A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Putting off and putting on — change as it respectively applies to abusers and victims

The Law should be pronounced to ‘secure’ sinners.  The Gospel should be pronounced to ‘crushed’ sinners. — C.F.W. Walther, Lutheran theologian. (PDF, lecture series, lecture #3)

If only that wise principle was understood and practiced by more Christians today! Instead what commonly happens today is that the Law is pronounced to ‘crushed’ sinners such as victims of abuse — victims are hauled over the coals and told to repent and have faith; and the Gospel is pronounced to ‘secure’ sinners — those of hardened heart and little or no conscience who feel they are pretty okay, thank-you, about the way they are leading their lives, and they don’t really think there is anything wrong with the way they treat others.

Today I’m going to show how Walther’s principle (which is a Biblical principle) can be applied to a passage of scripture.

I firstly encourage you to read this passage from the Bible aloud to yourself, slowly, letting your heart and mind absorb and digest whatever light the passage sheds on your situation and your history.

Ephesians 4:17-32 ESV
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now let me show you what I noticed in this passage.

A.  It depicts the abuser’s character and some of his behaviors, but it does not stop there. It nails it back to the root of the abuser’s problem: his hardness of heart.  So it is a good passage to help us identify abusers and make a full diagnosis of their problem, not just a superficial diagnosis of some of their signs and symptoms.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

Notice Paul talks about their ignorance, but says it is due to their hardness of heart. Those who think the abuser is just ‘blind’ or who buy into the abuser’s claim that he is just ignorant and doesn’t know what to do to not be abusive, are going to miss the boat and be recruited into the abuser’s game plan. It is not just ignorance. There is ignorance there, but it is due to the abuser’s heart-set.

They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

B. It could be another good “list” (like 1 Corinthians 13) to give to the quasi-repentant abuser who ‘accepts’ (fingers crossed in the back-room of his heart) that he has been abusive and who now protests, “I don’t know how to behave! I don’t know how to treat you! I don’t know what you want me to do!”  

Okay, Abuser, here is how to behave. I’ve made it real easy for you by bolding the bits I think you most need to attend to.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

And Mr (or Mrs) Abuser, since you probably know these instructions if you have been a professed follower of Christ, and you certainly have heard similar requests/ pleas/ guidelines/ hints/ suggestions or anguished demands from the person you maliciously control, and you may have also heard them from your target’s supporters if they have bravely confronted your wickedness,  then you have heard this all before. And you don’t obey. You don’t listen. You look in the mirror and then forget what you’ve seen (James 1:23-24). You brush it off. You excuse yourself. You blame your victim.  You skedaddle down one of your rabbit burrows and come up in another place, all innocent and charming. You continue to harden your heart.

So if you claim that you have the Holy Spirit of God and have been sealed for the day of redemption, we do not credit your claim. We cast that claim of yours to the winds, for the hot air that it is:–  because unless you put your back to the wheel and steadfastly practice, in the here and now, giving NO opportunity to the Devil, we will not engage in debate with you on questions of your being sealed by the Spirit and indwelt by Christ.

Yes, we set the bar high! We set the bar high for your own good, because we know all too well how easily you slip back if you allow yourself a little margin, if you allow one little root of that poison ivy of power-lust and entitlement to remain, for that is the core of your hard heartedness and it will not be gone unless every little root of it is pulled out. Poison ivy is notorious for how it comes back. If you don’t have poison ivy in you country, think of oxalis, which you can pull out as much as you want but you will not be able to get every little corm out of the soil and it will come back from those corms. Your only hope is to remove all that soil and start again with new soil. Or sell that block of land and move to a new one.

Poison_Ivy_Leaves

Poison Ivy

oxalis weed

Oxalis

 

 

 

 

Yes, the demand is high, because the character distortion is severe. The treatment is very tough because malignant narcissism and covert-aggressive character disorder is similar to a virus that keeps finding new ways to reshape its chemical structure so that it can evade the treatment regimes that are being applied to it. Some people have been infected with the Hepatitis C virus  and then somehow, mysteriously, fully eradicated the virus from their bodies. The experts don’t fully understand how this happens, or why it only happens for these few individuals. No doubt God understands that medical mystery; and likewise, He knows how to eradicate the poison ivy of abuse from an abuser’s character, but the abuser has to be willing to comply with God’s treatment program.

And as George Simon so consistently and patiently reminds us, change always involves changing in the here and now. And keeping at changing, not letting up.

No magic wand can do it. No superficial ‘list of behaviors to change’ can do it. No list from a pastor and elders telling the abuser what behaviors he should stop or start will do it. God goes for the heart. Scripture goes for the heart. The Apostles and prophets went for the heart.  And Paul had to remind even converted believers that they had to put off (and keep putting off) the old man and be renewed (keep being renewed) in the spirit of their minds, and they had to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God.  And Paul was writing that on the tentative assumption (v. 21) that his readers were actually believers in Christ and had come to saving faith. For if there is no regeneration, all the efforts will be pretty much in vain. You may shift the deck chairs on the Titanic, you may even get it to rise up out of the water a lot higher by dint of technological interventions like sealing some of the holes and pumping air back into some of the buoyancy chambers, but it’s still going down if you haven’t sealed all the holes. And the abuser does not like sealing his holes. He likes having them. They give him perks, services, power-over. They meet the desires of his flesh.

 . . . you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:3)

C. The list can also be applied to the victim who is in the early stages of waking up and coming out of the fog. Let me show you what I mean by repeating the passage, but this time bolding slightly different parts and giving some applications:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding They have been in the dark fog of the abuser’s brainwashing and manipulation and they are suffering trauma, which makes it hard for them to think as clearly as non-traumatized people can think.
alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart and more to the point, due to the hardness of heart of the abuser in having bamboozled them in his web of control, and the hard-heartedness of society and the church which commonly misreads abuse by calling it ‘marital issues’  — thus sharing the blame mutually between abuser and victim — and by according unmerited privilege and entitlements to men simply because of their gender, and making that so culturally normative that it’s hard to see it, let alone swim against it.

They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires the deceitful desires of the abuser who has taken power over his victim, and the deceitful desires of some victims’ own flesh, being caught out in youthful lust, falling pregnant to an abuser and so the die is cast for a long and appalling ‘anti-marriage’ to the abuser who she married because he was the father of her child, or because marrying him seemed better than living with her abusive family of origin. . . and all other such stories where the victim is easily entrapped by an abuser because of her vulnerability. . .   
and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Let rightly divided Scripture untangle your muddled heart and thinking, and let it dispel the false guilt and wrong judgements that so many of us have had, so that we may be wise as serpents to discern abusers, to protect our children, and to rebut false teaching; and harmless as doves, especially to ourselves and our true brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we share this journey of coming into the light of Truth and recovery from abuse and advocacy for other victims.

Therefore, having put away falsehood refuse to believe or comply with the lies of the abusers and the false teachers; stop hiding in your own denial and fear; take courage, come to the God who is rich in mercy and who will not crush a bruised reed   

Update—CAVEAT: People can only put away falsehood and not comply with the lies of abusers and false teachers, if they know they are abusers & false teachers. Many victims of abuse do not know that they are being abused; and they do not know that they have been taught to believe lies and false doctrines. Many people come from families and churches where abuse is the norm and everyone believes wrong teaching about headship and submission and other imbalanced or false doctrines. For victims whose lives have been like that, it is not a matter of them ‘hiding in denial or fear’. It is just that they are living in fog.  My people perish through lack of knowledge. (Hosea 4:6) 

let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor break the silence, tell your secrets to someone who is safe for we are members one of another.

Be angry and do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger, There is nothing wrong with feeling angry about what your abuser has done and what church leaders may have wrongly done to you, just take care you do not sin in the how you act upon your anger. And by all means be bold to pour out your imprecatory prayers to God, remembering that vengeance belongs to Him.

and give no opportunity to the devil. Don’t let your abuser wrap you back into his web by his superficial shows of remorse and feigned repentance which masquerade as real change. Keep the bar high. Have no hesitation to aim for no contact, as that is the thing which will most likely provoke him to really wake up to himself. Let him get down to the process of change, if he wishes to, but you don’t have to be around: it’s not your business, it’s his.
And if you are tempted to get into a sexually immoral relationship, flee! Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Don’t go there. It’s not worth it. 

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. If you are tempted to run down your abuser to your kids, don’t. Find good adults to vent to instead.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Watch that you don’t fall into that hole where you beat yourself up. The Holy Spirit does not beat us up. Be gentle on yourself and try to remind yourself of all the creative ways you resisted the abuse. Recognize when you are exhausted and cut yourself some slack in your daily routine if you can.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  This may apply particularly to those who have children who have been recruited by the abuser.

17 Comments

  1. Gary W

    Brilliant. Thank you. This reinforces a realization that was a long time coming to me. Being a Christian isn’t just a matter of having our Lord’s righteousness imputed to us. It is a matter of having His righteousness imparted to us, in increasing measure, in the form of a heart of flesh in place of a heart of stone. Right here. Right now. Not waiting for some sweet by and by.

    And thank you for outlining for us how the process works, how to both yield to and participate in the transformation our Lord has so effectively made available to all who will ask and seek.

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you, Barb.

  3. Seeing Clearly

    …..and the church which commonly misreads abuse as “marital-issues”…. is a part of Satan’s subtle distraction, putting it mildly. Often, I’ve heard people express concern that Satan is very busy in their church by breaking up marriages. Satan doesn’t mind taking the bad rap, because it keeps people’s eyes blinded from the Pharisees doing the abusing. “Marital-issue” sounds a lot to me like “wrapping-tissue”.

    • Not Too Late

      The first comment I normally hear in response to a marriage break-up is, “The devil is busy destroying marriages. I am going to pray for restoration because I hate the devil’s work.” Nobody seems to consider the role played by an abusive human being, who undoubtedly has consciously succumbed to the devil’s ways.

      • Yes. When I left my first husband, a female acquaintance/friend said to me “Are you going to let Satan destroy your marriage?”

        I was too hurt to answer her, I felt like she’d just punched me in the diaphragm. Of course, she didn’t think she’d said anything hurtful at all. And I doubt I showed her how hurt I was — I was just silent. I realized, years later, how I could have answered her: “It’s not me letting Satan destroy my marriage; it’s my husband.”

        Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

        It was incidents like that which prompted me to write my article Unhelpful Comments, And How To Respond To Them.

  4. Valerie

    Great article Barbara! I recently gave something to my abuser that I felt the Lord was placing on my heart to turn over. It wasn’t easy. I had many valid human arguments for keeping it but in the end I didn’t have full peace about it so I gave it him. When I did this my abusive husband remarked that he wished he had that degree of faith that I was displaying. (I didn’t read any sincerity into this as my abuser is completely unrepentant and perhaps just thought it was the appropriate moment to interject something spiritual sounding since I said it was my trust in God that allowed me to give this to him). I said there was nothing keeping him from having that degree of faith and asked what he thought was in the way. “Surrender”, he said without hesitating.

    Years ago he once said that if God wanted to get his attention he was going to have to work hard at it because he is stubborn (these are his own words!). I got chill bumps as he said it because he was in essence challenging God “I dare you”. Well, not long after this discussion a series of events happened to my husband where it seemed clear the Lord’s hand was heavy upon him in allowing (or bringing about) many sources of humiliation and the taking away of things that were most important to my husband. I warned my husband that I thought this was of God and suggested that he get right with God and examine this. My husband basically ignored me and more personal disasters ensued.

    So fast forward to this recent conversation and by his own admission he is refusing to surrender to God. Its like the truth is staring him in the face and yet he still doesn’t see a need or desire to submit to God’s authority. It is alarming to me that my husband is knowingly being deceived (if that is not an oxymoron) in the sense that he thinks he can come to God on his terms. When I have called him out on abusive behavior over the years, his go-to phrase is “I’m not perfect and I make mistakes but I think its important that we strive to be who God wants us to be.” I never saw striving to be transformed, however, only words.

    It has often been said that an abuser is his own god and therefore has no desire for the true God. Oh, and BTW, my husband is currently in church leadership.

    • Oh, and BTW, my husband is currently in church leadership.

      That bombshell that you dropped at the end Valerie — mini-gulp . . . double-take. . . ah yes: how typical of the type of story we hear on this blog!

      What is getting in the way? “Surrender.” I know another man who said the exact same thing. He is not an abuser, just a kind of deist who thinks ‘the fella upstairs has looked after me many times.’ And when I’ve asked him why he doesn’t become a Christian (and he understands the basics of gospel, I know that for sure) he says “I’m just not willing to surrender.” Like your husband, he knows full well his resistance to God, his determination to maintain himself on the throne of his life, rather than step off and let God take the throne.

      But your ex-husband is under more judgement from God than this non-church attending ethical-hedonist friend of mine. You ex parades in a wool suit and is doing church leadership, and in that role he is without doubt causing spiritual grief and a subtle sense of bewlidered desolation to the few real sheep who are sitting in that church shivering in their wet fleeces, wondering why they can’t ever make much progress from the rhetoric to the reality of joy and freedom in Christ. Gah!

  5. Seeing Clearly

    Barbara, you have written an important lesson for us. It is complex, so that I have reread it a few times this afternoon. Each time, I would then walk away and ponder the impressions that lingered. In the first half, I try to get a grasp of how my Ex operated so long, claiming to hear God, delivering Sunday sermons and leading a church. One clear insight that God allowed me, just before divorce, was a conversation my Ex had with an elderly family member. The elder asked him what he (my ex) thought it meant to love his wife as Christ loved the church. My ex replied that he did not know. With that reply, the elderly person told me, that I needed to get out of my marriage. It was difficult for him to reconcile those words in his own heart. But he has stood by me ever since. I ask God today to continue opening my eyes to the truth, to truths I have not known or understood.

    • twbtc

      “…asked him what he thought it meant to love his wife as Christ loved the church.”

      Seeing Clearly,
      This was a question I asked my ex more than once over the course of our marriage, usually when he was trying to explain to me what it meant for me to submit. And his answer was the same answer that your ex gave, “I don’t know.”

      But interestingly, although my ex didn’t know what it meant to love me as Christ loved the church, my ex definitely had an opinion what it meant to be “head of the house”, and he shared that opinion often.

      • Seeing Clearly

        I feel badly for the couples who came to my ex for counseling. Yes, he misguided them both, but the wife….well I remember a comment he made about the one wife when they left. (He was usually silent and confidential.) When this couple left and he saw me, he told me how thankful he was that I was a submissive wife, not one like her. I didn’t take it as a compliment. Some years later, our paths crossed and she shared with me a horrific story of abuse. She came to mind a few days ago and I am thinking of contacting her. Hopefully, we can talk, heart to heart, Yes, I was submissive. I would anticipate his needs and schedule, and adjust my life to facilitate his. My parents were both very thoughtful. I assumed he would catch on and reciprocate. After all, isn’t this how a good pastor’s wife behaves? Very sick! It isn’t even close to the correct picture of submission! It is the picture of a doormat.

    • Thanks Seeing Clearly. I know I often write complex articles. It seems that God gives me the complex Gordian knots to untangle. And I love it, but I know it is not an easy read. But God wants us to use our minds, doesn’t He?

      I am glad you read and re-read it, pondering each time. I think that is how we learn best. Like cows chewing their cud, each time we revisit it we extract more nourishment from it.

      Jesus’s teaching when he was alive was not done by presenting a Systematic Theology with all the separate doctrines neatly divided into different chapter headings. He imparted Truth by a mixture of parable, sermon, case study, object lesson, repetition, recapitulation, revisiting a doctrine in many different settings and situations. And the Bible does that too.

      God — who inspired the Bible — seems to know the best way for us to learn: by repetition, revisiting, recapitulation, pondering, applying in a case study, more revisiting, etc.

  6. Anonymous

    Valerie–“I’m not perfect and I make mistakes….” This is a “truism” and on the website “Abuse and Relationships” under “subtle control” they explain that abusers use truisms as ways to take the heat off of themselves. Here are a few:
    -“Everyone is human”
    -“Everyone deserves a second chance”
    -“Don’t kick somebody when they’re down”
    -“Everyone makes mistakes”
    It’s used by the abuser to make his demand seem more reasonable (as in YOU should be more reasonable).

    In one of the Youtube videos with Corrie Ten Boom, she makes a great point when she says that the only person Jesus CAN’T help is the person who thinks he is okay, especially when he compares himself to other people. This is a person who has no conscience. Not only do they think they are “okay,” they actually believe they are super awesome and if pinned down, they’ll sometimes reveal that they think they are God.

    My marriage is unbelievable. We’d been married 20 years when God started to open my eyes. Years later it amazes me to get a glimpse of how I used to think concerning my husband and the many others I now know are psychopaths. Having conversations with them now is a completely different experience than in the past. They can only “behave” for a certain amount of time so when I sense by what they’re saying or how they’re acting that they’re gearing up for a fight, I find a way to pull chocks and step. Whether it’s by leaving the room or house or building, talking less or not at all, not reacting or acting like I didn’t understand that they insulted me etc. They are not “human” in the sense that we’ve been taught by psychologists and preachers that spew that all seeking the same things such as truth, meaning to life, blardy, blar, blar. They are actually like 2 Peter 2:12 says: “But these, like dumb animals, are BY NATURE for the knife and destruction, as they slander those things which they do not understand and by their corruption they will be destroyed.” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English) (And the “dumb” is no insult to animals but means “without reason, irrational; contrary to reason, absurd” from the Greek word “alogos.”)

    And it seems you are at the point where you refuse to allow him to include you in his guilt. Bravo! We are not responsible for the biology of these people–that goes right to God. God created them the way they are, and he can handle them. God is not surprised at them or taken aback when we no longer participate in their schemes. When we step away (even if we are only able to do this emotionally at first), we are doing what God tells us to in 2 Tim 3:5, thus leaving ourselves in God’s hand. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Anonymous

    Absolutely fantastic, Barbara! What you’re saying is that verses like these need to be analyzed and preached differently because the audience is not just one homogenous group of people. The victim, who has been berated often enough, hears the passage and feels condemned/guilty, and tries harder. The perpetrator, not being truly born of the Spirit, hears the passage and doesn’t flinch, and goes back to focussing on whatever is in the mind, which is probably whatever will bring most the pleasure or power in the next moments.

  8. Brenda R

    Well done, Barb. You broke this passage down so that it is understandable and shows each side of the equation what is good for them to know.

    [Note from Barb: I removed the rest of this comment because it was a personal message to me. Thanks, Brenda. I shall reply to you by email.]

    • Friend of Victim

      Therefore, having put away falsehood refuse to believe or comply with the lies of the abusers and the false teachers; stop hiding in your own denial and fear; take courage, come to the God who is rich in mercy and who will not crush a bruised reed.

      Caveat….(People, such as my friend, can only put away falsehood & not comply with the lies of abusers & false teachers, if they know they are abusers & false teachers which she did not. Her family, Pastor, Pastor’s wife & abuser husband touted headship & submission (false doctrine based on mistranslation/misinterpretation). It was not a matter of denying it or fear. I suspect there are many others out there with similar situations.

      • Thank you, FOV, that is a very important caveat. When one lives in and constantly breathes the miasma of false doctrine and abuser-imposed worldview, one cannot be said to be ‘hiding in fear’ or ‘living in denial’. Does anyone ‘hide’ in a fog? No.

        When someone is in a fog (talking about a physical fog from thick clouds that are down right at ground level) they are just in the fog. And if that fog had come in very incrementally, or so long ago, or was always there 😦 . . . the person just lives in it, unaware of how much it thickens the atmosphere, impedes the view and hinders the sunlight.

        Thank you for making that nuance. I shall add something about this to the text of my post.

  9. Many years

    This is excellent, Barbara! I will be reading and rereading this, and taking notes! Blessings to you for your wisdom!

Leave a comment. It's ok to use a made up name (e.g Anon37). For safety tips read 'New Users Info' (top menu). Tick the box if you want to be notified of new comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: