A word for the church and a word for victims, from Hebrews 12
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. (Hebrews 12:12-16)
This passage has a word for the churches to whom we are broadcasting our Cry for Justice.
And a word for victims who are suffering abuse from their spouses, families and churches.
First, the word for victims:
14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
True peace in relationship with an abuser is impossible: there is only a counterfeit peace which is obtained (temporarily) by the victim complying with the wicked coercive control of the abuser who constantly sucks and spits out her lifeblood, her dignity, her identity.
If we strive for that counterfeit peace which is no peace, we trade off holiness. We comply with the abuser’s sins against us and our children. If we comply with the Pharisaic church’s legalistic restrictions, on that mousewheel of works-based holiness we die a thousand deaths — our relationship with the Lord becomes attenuated, shrivelled, starved, ghostlike.
Rather than counterfeit holiness,
let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)
God has not called us for impurity [such as the impurity of the abuser’s corrupt sexual conduct], but in holiness. (1 Thess. 4:7)
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 … (Eph. 4:24-25)
… that truth may be something others don’t want to hear. It may be something that people around us may never agree with. But if it’s the truth, we are righteous to speak it.
Now, the word for the church:
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,
Church — men and women who claim to love the Lord Jesus Christ — lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees! There are victims of abuse whose lives are being desiccated all around you. Learn how to support them, learn how to advocate for them. Learn how to honor them. Stand up to the Pharisees and hypocrites and cowards and flabby theologians who enable abusers to exert power and control in the church and the home.
13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
Teach right doctrine, make the paths straight, remove the pot holes, boulders, ruts and chasms that you have let come into the road, so that abuse victims who have been made lame by their abusers (and by your neglect of road-maintenance) may not be put out of joint but rather healed.
15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
The “root of bitterness” is in the hearts of the abusers, not the hearts of the victims!
What so many people label “bitterness” in the victim is simply the victim’s longing for justice and vindication. Christians: don’t palm victims off by telling them to just put their longing for justice on hold and defer everything to the perfect justice of God which will be delivered in the end. It will. But the church needs to do its part in delivering some justice to victims now — before the second coming!
When the church doesn’t give what it ought to give victims — whatever justice it can deliver in the here and now, vindication and practical support — it stands under the wrath of God. When the church stands by, as most of it currently does, carelessly oblivious to the HORRENDOUS injustice that secular family courts and allied professionals are so often delivering to victims of domestic abuse, the church has forsaken its calling to be salt and light in the earth! And God is watching; his eyelids test the children of man (Ps. 11:14).
The “root of bitterness” is in the hearts of the abusers. Seek it there. The abuser deeply believes in his Own Entitlement. He believes that because he is the man, his woman should do what he wants.* When you challenge his entitlement, when you set boundaries, when you impose consequences for this immoral mindset and behavior, when you withstand him to his face, you will see this mindset exposed: he retaliates (overtly or covertly) in bitterness because he truly believes his thinking is RIGHT. Scrutinize the abuser’s heart, resist and cut through his fog, his red herrings, his blame-shifting, his insinuations that his wife is crazy, unstable, untrustworthy, hysterical, a fruit cake, a nut case. Repel and denounce his claims that *she should submit to him better*, and if she did, all this problem would go away.
16 See to it that no-one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.
— of course, this must mean no-one in the church, not no-one in the world! … fat chance we’d have of stopping sexual immorality in the world!
Bind the strong man. Hold him to account. If he claims to be a follower of Christ but is exercising a pattern of coercive control over his wife, he has despised the Living God and is trampling underfoot the blood of Christ — the very thing which would be his only birthright in the Kingdom of God.
He has preferred a mess of pottage — the power of a domestic tyrant — over any birthright he might have in the Kingdom. His presence in the church defiles many: put him out!
Listen to these words by “John” who is a recovering abuser, one of the rare ones who seems to be demonstrating solid committment to deep-level change, i.e. bedrock fundamental attitudinal and mind-set change as well as surface behavioral change. There is no indication from his account that he subscribes in any way to the Christian faith, but his words here show that by holding onto power and control, abusers are holding onto a mess of pottage.
… what you actually give up when you give up the power and control is virtually nothing — and what you get is immeasurable. You get to be free, to be who you are, to access parts of yourself that have been cut off. You get to have emotional relationships, to be vulnerable; you get great relationships with your kids. You get so much more than what you give up, which is such an illusion.
(from Unclenching Our Fists: Abusive Men on the Journey to Nonviolence, by Sara Elinoff Acker, p. 97-8)
* As we acknowledge in our definition of abuse (see sidebar on the right), sometimes the genders are reversed.
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For further reading: