to meet his desires, she is doubly, sinfully disadvantaged. She must learn to rightly divide Scripture and please God in spite of her husband.
It’s also important to recognize that the most prevalent predator of women is men. Statistics speak for themselves: sexual harassment, assault, abuse, stalking, trafficking, or murder. Men who refuse to submit to the gospel and work of Christ are deceived and deceiving; driven by desire. In fact, domestic violence causes more injuries to women than accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.* Women carry keys a certain way, examine their surroundings, plan where, when, and how they travel, anticipate and prepare for danger on a daily, if not hourly, basis. We train and educate our daughters differently than sons because of dangerous men. I do not avoid men in general. I am not embittered against them nor do I wish evil on anyone based on gender, but I am always aware.
Those who address the concerns of a woman reporting (or disclosing) abuse often overlook this simple fact: in cases of abuse, men are dangerous and women are disadvantaged. This is not one-on-one conflict. It is a teeter-totter in which one individual sits at the bottom and makes demands of a captive held aloft and alone.
Investigate? Yes, by all means. Ask questions, take notes, collect documentation. Assume she is on even standing with her abuser? Absolutely not.
The way you apply this proverb could easily set her up for injury and punishment. This happens when you break her confidence as a means of getting his side of the story or question the two of them together. Instead, question them separately. Give her side additional weight and confidentiality. Involve individuals who understand abuse and have the ability to discern the situation without endangering or threatening her safety. This may mean using secular sources and/or older women in the church who can be trusted to love, care, pray with and for her.
This is not a simple disagreement. This is oppression, buried under layers of deception, peppered with coercive, covert tactics. You will not get 2 sides of the same story. You will get 2 altogether different stories because one is driven by power and the other is subject to it. God knows. Seek His help. Apply His understanding and reflect His heart: oppose the proud, give grace to the humble.
Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be,
For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
They speak falsehood to one another;
With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.
May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
The tongue that speaks great things;
Who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail;
Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” (Psalm 12:1-4)
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:12-16)