A Cry For Justice

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

A Scripture Often Used Against Abuse Victims — “Count it all joy when you meet trials” James 1:2-4

count it all joy lemons

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  (James 1:2-4)

Here is a very good comment/observation that we received from Katy when we ran a post* on Scriptures that are often used against abuse victims, pressuring them supposedly with God’s authority to remain in the abuse:
One that makes me hurt is James 1:2-4
I thought this meant that my marriage was a trial that I was meant to endure for as long as I lived, and that if I made it to the end of my life enduring his abuse that it would magically turn me into a better person. ?? I still wonder to this day — how long is a “trial” supposed to last? our whole lives?
According to some pastors/authors/Christians the answer to this question “how long?” is, forever, at least for the duration of this life. Here is a quote from a well known pastor, author, and conference speaker:

Perhaps you’ve heard me say it, and I will say it again, and I’m sure that I will say it again in the future, that the real purpose of marriage is not happiness. The real purpose of marriage is holiness. And if you get some happiness thrown in, that’s good, but it is really holiness that God is after. And that holiness means that we are taught patience, we are taught love, we are taught long suffering, we are taught lessons in forgiveness—all of these things that we would never know unless God brought some difficulty into our lives. And sometimes the difficulty that He brings into our lives, unfortunately, happens to be our mate. (Erwin Lutzer)

Oh yeah, thanks a bunch Mr. Famous Pastor. This is a clueless remark that fails to take the issue of abuse into account. In fact, I think I would disagree with this teaching even in non-abusive marriages. I don’t think it is a biblical doctrine that the real purpose of marriage is not happiness, but holiness. God gave Adam and Eve to each other primarily because “it was not good for the man to be alone.” Lutzer makes it sound like the more conflict is in your marriage the better suited it is to make us holy!!

Anyway, the problem here is that Scripture must NEVER be interpreted in isolation from the rest of Scripture. That is to say, you cannot just take a verse or a few verses and turn them into a kind of universal apply-this-passage-in-every-case-in-the-very-same-way carved in stone rule. Who is writing? To whom are the verses being addressed? These details and more must be considered.

In this case, James (the brother of the Lord Jesus) is writing to Christians throughout the Roman Empire who are suffering. Probably primarily suffering persecution for their faith. Many of them were Jews and when a Jew chose to follow Christ, all hell came down upon him at the hands of his Jewish family, prior friends, the synagogue and so on. The earliest persecutions of believers came from the Jews, not from Caesar. This was all very intense and painful and grievous to endure. You could have your property seized. Ex-communicated from the Temple and from society. (Hey, that sounds a whole lot like the kind of thing abuse victims suffer today when they determine to leave an abuser!).

Now, let’s ask this question — Do people who are in that kind of suffering, that kind of persecution, have a choice to escape it? Or are they pretty much “stuck”?  I propose to you that the answer is, they are pretty much stuck. Where are they going to go? To whom are they going to go, besides to one another? I suppose many small early local churches consisted of people who had lost everything and now turned to Christ and to one another. And James is writing to encourage them. He tells them that in spite of being in the suffering they are in, they can take great joy in the fact that their faith in Christ still holds, that the Lord, in fact, is going to use this suffering to make their faith even stronger and make them shine more perfectly with the glory of Jesus. What James is NOT doing is telling them, “Now you be sure that you remain right in that persecution, even if you have a way out, because God uses persecution and suffering for your good. So stay there. It’s His will.”

We actually find other NT texts (Old Testament as well) that show us that it is a very good thing, and perfectly permissible, for a Christian to escape persecution and suffering when they can:
Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) (1 Corinthians 7:20-21)

Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 8:2-4)
We could go on citing examples. You can think of others. Jesus Himself escaped persecutors, as did Paul many times, such as when he went over the wall in a basket.

James instruction is an encouragement, not a command!  “Count it all joy” does not mean “Get that smile back on your face now!” It means, “Don’t despair even in the most difficult and grievous times. The Lord is at work. He is going to use this all for His glory and for your good.” And when a way of escape opens, well:
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. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
So count the abuse all joy, for your sanctification, and then run out through the first open door you see!
~ ~ ~

38 Comments

  1. Still Reforming

    I don’t see much purpose to the Law in the Old Testament if not for the glory of God AND the betterment of man, meaning when a transgression occurred, there was a price – and often to repay the wrong done to the victim. It wasn’t JUST a type and shadow of Christ’s paying the price for us, although there are many such occurrences in the OT. There are, what, 613 laws – something like that? – in the OT, and many have to do with things like “if you accidentally kill your neighbor’s oxen” or “if someone steals your plow…” They weren’t told to just suck it up and love the thief to the Messiah. There were debts to be paid and transgressions to be accounted for – and wrongs to be made right. And ALL of those prices were paid by the offender, not the party injured. So unlike the Church’s preaching today.

    Loved that last sentence, Pastor Jeff! I don’t get many laughs anymore, so each one is greatly appreciated! (And wise counsel to boot!)

  2. Seeing Clearly

    I continue to wonder if two words that Lutzer uses twice are correct. “God brought” and “He brings”. Lutzer is giving God credit for marriage to a specific person. These statements are common in my religious neighborhood and also in many sermons in print. What part is a person given for making her/his personal choice? I see these words as inference that we are less than human without ability to make choices.

    Creation of humans is so intricate and multi dimensional. Our abilities to make decisions and choices are built into our personhood. So as I read those two words, I bristle in the contradiction that God made me, but doesn’t really expect me to use what the Creator built into His masterpiece, the human.

    I take responsibility for marrying the person I married. I recall all of the events surrounding the months that lead up to the ceremony. God did not tie me up and drop me off at the alter. God was in me and with me. God knew of my choice and was prepared from the beginning of time for me to make that choice and all the repercussions.

    In light of how many people make these statements as Lutzer does, there must be something correct in them. What am I missing?

    I realize that this article is written for a different purpose and subject, but these two words continue to grind at me and finally am at a place where well thought out people are present.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Carol – the sovereignty of God and the free will of man (human responsibility) are a pair of those biblical doctrines that in this life I suspect we will never fully grasp. Everything that happens in this universe was decreed by God in eternity past. And yet, God holds man responsible – because man is responsible. Paul deals with this in Romans 9. You make a good point here. To simply speak about how God “brought” a person a husband or wife, but not speak about how that person also made a choice is to give imbalance to reality. For example, was an abuser coming along into my life decreed by God? Yes. Is that abuser responsible for his evil? Yes. Did I make a choice in having a relationship with that abuser? Yes (though I didn’t know they were an abuser at the time). The way I look at these seemingly contradictory doctrines is this: I take comfort from knowing that nothing that happens surprises God. And yet I am not some programmed robot who has no free choice of my own. Both are true.

      • Seeing Clearly

        Pastor Jeff, I appreciate your concise explanation. Your last two sentences resonate with what I have believed, but don’t hear. I like the words “eternity past”. God’s forever ness conveys security to me, also “comfort” as you said.

      • Christine

        This is so true and unbalancing any truths in God’s word will always bring about an unbalanced way of living.

        I would just like to add, yes, you did make a choice to enter into a relationship with the MASK that the abuser was portraying, and yes, when that mask came off, you CAN make a choice to take the open doors and if need be run.

        This has helped me answer some of my own questions as to how this happened. Our abuser is striving in a very unbalanced church and within three months he is involved in most of their ministries including preaching. I guess it’s easy to heap teachers up that itch your own ears of all the unbalanced views that they hold to so dearly.

        The marriage lasted two years but it was only by God’s sovereignty that it was exposed and that events out of our control happened over-time, we just thankfully took the open doors as they came about. And what they meant for evil, God turned it to our good, for His glory and purpose.

        Finding this blog was an open door that we took, having a pastor that showed us the characteristics of a sociopath was an open door, the abuser leaving for a short time was an open door as it gave my daughter enough time to say things that sent red flags up among her family and church (we took this open door by arranging good christian counselling) there was many more open doors with the biggest one being not returning to the unrepentant abuser when he came back begging and deceiving again with his lies. And when he didn’t get his way the abuse doubled!

        May our eyes be opened to the many open doors that God places in our way!

  3. LorenHaas

    This verse was meaningful to me going through divorce and the abuse that was heaped on me in the process. It helped me grow in my faith, but not submitting to the abuse by others. I was fortunate to have supportive Christians around me to show me the path away from the mistreatment. You are right in that it is frequently stood on it’s head to mean God wants you to accept being abused, so you better learn to like it! If that was true why did David flee from Saul, Jesus from the mob and Peter from prison? It might be more understandable if those that espouse this would yoke themselves to the victims and carry the load with them. Instead they stand back and criticize because you are not joyful enough to meet the requirements of their theology.

  4. Scarlett

    I was not mature enough in the faith at the time, to be able to “count it all joy”. instead, I first got colitis, and then toward the last, hives all over my body”. Even my body was reacting. When the marriage ended, the colitis and hives went away.

    • I have hives on my body at the moment from the incredible stress I am under

      • Jeff Crippen

        I have had those hives before! The Dr. gave me Doxepin or something like that. He told me it was good for hives (and it worked) but it turns out it really is an anti-depressant! Me depressed??? Well, it worked. (Don’t take this from me as a prescription! I’m no Dr).

      • Scarlett

        No woman should have to resort to taking prescription medication for physical symptoms such as hives, PTSD, colitis, nervous breakdown or anything else, due to the torment and stress she is suffering from her abusive and dysfunctional marriage.

      • survivorthrivor2

        Scarlett & Loves6, I sympathize with your physical ailments due to the stress of abuse, I have suffered them also, in different areas. But, I just started taking adrenal (stress) support, all natural, not a pharmaceutical, and in just a few short weeks I have noticed a significant improvement. I thought I would just put it out there, it may help you, as well.

  5. Brenda R

    I got that backwards. I got out the door and then started counting the joy!!

    • Innoscent

      Me too Brenda R… ! O blessed be that open door !
      “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.”
      Recently I came to understand these words in a new light 🙂

      • rebecca

        Oh my goodness, thank you for sharing that. Amen.

      • Innoscent

        You are most welcome Rebecca. The Lord be praised for His awesome living Word!

      • Not Alone

        Innoscent, I would just really like to thank you so much for putting that first there. It’s been a year-and-a-half since that post, but I can’t tell you what a jolt of joy that burst gave me in my journey right now. Thank you so much!

    • Christine

      lol! that was so funny and made my day 🙂

  6. KayE

    This scripture gives encouragement to someone whose suffering is inescapable. But it’s despicable to quote it to a person in real danger, as a reason for refusing to help them.

  7. Another example of Paul attempting to escape persecution was when he appealed to Caesar when it looked like he was going to be turned over to the crowds. He took advantage of his rights as a Roman citizen to escape a horrible injustice!

  8. Greater Glory

    “The real purpose of marriage is not happiness.”

    I hated that thought preached from the pulpit. It made me feel like why bother living. Life became an endurance test and I hated it. If all we need is Jesus than why be married?!

    Those thoughts danced in my head until I came out of the fog and realized the lie. Then, I got angry at my pastor for always saying (in sarcasm) marriage wasn’t intended to make us happy. “Well that’s not what I meant.” “OK then, say what you mean because that makes me want to kill myself and I know I am not the only one thinking like that!”

    And, a guest preacher who actually said to the congregation, “Happiness and marriage is like Chinese proverb: dog chasing its tail.” I had a word for that pastor as well.

    Thanks for this post. I’m in “recovery”, but this happiness thing, or lack of, really had me for some time. Victory now!

    • Jeff Crippen

      Pastors who say things like that about marriage, especially from the pulpit, are giving you a window into what their own marriage is like.

      • Greater Glory

        Sad thought, Jeff, but I believe it, “a window into what their own marriage is like” and both of them have marriage ministries they brag about. The second one, female, has never even been married.

      • Innoscent

        So true Jeff! Sadly I have heard a few times preachers criticizing/belittling their wives from the pulpit, you know half joking. But there was one time when a guest preacher wanting to give an illustration half-way through his sermon took the example of his wife shedding bad light on her. It did not go well with me and I prayed for courage and wisdom.
        Afterwards during the luncheon I just happened to be sitting beside the preacher and we made acquaintance and chatted until the time was right for me to raise the issue. I told him kindly that it is better to use an illustration about himself, thus show humility, and not portray his wife and his marriage in the way he did and she could not even defend herself when she was not there with him that day. I added that when the young people in particular hear this kind of comment they will think poorly about marriage! He listened and acknowledged his wrong. Only God knows if he was genuine and made a change, but that he was able to talk about his wife in public and in a church that way was a big red flag to me!

      • I once heard a pastor (recently appointed/ordained by his Pentecostal denomination) preach a sermon in which he mentioned how his wife, whom he’d only recently married, didn’t wash his breakfast bowl.

        What !!!

        I mean, it was so snide, said in passing, but a real dig at her and at any woman who’d ever resisted a ‘rule the roost’ husband or father. I was so shocked I didn’t know how to respond so I did nothing. (This was years ago, when I was separated from my first abusive husband and a few years before I reconciled with and then separated from him again . . . I’d not started writing about domestic abuse.)

        That man’s marriage ended within months. It later became relatively public knowledge that he’d been married twice before.

        Uuugh. How foolish that church was, that denomination was, to appoint that man to be a pastor!

    • Christine

      You know I never once thanked God for the abuser but I did thank God for all that I learnt about His unfailing love, faithfulness, sovereignty, grace, and mercy as we went through this trial! He carried us through this horrible abuse! Secondly, when two believers are married and are seeking holiness there is happiness. I think it has something to do with the fact that abuse just doesn’t fall into holy living ummm… and I don’t think it takes a bible degree to understand that one 🙂

      • Not Alone

        “when two believers are married and are seeking holiness there is happiness.”

        Oh my goodness heavens thank you so much for speaking out the truth! Why is it that most believers won’t acknowledge this?

  9. joepote01

    So…a couple of thoughts here…

    First, from the Lutzer quote, “And sometimes the difficulty that He brings into our lives, unfortunately, happens to be our mate.” Do you see how he contradicted himself?

    He is saying that marriage is not about happiness but about holiness and that God uses trials and difficulties to make us holy…to bring about our salvation and/or sanctification. But do you see how he threw in that little word, ‘unfortunately’?

    If it were really all for our good and if it were really from God and God’s best for our lives there would be nothing unfortunate about it! Rather, it would be very fortunate, indeed!

    But he knows that’s not true! He knows there is nothing fortunate at all about being in an abusive marriage. He knows he can’t really get anyone in an abusive marriage to buy into the concept that this is a wonderful blessing from God, because it’s not. So, he throws in this word ‘unfortunately’ that totally contradicts his whole message.

    Second, in regard to the reference scripture, why couldn’t “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” refer to the testing of our faith as God delivers us from abusive relationships and as we learn to cling steadfastly to Him and no other?

    To me, this would be a much better application of this passage than the totally bizarre expectation that any situation in which we find ourselves suffering should simply be endured with no attempt to escape suffering. By that logic, hunger shouldn’t be countered with eating, as that would be acting on our own behalf to reduce suffering, thereby prematurely escaping trial by our own hand.

    • Well said, Joe! How well you untangled Lutzer’s pretty bouquet with its poisoned dagger embedded inside it!

      In marital abuse, I believe that we ought to the testing of our faith and how it produces steadfastness is about the testing of our faith as God delivers us from abusive relationships and as we learn to cling steadfastly to Him, regardless of how many so-called Christians tell us we are wrong to leave the abuser.

      We know that some of our readers are at this very time running the gauntlet of separation from their abusers and facing the wrath of the abuser’s allies, and we know it takes immense courage, strength in weakness, and faith in God’s help and provision. And we have so many testimonies on this blog from readers for whom this verse has immense meaning because they’ve lived it:

      You prepare a table before me
      in the presence of my enemies;
      you anoint my head with oil;
      my cup overflows.
      Psalm 23:5

      • rebecca

        This verse from ps.23 has been going through my mind lately. I didn’t know if I was justified to be applying it to my life right now…I thank God and you for this validation.

  10. Valerie

    It seems many of the references here go to show how things can be used for good or for evil. To enslave or to promote rebellion. I am reminded of the discussion we had awhile back about the need for exception clauses to be put on marriage books. :-/

    Lutzer did a sermon series on abuse and he did not shy away from being harsh with those who abuse. It was quite a few months ago that I heard it but as I recall he even had harsh words to say about those who would keep targets enslaved.

    I actually agree with Lutzer’s statement, however, it makes me cringe inside without the exception clause inserted. There are plenty of people out there who use unhappiness as an excuse to freely sin in the marriage. I also agree that our highest calling is to glorify God. Yet that doesn’t mean that God frowns on or discourages us from being happy but when that is our goal this leads to all kinds of problems (and sin). Think of it this way- the abuser actually can use the happiness excuse to promote his abuse! If he/she would be more concerned about holiness it would lead to a much healthier (and happier) marriage. IMO his statement isn’t unbiblical, it just isn’t the whole counsel of scripture when it comes to abuse. JMO.

    Joe makes an interesting point in acknowledging Lutzer’s use of “unfortunately”. I have a friend who recently married and now that the honeymoon is fading she is finding out about those inevitable annoyances and grievances she must be willing to forgive and not hold against him (these are minor issues and NOT abuse!). In doing so, I am seeing her grow in Christ-likeness. I see evidence of her spiritually maturing through it. Yet we know that in abusive marriages we are not growing in Christ-likeness BECAUSE of our abusive spouse (hopefully despite it but not because of).

  11. Hi Rebecca
    we got your other comment. I’ll reply to it by email.
    Short answer is “no, you are not obliged to do that.”

    • Rebecca

      Thank you!

  12. Cher

    In my former church I was told that marriage is for holiness not happiness. Also to have no expectations in marriage. This was said to me not my husband…I know I post a lot of comments but I feel that this is truly the only place that understands me. And one coworker I have who has been abused before…she gets me..since I left he always says stuff like “i don’t know what they did that waa so bad” but he knows bc I’ve told him.

    I have no money for […] …. I try to appreciate the little times things go good but he’s just always wanting to put me down. Tonight was going fine. He was being nice…then suddenly he has to tell our child that he’s no good to me anymore. I am also not feeling well… I asked him to help and I get a reluctant look …then he blamed me for […]. He blames me for everything. If our child won’t eat it’s bc I’m [doing something which is innocuous]. I want to leave him so bad but I’m stuck. I have almost fully realized the repercussions of staying with him. [ details of financial difficulties removed by Eds for writer’s safety.

    • Hi Cher, I edited your comment quite a lot to remove identifying details. But I only did this a while after it was published. Please re-read our New Users page for the tips it gives about what kinds of things are not safe to share on this blog. Remember, your abuser may find this blog, and if he does he can read any published comment here.

      • Cher

        Ok I will re read it. I understand. He doesn’t have much knowledge od computers, he grew up in a very rural part of another country and had never used a computer when we met. I taught him how to use a mouse and the other day how to place an online order. He only knows how to get to Netflix. But I understand completely.

      • Thanks Cher
        Even though he doesn’t have much knowledge of computers and is most unlikely to find this blog, there is another reason to disidentify your comments. The reason is this: if you wrote a lot of identifying detail in your comments, other readers, particularly newbies, might read your comment and think that it was okay (safe) for them to write comments with lots of identifying details too. We want to avoid that scenario if we can. 🙂

  13. Under the Waterfall

    I don`t think the marriage is for holiness not happiness idea is a scriptural one. For one thing, when discussing marriage, Jesus referred to God`s original creation intention, which was pre sin. Pre sin, Adam and Eve were holy and in unbroken fellowship with God. They needed no cleansing. Marriage was created pre sin and was for man`s good; God said it was not good for man to be alone. Obviously if God created marriage before the fall, for the good and well being of man, who at the time was holy, then making us holy was not HIs purpose in creating marriage. Blessing us was. God can of course use marriage as a means of making us more like Christ. But He can use a traffic jam or a loss of one`s job or many other things as well. If anything, in this difficult world which is no longer holy and riddled with strife, not being alone in the midst of it becomes even more important.

  14. Anonymous

    “The real purpose of marriage is holiness. And if you get some happiness thrown in, that’s good, but it is really holiness that God is after.”

    Wow. I hadn’t heard this until this website pointed it out but it’s SOOOOOOO ANTI-BIBLICAL! If you are a Christian and are marrying a Christian, there should be an EXPECTATION of SHARED love, SHARED joy, SHARED building each other up and many other gifts that come when two Christians get together. Our fellow Christian’s are our brethren and that should include our spouse, and there are many verses that address what we can expect as such–2 Peter 1:7, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, Hebrews 13:1 etc. Trials will come but IF two people belong to Jesus, they should most often come from external sources–the wife and husband should be able to turn to each other for comfort, love, affection etc. WITHOUT fear of abuse. One of the problems is that we’ve ACCEPTED this as a norm–abuse is often the norm in “Christian” marriages–which shows just how far we’ve allowed the church to wander from God’s word.

    I used to listen to Lutzer years ago on Christian radio and several things he said stood out to me. (This was at the time God was showing me the truth about psychopathy.) He actually did a sermon (maybe even a series) on the severe personality disorders (at the time I thought that he must really CARE about people and that he was very brave to do this–but now I know that MANY people who are “experts” on psychopathy and who do talk about it are actually psychopaths themselves because it’s a way for them to brag about themselves while seeming to “care” that some people are harmed by them). A certain thing he said (I’m paraphrasing here) pricked my attention. It was something about a woman who had suffered her entire marriage (a several decades long marriage) because she was married to a man with one of these evil personality disorders and Lutzer said something like nobody would ever know because she never talked about it or “bad-mouthed” him to others. (That she would go to her grave and nobody would know.) And he said it in a way that made it appear that she was doing the right thing–suffering for Christ or some other abusive thing. (I now recognize this as a softening victims up to make us more receptive to abuse.) I remember being so hopeless and heartbroken after this sermon. The last time I listened to him I was already questioning many things he said so when he started his preaching with a “joke” that went something like, “I love my wife cuz she shares all my joy but spends half my money.” That was it. Off the radio went and it was the last time I considered him legit. (Again, there were MANY other things about him and the things he’d said–these were just two that floated to the top, like turds.)

    Where do we (abuse victims) usually find the most help? From the secular world. From strangers. From people who feel empathy and who haven’t been brain-washed by evil humans. Thank you Jeff Crippen and all the gang at ACFJ (including those who comment and pray with and for all of us), it would be wonderful if more churches woke up and started loving their flock and ousting the wolves….I mean, “…marriage was made for holiness….blardy bladry blar……………………………….”

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