Suffering, Abuse, and the Providence of God
God has decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor has fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree. (London Confession of Faith, 1689)
Whew! You might have to chew on that for a bit. This confessional statement of the decree of God strives to summarize Scripture’s teaching that all things — all things — that come to pass have been decreed by God, and that before the foundation of the world. And yet, in such a way, mysterious to us, so as God is not guilty of authoring sin, nor does His decree negate the reality of man’s ability to choose. People really do have a will.
But what I wanted to particularly address in this article is a question that a number of our readers have had to deal with. Namely, they have been told by “well-meaning” people something like this: “God does not give you more than you can bear. It is His will that you are in this marriage, and He has called you to suffer patiently for Him in it.” Thus, they are made to feel doubly guilty when they consider leaving their abuser. The more committed to Christ the victim is, the more she suffers the pangs of guilt due to this “helpful” advice. What can we say about it.
Well, first of all, God has decreed it. Abuse is included under “all things whatsoever come to pass.” That’s pretty inclusive. Just as He decreed His Son would suffer and die on the cross, and just as He decreed that all of those bad things would happen to Job, and just as He ordained that thorn in the flesh for the Apostle Paul. He decreed it all, yet in such a way that He is never the author of evil. Now, I want you to notice something in all 3 of these cases as recorded for us in Scripture. Specifically, notice that in every single one of these cases, God had a redemptive purpose. Christ went to the cross for the redemption of His people. Job suffered because the Lord was countering Satan’s charge that Job only served the Lord for selfish reasons. And Paul’s thorn in the flesh was allowed to remain so that Paul would be weak, and therefore strong. Many other similar explanations are given to us in Scripture when God chooses to let us in on His purpose for decreeing a particular thing.
Therefore, we can assume confidently that the Lord really means what He says — all things really do work together for good for them who love God. That good, of course, is our sanctification and growth into the image of Christ.
Well then, if that be the case, should we not simply remain in any suffering that comes our way? If it is for our good, and if it has been decreed by the Lord, then doesn’t that mean the Christian should never depart from an abuser? No. And this is the reason why: sometimes redemption comes in the form of exodus. Take THE Exodus, for example. Israel’s redemption from cruel, abusive bondage in Egypt. God provided a way out and led His people through that way. The doorway of escape is also decreed by God, and therefore we can confidently use it. Sometimes there is no door, and in those times we patiently trust in the Lord to sustain us in suffering. And in some cases, that is the kind of situation that Scripture addresses:
1 Peter 1:6-7 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, (7) so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
At other times we have examples of ways of escape being provided and used, such as the early Christians fleeing from Jerusalem after Stephen had been martyred (Acts 8:1ff). Paul appealed to Caesar and Christ Himself escaped more than once. So the principle seems to be stated by Paul as follows:
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
In any test or temptation (the Greek word can mean either), God will not leave us in it beyond our ability to endure it. He provides a way of escape. And if He provides a door, we can safely assume that He intends for us to use it! Are you in an abusive relationship? We aren’t talking about a marriage that has problems and difficulties. But if you are in a marriage to a person who is characterized by a profound sense of entitlement to possess power and control over you and who feels quite justified in using abusive tactics to maintain that power and control, and if there is a way of escape — you have every right to take it. Such “doors” will no doubt look a bit different in different situations: separation, divorce, getting help, calling the police — but if the door is there, it is meant to be used. Anyone who tells you differently is akin to a person who insists it is God’s will for you to stay in a burning building when a perfectly good fire escape is right in front of you. “No thank you, sir. You can stay here and roast. But I’m outta here!”