The Conscience and Domestic Abuse

“It can’t be!” “It’s not possible.”

These are natural responses when a victim discloses the truth, especially to mutual friends and family members. We want to think people know better, that the abuser has a conscience, that no one would knowingly treat a loved one with cruelty and contempt. That’s simply not true.

The noetic effect of sin–the fact that the Fall affects our mind and intellect–is spoken of in Romans 1:

“…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV, emphasis added)

Young Angry Man.

Since sin affects every part of our thinking and being, the conscience is not exempt. Some of us feel guilty for doing things that are not wrong. Others don’t feel guilty for doing things that are. The conscience, like our desires, habits, and thinking, must be trained and changed by the Word of God. It is only as we rightly divide the word of truth and submit to God that our thinking and conscience is changed.  When our thinking is transformed, it will change our desires, thoughts, and actions (Romans 12:1-2).

The individual who is driven by self-fulfillment and ambition will stop at nothing to achieve it. In fact, “where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. ” (James 3:16).  An individual motivated by greed and self-seeking views others as objects. They either serve his agenda or interfere with it. They are not equal to his status or existence. His desires and perceived needs rule his world. In his way of thinking, those who deny his standards, demands or preferences are drop-dead wrong because he is always right. He has rights. Undeniable, inalienable rights. Who are you to refuse or tell him no?

A man who lives for himself uses what the Bible calls, “differing weights and measures.” He is the standard. His desires are preeminent resulting in disorder, chaos, and evil. He often uses manipulation and deception to express his desires lest self-exaltation come into the light and be revealed for what it is: prideful, deadly sin.

God doesn’t pull punches. He diagnoses and judges the problem this way:

Differing weights and differing measures, Both of them are abominable to the Lord. (Proverbs 20:10).

Applying a set of standards to one’s self and another set of standards to others runs contrary to God’s character. Jesus died for each and every person. The weight and cost of sin is astronomical. It doesn’t set one person over another. Our sin’s testimony is so great  “that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). An individual who applies a different set of rules to different people sins against God. People are people. God does not show partiality. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9).

Because an abuser shows partiality–primarily to himself, but also to those whose opinion matters–his conscience is twisted. Not only does he view others as objects who exist to serve him, he may see himself as god/God and his wife’s response as a measure of her spirituality or righteousness. Unfortunately, this is taught in some church circles, creating destruction and havoc, denying Christ as the Savior and focus of worship. As a result, man’s conscience is hardened and he fails to respond in a Christlike way to biblical criteria or conviction (1 Timothy 4:1-2),

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (Titus 1:15-16)

A husband’s seared conscience affects his wife and children. If she believes her husband is in the place of God, a woman views his approval or disapproval as tantamount. This muddies the waters of abuse and makes confrontation next to impossible. He is god? Who is she to disagree? Children join a father’s tirades against an oppressed mother in thought, word, and action. The noetic effect of sin multiplies as it is sown–father, mother, children, extended family, church family, friends. Consciences that do not submit to the Word of God blindly excuse and justify sin and its consequences.

If you are experiencing abuse, turn to God. He sees what is happening whether anyone believes you or not. Whether you feel crazy, confused, downtrodden, or forgotten. God is on your side. Cry out. Seek help. Immerse yourself in the hope and truth of God’s Word. He can and will help you.

Church, beware. Using differing weights and measures applies to us as well. If we have a different standard for an abuser (i.e. as the husband, he can make ungodly demands, exercise injustice, and practice ungodliness in his home) than the abused (i.e., as the wife, you must submit to your husband “in everything“), we, too, are committing an abomination before the Lord. We have given in to lies instead of renewing our mind and being transformed by the truth of God.

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

We are called to be the body of Christ–to do what He would do, love what He loves, think as He thinks, desire what He desires, and follow our Head. May He be pleased and glorified as we exalt Him, His truth and righteousness.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord while I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.

The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises up those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord protects the strangers;
He supports the fatherless and the widow,
But He thwarts the way of the wicked.
The Lord will reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 146, emphasis added)

 

 

Where is God?

There is unspeakable evil in our world. People do things that should never be done–or thought about. The cruelty and disregard of abusers for their victims leaves me speechless at times. Where was God? Why didn’t He intervene? How could He let that happen? For that long?

I know much of what the Bible says. I know God and I believe He is good. Loving. Able. Ever-present. He has revealed Himself in His Word–and my own personal life. He affirms Himself and His goodness through His Spirit. But I struggle with the reality of His goodness, love, and power as I watch their pain and suffering. Living on a farm, I have seen the helpless writhing of suffering creatures and it is difficult, almost impossible, to reconcile with God’s character. Words are inadequate. Platitudes and cliches are harmful. Touch is invasive. I pray. I wait. I read. And reread.

Trusting God by Jerry Bridges
The Attributes of God by A.W. Pink
God’s Healing for Life’s Losses by Robert Kellemen
Mending the Soul by Steven Tracy
When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes
the Psalms, Lamentations, Habakkuk and other minor prophets

And I love. In loving, I ask. Raw is raw, difficult and impossible is difficult and impossible. The wrestling is not mine, it is between God and the one who is hurting. My struggle is my own. This is her fight and I dare not jump in or meddle. So I ask. Listen. Rephrase. Clarify. Provide perspective. Pray. Draw on God’s Word and character. Ask deeper, more revealing questions. Reframe, reflect, testify, and send her out the door with God’s Word. And continue praying.

We stand together. The fight is hers alone, but we, the advocate, pastor, counselor, and local church cheer her on, pump her up with encouragement, care and comfort. Together, we weep and wrestle and wait and pray. Step by step. Grief after grief. Sorrow after sorrow. Insight after insight. And God works. He reveals Himself: good, loving, and able. Mighty to save.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah.
Behold our shield, O God,
And look upon the face of Your anointed.
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
How blessed is the man who trusts in You! (Psalm 84:8-12)

Knowing When to Leave

Women want to know. When do I leave? How do I know?

leaving

The book, Sanctuary, walks through heart responses to abuse because it’s not only important to understand abuse and its effects; it’s just as important to learn to how to respond to your abuser and see past the abuse to your self: how you think, what you want, how you work. An abuser may not change–the facts are the facts–but you can.

If you are living in an oppressive, sinful marriage or relationship, God is on your side. The church that serves God is on your side. The people of God are on your side. It may not feel like it. It may not look like it. But you can believe God when He says:

Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Trusting and believing God does not mean remaining in an abusive situation or relationship. One woman said, “There were times I couldn’t move or think fast enough. When that happened, I learned to ride the wave. ‘Just ride the wave,’ I would tell myself, ‘and get away as soon as you can.'”

The wisest man in the world wrote,

“If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen? No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it.  All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.

…man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them.” (Ecclesiastes 8:7-8, 9:12)

Evil is real. Evil is unexpected. Evil cannot be predicted or controlled by human inventions. For that reason, leaving an abusive relationship is an act of God. There are things you can do: evaluate the situation, be smart, reach out to others, make arrangements in advance, use legal, practical, and relational resources, be careful (!). But everything you put your hand to is dependent on God. Trust Him. Ask. Look. Test the circumstances.

In the midst of it all, examine your own heart and responses. What would it look like to trust God and do what is right, even if it’s humanly impossible? In what ways do you need to see your abuser’s humanity, cruelty, and insecurity as his own (not yours)?

As you see the reality of your abuser, repeated episodes of sin, your inability to fix or change your marriage, and the severity of your situation (isolation, coercion, bondage), you–you–can change. You can cry out for help by praying to God and repeating the words of Scripture (start with Psalm 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10… see p. 88 in Sanctuary for more). You can ask God to send help. Look for someone who will hear, listen, and believe your story. Trust God by doing what is right and good. Protect yourself and your children.

When David’s life was threatened by King Saul, David had the assurance that God  anointed him (David) to be the next king. Not only did he refuse to harm Saul–knowing God had chosen and put him in a place of authority–David also refused to put himself in harms’ way. He protected himself because he valued what God did–his own life! David was a man after God’s own heart because he loved what God loves and hated what God hates. You can do the same. Be a woman after God’s own heart. Value your life, dignity, future, and being because God does.

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel,
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I have given Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your place.
Since you are precious in My sight,
Since you are honored and I love you,
I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
And gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring My sons from afar
And My daughters from the ends of the earth,
Everyone who is called by My name,
And whom I have created for My glory,
Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”

Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes,
And the deaf, even though they have ears.
All the nations have gathered together
So that the peoples may be assembled.
Who among them can declare this
And proclaim to us the former things?
Let them present their witnesses that they may be justified,
Or let them hear and say, “It is true.”
“You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
So that you may know and believe Me
And understand that I am He.
Before Me there was no God formed,
And there will be none after Me.
I, even I, am the Lord,
And there is no savior besides Me.
It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed,
And there was no strange god among you;
So you are My witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“And I am God.
Even from eternity I am He,
And there is none who can deliver out of My hand;
I act and who can reverse it?”

Thus says the Lord your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,

“For your sake I have sent to Babylon,
And will bring them all down as fugitives,
Even the Chaldeans, into the ships in which they rejoice.
I am the Lord, your Holy One,
The Creator of Israel, your King.”

Thus says the Lord,

Who makes a way through the sea
And a path through the mighty waters,
Who brings forth the chariot and the horse,
The army and the mighty man
(They will lie down together and not rise again;
They have been quenched and extinguished like a wick):
“Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.
The beasts of the field will glorify Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I have given waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My chosen people.
The people whom I formed for Myself
Will declare My praise…” (Psalm 43:1-21)

When You’re Not the Problem

What if your abuse isn’t about you? It’s a farce. You’re not at fault. You’ve done nothing wrong. You’re not trying to be difficult, but the rules keep changing. Your whole sense of balance is off-kilter? What if? How would you know?

alone-woman-by-the-sea-4272x2848_80012
photo credit

This is how abusive relationships work. It’s not a marriage issue. It’s not a marriage problem. It’s a person-out-of-control-large-and-in-charge versus a normal, everyday, wanting-to-get-on-with-life person. It’s not two sinners seeking to glorify God through companionship and unity.

If you are the individual who is constantly “wrong,” under pressure, experiencing ridicule, correction, and/or physical threats and punishment, let me say it here: it’s. not. you. Someone in your life is creating a smokescreen; a blame-shifting game in which you’re manipulated to fuel someone else’s pleasure or pet sin.

The book of James says, “For where envy and self-seeking exist,confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:16).

When life is full of confusion and evil, someone is in it for himself. Someone wants what he wants and will suffer no expense–your sanity, your health, your well-being, or that of the children–to get it.

Stop. Look. Listen. Document or record conversations, take photos of damage and destruction, scratches, bruises, bites, lacerations. Get help. Pray and ask God to provide people who will listen. Be careful–he has allies–but keep praying and looking. Local law enforcement and domestic violence advocates will believe you. Churches are changing. Pastors and leaders are starting to listen. 

Next: be smart. Study safety plans. Create space to think, make lists, and consider your options. It is not good or right to remain in a sinful, oppressive environment. We are called to expose sin, not feed it (John 3:19-20, Ephesians 5:11). Once you have confronted your abuse and asked for help, whether the church is willing or unwilling, it’s time to step out of the way (Matthew 18:15-18). Allow God full access to reveal and deal with exposed sin. If you have been a buffer and cover, for safety’s sake, and for their soul’s sake, it’s time for change.

Above all, you are not alone. The Lord your God stands ready to help. He is a refuge and deliverer. He is a place of safety and comfort for the weary and oppressed.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)