A Cry For Justice

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

Does Unconditional Love Even Exist?

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

Christians tend to make much out of this notion of “unconditional love.” Most of our readers have no doubt been on the receiving end of this idea that they need to love their abuser “unconditionally” because, after all, God loves us unconditionally. No matter what, He loves us.

We think not. Let us propose to you that there is no such thing as “unconditional love.”

It is true that in eternity past God elected His people to salvation. And he did so based upon nothing in themselves. Jacob and Esau were twins, yet before they were born and before they had done anything good or bad, God set His election upon Jacob. Christians will debate until Christ comes about the specifics of how this all works in conjunction with free will and so on. But for now, let’s just think about this matter of “unconditional love.”

When God decreed that He would love us, we were still sinners. Unlovable. So if by ‘unconditional love’ we mean that there was nothing in us to commend God’s love toward us, fine. Reformed theology calls this ‘unconditional election’ rather than ‘unconditional love’.

In the plan of salvation there were conditions

In God’s plan to bring us to salvation, there were conditions. Conditions that had to be met. You see it in both of the verses above. Namely, Christ had to die for us and be the propitiation for our sins. All the benefits we enjoy in Christ (forgiveness, adoption, justification, sanctification, regeneration, glorification, etc) are conditioned upon Christ coming and redeeming us. And we also had to repent and believe the gospel.

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

So it simply is not true that God loves everyone without condition. If He has anything that can be defined as “love” for His enemies (and many would argue that His common grace toward everyone is not the same as love), that kind of love is not the fullness of the love He has for His own people in Christ. And there will come a Day when all of humanity is sorted out into two groups (really, we already are) for all to see. Many (most) will hear Him tell them to depart from Him into outer darkness, while His sheep will be invited in to receive their inheritance.

But here is the point. Even those sheep are not loved by God UN-conditionally. Oh, there is no room for them to boast about their justification. Nothing that they did was in any way meritorious as far as “deserving” to be saved or somehow “obligating” God to save them. Even faith and repentance are gifts from God. But conditions were met, and God met them in Christ. There was indeed a price to be paid, only it was Jesus who paid it. He met the conditions. So we are secure in Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. But it is not an unconditional love, you see.

Which brings us back to the case of the wicked abuser. God does not accept the wicked. God has one message to the evil man — repent and believe the gospel or you will remain under wrath and perish in hell. The good news has conditions — terms if you will. It is not (as seems to be so frequently preached nowadays) a declaration that “Christ has died, God loves everyone now unconditionally, and we will all live happily ever after in heaven no matter what.”

The same truths apply to our relationships. Unless the abuser repents and is born again WE do not relationally forgive and reconcile with him. Oh, we don’t go out and seek our own personal vengeance. And we don’t leave him lying in the highway run down by a car and bleeding — if we see him in that state, we call the ambulance and get him to hospital. And we can pray that God will forgive him, as Jesus prayed for the soldiers who carried out his execution, and as Stephen prayed for those who stoned him. But in praying those prayers, Jesus and Stephen both knew full well that for God to forgive those people each individual soldier, each person throwing stones, had to repent of his or her sins and come to saving faith.  A prayer for one’s enemy to be forgiven may be uttered in simple words — “God, forgive him!”  — but those simple words take as their presupposition the idea that God does not forgive a sinner who doesn’t have genuine repentance. Only those who repent, being born again unto saving faith in Christ, can enter the kingdom of God.

Three things we are to do for our enemies, with two caveats

Christians are instructed to do three loving things for their enemies, and two of these three are tempered by other biblical precepts.

  1. We are to refrain from personal vengeance.
  2. We are to do good (do deeds of mercy) to our enemies. But at the same time, we are called to be wise and not put our pearls before swine who will only turn again and rend us.
  3. We are to pray for our enemies that God will forgive them — that they will be granted repentance and saving faith. But we are not required to pray for the sin that leads to death.

In a sense, all these three things are linked by a common desire: in refraining from vengeance, doing deeds of mercy to our enemies, and praying for our enemies, we are desiring that our enemies repent and come into the kingdom of God. If that should transpire, we will meet them lovingly in the New Heavens and New Earth (if not before) and we will greet them with rejoicing and thanksgiving for the glory of God.

These things  are really the limit of our “love” for our enemies.  Because full love, relational love, forgiving love has its conditions. And abusers almost always fail to even want to meet those conditions.

Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was a once off. We are not called nor must we presumptuously think ourselves capable of replicating it for our abusers.

So the next time someone pulls the “unconditional love” card on you (“you must love your abuser without condition because God’s love is unconditional”) perhaps these thoughts will help you throw a monkey wrench into the gears of their thinking. We don’t claim to have all of this totally sorted out. This is the stuff that theologians will banter on back and forth for decades. But we know enough to realize that all of this common talk about God’s “unconditional love” is a perversion of Scripture and is a twisting of truth that does not line up with God’s Word. Don’t feel any obligation to yield to it.

A brainstorming exercise

Let’s brainstorm ways we can respond to someone who tells a victim of abuse, “You must love your abuser without condition because God’s love is unconditional.”

Here’s Barb’s attempt as a starter:

“As a born again believer, the Bible tells me that God elected me unconditionally to salvation. But God’s unconditional election is not exactly the same as ‘unconditional love’. God’s loving plan of salvation has conditions: Jesus had to die as a propitiation for sin, and I had to repent and believe.”

But Barb is always rather longwinded (says Barb) … so maybe some other readers can come up with more concise responses.  And maybe some can come up with shrewd questions to put back to the advice-giver — see here and here for posts about asking shrewd questions.

~ * ~ * ~ *  ~

Related posts 

our tag Unconditional Love

Posts that touch on praying for abusers

To pray for our abusers… or not? (we don’t need to pray for the sin that leads to death)

Praying for God’s Justice

Have I prayed enough? – a question often asked by victims of domestic abuse

our tag Praying For The Abuser

Posts that touch on the ‘pearls before swine’ scripture

Ed Welch Has Abuse All Wrong, and so does the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)

They will turn again and rend you — Matthew 7:6

Victims’ vulnerabilities that abusers exploit

 

50 Comments

  1. MaxGrace

    This is my all time favorite post! THANK YOU!!!!!!! I have nothing to add, but I can’t hold back my joy. This is scriptural truth, which has been substituted by traditions of men. God bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you, Barbara and Pastor Jeff!!!!

  2. This is so good. I’ve never liked that term. When I was in a group discussion once years ago and was asked, “What does unconditional love mean to you?” my answer was, “Well, I’d like to find out what it meant to the person who invented the expression.” Even though I didn’t have everything sorted out at that time, I knew it wasn’t a term or a concept invented by God.

  3. joepote01

    I completely agree with the misuse/overuse of this term ‘unconditional.’ While a case might be made for unconditional love in the general grace given to all mankind, I see the biblical record as being quite clear that there is absolutely no such thing as unconditional relationship.

    You might enjoy this blog post I did on this topic: http://josephjpote.com/2014/09/unconditional/

    In regard to a response to the statement, “You must love your abuser without condition because God’s love is unconditional,” I have responded to statements such as this with the simple question, “If God’s love is unconditional, then why won’t everyone be saved?”

    Thanks for the excellent post!

    • Lea

      > I see the biblical record as being quite clear that there is absolutely no such thing as unconditional relationship.

      This is where I am. I see no reason why loving someone means you have to be with them, or hang out with them. Sometimes you can love people from afar.

      Maybe there is some use here in speaking of different kinds of love too. You can love your enemy, but that isn’t going to be romantic love, or even friendship love.

      • joepote01

        Yes, good points, Lea!

        Clearly, if we are to love strangers and love enemies, then loving someone (in this sense or these situations) does not necessitate being in intimate relationship with them, nor being vulnerable to them.

  4. 3blossommom

    Is it okay that right this moment I do not hope for my abuser to repent? I’ve seen so many false repentances from him that I don’t think I could believe it. And I most certainly don’t look forward to seeing him on the other side. At least not yet.

    • joepote01

      3blossommom –

      Speaking from personal experience, I think we reach a place of simply having to leave it all in God’s hands and to trust His plan. Looking at the Psalms of David, it is clear that David was not always praying for Saul to be blessed of God. For family and friends with whom we are in loving relationship, it makes sense to continually pray for them. However, in the case of an abusive spouse, we reach a point where it is no longer emotionally healthy to continually pray for them. I think it is enough to simply forgive them (not seek vengeance) and leave it in God’s hands. Ultimately, their eternal destiny is between them and God anyway.

    • Un-Tangled

      My husband and I were talking awhile ago about this. We stated, “So where in the Bible does it ever speak of ‘unconditional love and forgiveness? It does NOT.” Do people even consider the end result of such a thing? I think NOT.

    • Oh yeah, with the abuser having a long standing history of making pseudo repentances, it IS okay to not hope for your abuser to repent. Why is it okay to feel that way? Because you know that each time he has ‘repented’ in the past, he didn’t mean it; you were drawn in by his masquerade of repentance and you gave him another chance, you opened yourself to him once more and he hurt you again. So you don’t want to have that happen yet again! That is an absolutely natural feeling you are having. You are not wanting any more mistreatment from him. You are shrinking from any more abuse. You are wary of him abusing you again. That shows you are not content with being abused! It shows you are resisting being abused. It shows you are healthy!

      In fact, when an abuser has repeated this pattern of fake repentance time and time again, the consequence is that his victim will feel exceedingly wary of believing anything he says and exceedingly untrusting of him; she will guard herself against him; she will set up firm boundaries against him.

      And if the abuser does truly repent, under the drawing of the Father and power of the Spirit, well he is free to do so without having any contact with her! She is free to get on with her life and healing, without having to have anything more to do with him.

      A truly repentant abuser would recognise that his former treatment of his wife would mean that she may never ever ever want to have anything more to do with him. And he would accept that as a consequence of his former sins, just like King David had to accept the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba (the death of their first son, the mayhem and mutiny in his extended family).

      • 3blossommom

        Thank you. In not taking vengeance/forgiving I am sometimes wavering. Some speak to me as if that means I should be merciful in the divorce by not using all the things I have against him in negotiation. I am taking the position that I let justice have it’s way by presenting my best case and letting the current law determine things. These thoughts of forgiveness, vengeance, and unconditional love are very real right now, because our first hearing is tomorrow.

      • Hi 3blossommom, I hope the hearing goes well.
        I honour you for the stance you are taking and how you are not allowing yourself to give in to the advice-givers who are pushing the ‘mercy’ line on you. I think your stance is wise and godly.

  5. kind of anonymous

    That’s a tough one to answer because it is both a guilt trap and a lack of reality . So I’ll take a shot at it too and probably be just as long winded. My take on it is that God’s love for us is rooted in who He is, not in our meritorious acts. Scripture says For God so loved that world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. So God’s love for the world existed before Jesus was given, not after or as a result of. Salvation, being justified and saved however, exists and is available only and entirely because Jesus satisfied God’s justice, which His love and holiness would not allow Him to overlook. The two are linked, justice and love. Until someone repents and accepts Jesus’ provision of redemption and cleansing, that person is still under the consquences of sin and rebellion.

    Just as his relationship with God is broken through sin and lack of repentance, so his relationships with others are broken for the same reason. Saying God’s unconditional love requires us to fully reconcile with an unprentant abuser is like saying God is required to restore fellowship with us and let us into heaven while we are still rejecting Jesus and carrying on in our sins. God has done His part but there is a part for us to do too. The offer is made and we, like God, can show acts of undeserved grace, love and mercy so that person is drawn by getting a taste of heaven and its King. But relationship is not restored until he or she truly repents and turns to Jesus, accepting what God has already provided and they have been, up till now, rejecting. If unconditional love meant what some people unthinkingly and unscripturally assert, then everyone would be going to heaven regardless of whether they are still rejecting Jesus or not. The bible is clear, Christ rejecters will not be saved.

    So how to answer the many polly parrots in the church who lay such trips and who think that showing love equals endless tolerating of sin and who shudder at the “cruelty” of disfellowshipping such a one? Here it is: 1 Cor. 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
    So one could simply ask “So you think Paul was guilty of not showing unconditional love when he said in 1 Corinthians…..

    If the abuser is a non christian, that’s maybe a bit harder, because of course one is additionally thought to be guilty of denying them salvation by refusing to put onself in the line of fire endlesly. I remember once noticing a scripture I’d never heard mentioned before, during a time when I was with directly controlling and manipulative inlaws who were causing major strife and misery in our lives. Can’t find the reference, but it had to do with Jesus going to a town and they would not receive Him, so He continued on His way. That stuck out to me. These are unsaved people and yet Jesus isn’t sticking around, begging them to see that He really is a/the loving and accepting Messiah and is here to do them good and not evil. He accepts their functional no for what it is and carries on.

    Here is the most loving and merciful person in the world accepting people’s right to refuse truth love and reality, not to mention salvation. These people are passing up their one and only chance to meet God in the flesh and have one of those one on one audiences with Him that we would all love to have in person. And He lets them. Love for enemies means offering them truth, giving them something to meet their bodily needs when in need, praying for them, overcoming evil with good. But Jesus also said that if we are persecuted in one city, we may flee to the next. Even in the instructions that if the military forces you to carry their gear one mile, do it for two, it doesn’t say then three, then four etc. Same with being slapped on one cheek, it stops at the second cheek. It doesn’t go on and on, equalling standing there and taking endless abuse. If showing unconditional love means sticking around and taking abuse, I don’t see it here. There is way too much syrup and sap in christianity today. If I hear one more person, when referring to holding someone accountable for sin, say in sanctified syrupy tones ” Well, christians are the first to shoot their own wounded” I’m gonna scream or barf maybe both. Maybe that’s another one that needs some scrutiny here 🙂

    • keeningforthedawn

      Kind of Anonymous — YES and AMEN! Very well stated. Along with what you said about Jesus accepting people’s right to refuse, I once had a friend who pointed out that the Savior of the world did NOT have a “savior complex”. He didn’t bend over backwards trying to coerce people into being saved. He presented the unadulterated truth, but He also knew when to go on His way.

      P.S. I am so with you on the “Christians are the first to shoot their own wounded” quote. It would be interesting to examine that one as well.

  6. Forgiving someone who intentionally hurts by words, deeds, actions, who lacks remorse, who lacks empathy, who stalks, plans evil in his heart, who is messed up … hate fills the void … joy shows up on his face when pain is inflicted…

    […]

    Breaking free is possible. It’s hard! agonizing at times to move forward.
    God is for the weak and downcast.
    Reach up to the only salvation that will set the abused free. Jesus can and will guide you out of the deceitful lies of the enemy.
    I am still overcoming the past.
    Praise God! He is able.

  7. H

    Great post! I recently ran into a similar discussion in a Bible study. We were discussing forgiveness and loving our enemies, and folks were focused on the idea of loving, as an example, ISIS. Well, I was rolling my eyes, but I was also thinking of my abuser. I disagreed strongly that we should just let evil people do whatever they want to us and that our non-resistance would somehow impress them and lead them to Christ. But certain people were saying that because God forgave us freely and unconditionally, we should do the same for our enemies. (And again, watch in amazement as they suddenly tumble into repentance because of our forgiveness.)

    But I just said, Look, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think God forgave us freely, and I don’t think there is such a thing as free forgiveness. Everyone’s sins are punished and paid for, but some people’s are paid for on the cross, and some people’s sins will be paid for by an eternity in hell under God’s righteous wrath. Is there a part of the Bible that contradicts that?

    No one had anything to say, and there was silence.

    And then I told them that I take great comfort in the fact that people who have done horrible evil and injustice to me will be punished. It’s the only thought that keeps me from anger, hatred, revenge. It will all be punished, and God is keeping close watch, and keeping track of every wrong done against me. It may be punished on the cross, which would be a cause to rejoice. But if not, it will be punished in hell. Thank the Lord.

    I think they were looking at me like I had three eyes or something. LOL. But I do think I gave them a new perspective, because those things aren’t the nice “churchy” things to say, but they couldn’t challenge their truthfulness.

    I think there are a lot of ways that worldly ideas have gotten mixed up with theology. For example, I am seeing ideas of “non-resistance” as a way to change people mixed up with what Jesus did on the cross. I certainly had that idea mixed up when I was first trying to get out of my abusive marriage. I thought I should stay in my marriage and just suffer and continually forgive, and be a sort of sacrificial lamb to save my marriage. I believed that such an action had some sort of merit in itself according to God. And yet I was confused because it just felt wrong.

    But when you search the scriptures, it’s clear that non-resistance in the face of abuse and injustice is not celebrated in and of itself, as some Christians think it is. Even Jesus’ non-resistance towards people who were doing him wrong is just because in the fullness of time, these things will be punished later. The people who spit on him and beat him will be justly punished, if they don’t repent and place their sins at the foot of the cross. Jesus’ submission in that moment was a breathtaking proof of his love and devotion to God the Father, and also had the effect of heaping coals on the evil doers’ heads.

    All sins will be punished, and without sins being properly taken care of, God will have a relationship with no one. Christians need to read a little less Dr. Martin Luther King and read a little more of the Bible. Or at least we need more care that worldly ideas don’t get sneakily mixed up with the truth of the Bible.

  8. H

    A few responses: “If God’s love is unconditional, then why did Jesus die on the cross?”

    “If God’s love is unconditional, why does God command everyone to repent and believe to recieve forgiveness of sins?”

    “if God’s love is unconditional, then why do some people go to hell? Why would there even be a hell?”

    “If God’s love is unconditional, how can he be just?”

    • stayingalive

      “If God’s love is unconditional, how can he be just?”

      That’s such a good reply. I am often confused and at loss for words when confronted with Christian platitudes. Thank you for these great comments.

  9. Sara

    Abusers seek the Christian theological myth of “unconditional love,” because then they can control and manipulate their victims. The majority of women are taught to submit in all relationships, because it is thought to be Biblical. Worldwide religious doctrines subjugate women, and therefore put women at a greater disadvantage and a higher danger of abuse. “God’s unconditional love” sounds wonderful and theologically sound, but Jeff pointed out the flaws in this thinking. Humans were created to be in relationship. We were created for love. Which leads to the question of – What is love?

    We spend our lives seeking this allusive feeling. The quest for love can be magical or dangerous. The danger lies in the fact that we all define how we feel loved differently. Some abusers feel love when their victim is completely submissive, while another abuser feels love when he is pummeling his victim into submission. Then there is the victim who feels loved when the abuser brings her flowers after being abused. Being on the other side of abuse—we recognize that none of this is healthy, nor is it love.

    But what is love? In today’s society, we are given so many mixed messages about love that truth and myth gets mixed together. Christians say, “God is love,” but that can seem illusive too. Especially when we are led to believe that God’s love is shown through the church, which is full of broken humans, who side with our abusers and try to keep the patriarchy in place. Our quest to be loved puts us in danger, and yet we all keep at the quest and show courage when we leave our hearts open to the hope that love is what God intended for our lives. Today, we are safer on the quest, because we learned to separate truth from myth – like there is no such thing as unconditional love.

  10. cindy burrell

    It is a dangerous thing to say, “I will love you no matter what you do to me.” In my former marriage that became the double standard, my husband insisting that I was commanded to love him no matter how he treated me.

    The truth is that, in any relationship – whether with God or others – there is the law of sowing and reaping. God reaches out to us, yet He also allows us to reject and disobey Him – even to our own demise. Even the God of perfect love allows the one who sows the wind to reap the whirlwind. (Hosea 8:7)

    • Charis

      “No matter what” is an overly simplified yet terribly complex concept. I have a children’s book by that same title. It is beautifully illustrated and delightful to read. And yet…at the back of my mind in my most authentic self there nags the awful truth. The truth most of us here on this blog have stood face-to-face with, as you have stated: “in any relationship – whether with God or others – there is the law of sowing and reaping.”

      The horror that we single moms lock away in the recesses of our mind, daring not to live in the Land of What If is the possibility that one day we might necessarily make a similar choice with one of our children. We pray mightily that day never comes. We train and raise up in defense of that. Protect against it. And yet…as strong as a mother’s love is, we have learned the law of sowing and reaping. Of toxic relationships. Of pain and harm that cannot/should not be tolerated. Of true love and safety. And of necessary goodbyes.

      We have learned that “unconditional” and “no matter what” are better suited for fairy tales and children’s books. And we are stronger for it. Healthier.

      • joepote01

        Yes…I remember, following divorce from a 17-year abusive marriage, coming face-to-face with the reality that there is a limit to love….that love is not endless nor boundless…that healthy love includes healthy boundaries…that there is not such thing as “no matter what” nor “unconditional.”

        As strange as it may seem, I felt both a sense of loss and a sense of freedom with these realizations. A sense of loss in discovering the love I had so long held as an ideal wasn’t and isn’t real…and there was a sense of grief in the death of that fairy tale. Yet, there was also a great sense of liberty and joy in realizing I no longer had to try to live up to some nonexistent impossible ideal.

        Yes, we are stronger for it…and better able to help others.

      • Abby

        We can’t have a like button, but can we have an AMEN button? So many great comments.

  11. “You must love your abuser without condition because God’s love is unconditional.”

    Most of the “Christians” around here condemn me with disgust because they’ve made the assumption that I wickedly stopped loving my abuser and refused to “work things out” with him.

    My answer to the above statement is this— I do love my abuser and I understand him better than anyone else.That’s why I see his only hope is to repent, and that can only happen if he is held fully to account for his lifetime of deceit and abuse.

    But all the “Christians” felt sorry for him because I did hold him to account, then they supported him as he turned his full vindictiveness on me, and they celebrated his finding of a new victim.

    This man has the same level of deceit as a serial killer and as little conscience. The arrogance and folly of those “Christians” is beyond words.

  12. Anonymous

    From reading these comments it’s clear to see that “unconditional love” is usually given to those who have none (no love for others). Those of us who CAN love others are held to impossible standards and are given no leeway or the right to say that we need love too. Nope. Those poor souls who are only full of “wickedness, evil, greed and depravity…., envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice” (due to the choices they made in their heart), are the ones we need to reach out to! WE have everything we need, they don’t! (I have actually been told this many times in my life–that I had no right to ask for help because I was “healthy”–had a conscience.)

    Thank you for this post which is another biblical truth uncovered, that had been buried under the pile of lies so many of us had been born into. Now that it’s been brought out into the open and you’ve given us the tools to use to defend ourselves from the lies of the enemy, we may have a little more rest time. Being alive in the end times IS perilous! (2 Tim. 3:1)

    • keeningforthedawn

      Anonymous — very insightful. You have some great points here about the double standard that is so prevalent.

  13. Hope

    The term Unconditional Love seems to be a human made term, I cannot find it anywhere in the Bible. Most people equate unconditional love with a lack of consequences for sin and a lack of personal boundaries or respect for such. Where is that written? How is that either a Godly attitude or Godly behaviour? Nevertheless, it is what some Christians and non-Christians think and believe.

    I do not believe that unconditional love as most people define it exists, ever did exist, or that it even should exist. The definition is man-made and therefore fatally flawed. It gives abuse and abusers a free pass, how is that Godly or Christian? This flawed concept is used to suppress and oppress the abused – why is it not applied to the abusers? Why are they not told to love unconditionally? Nowhere is this human-made concept of unconditional love written in God’s word; it is neither spelled out nor taught in history, lessons, or parables – quite the opposite.

    Perhaps a better term would be Genuine Love, as in 1 Corinthians 13, detailing examples of what genuine love really means, and nowhere is the term or idea of ‘unconditional’ written.

  14. Seeking

    I love this message. It is such an eye opener. My husband has been expecting me to forgive him and reconcile with him after I found out about his affair with another very young woman. But his plea for reconciliation is not genuine. There is no repentance as there is no attempt to give up his affair. He has shown no remorse for what he has done and blamed it all on me. He justified his affair by saying that I was cold and distant and did not wear ‘sexy clothes” to please him.

    Our whole marriage has been deep rooted in sexual sin on my husband’s part. Addiction to porn, touching other women, photographing unaware women and refusal of any kind of intimacy with me whilst all this time,he was going to Church and sounding like a mature Christian. I think I must have been blinded by his apparent spirituality although I am now shocked that I did not discover this sooner. It is easier to identify abuse when it is physical but it is not easy to identify emotional abuse. It is only after i started reading the various posts of ACFJ that I realized that I have been abused for many years.

    My husband does not want a divorce as he says we must stay together for our son’s sake. I do not think that there is anything in this marriage to be saved. From the text messages on his phone, it is obvious that my husband is still in contact with this other woman. He has no plans to give up on her. Even if he gives her up, it could be some other woman in the future. What crushed me was that recently he has stopped wearing his wedding ring.

    I absolutely cannot see a future with him. He thinks I will continue to live with him because he is so arrogant and blind to his own faults. During the marriage my husband used to tell me that no other man would want me as I was not attractive enough, meaning I was lucky to be married to him. I wished I had left him sooner. I stayed for our child’s sake but now I realize I cannot trust him at all and will go insane if I stay on with him. I have to trust God enough to make my big move.

    Another Anon

    • I think you are wise to have decided to leave him. Apart from all the other reasons, he could give you an STD if you remain with him.

    • Anonymous

      Seeking, Your observations are correct and if you stay [it is likely] you will find yourself consumed and destroyed. ( “….psychopaths don’t follow, they mirror. They don’t lead, they destroy. It’s difficult to create [something] and easy to destroy [what others have painstakingly created].”) It sounds like you have the means to move away from your husband which sadly is not the case for all of us and it’s one of the reasons some of us are still living with constant emotional abuse.

      This is from another website but it might help you see that you are making the right decision by choosing to leave. This website uses the term “psychopath” but the characteristics are the same for abusers who harm others and never examine themselves.

      “The problem with psychopaths is that they are so grandiose that they never examine their own behavior, nor do they ever seek to modify their choices. The choices they make are a deep reflection of their pathology. That pathology includes a lack of desire to be anything other than what they are. But why don’t sociopaths/psychopaths desire to change? The answer is that they enjoy their choices too much. …”

      The bible tells us this as well and also reminds us that these people are stumbling blocks to those of us who belong to the Lord. (The book of Jude warns us about them.) They drain us in every regard because what they are is 100% of their very being. They are not “sometimes” angry or selfish or evil, they are this way all the time in every nook and cranny of their mind, soul and body. And make no mistake–they LOVE what they are.

      • KayJay

        Wow. This really hits home to me. 🙁 Stumbling block is right!

  15. Brenda R

    I have never understood the term “unconditional love”. Love is a choice, much more than an emotion, even in the best of relationships. Our emotions will deceive us. You choose everyday the way you will conduct yourself and treat other people. Your decision will be with all your heart and mind…..or it won’t. The abuser will choose NOT on most days, yet we as Christians are told to suck it up and walk around with a fake smile to prove that we are following Jesus and we love Him. Sorry folks…..I believe that is hogwash…..or really, I am not sorry and still believe is it hogwash. Jesus was here. He knows our sorrows. He understands our tears. He shed them, too….and collects ours. You can pray for abusers and that God will spare their soul, but you don’t have to have a relationship with them….piece of paper saying the word married on it or not!!!

    Can’t do the response exercise. It takes too many brain cells. : )

  16. Abby

    Great post and great comments. I think “to love” is an action. The feelings come later. To do or say what is best for someone, to do or say what will help them get to heaven. Unconditional love is a perversion, as is everything that comes from satan, but it sounds so good and nice.

    What you do here on this blog, Pastor Jeff, Barbara, and the woman behind the curtain, is a wonderful example of what it means “to love.” To tell us the truth at the risk of being persecuted. Thank you for all that you do, loving us.

    • Anonymous

      What Abby said about Jeff, Barb and the others who make this website what it is…..I second that!

  17. Thanks to everyone who has given us encouragement here. 🙂

  18. abigail

    Calling an abuser to account for his actions IS loving…kind of like not letting your toddler play in traffic even though he wants to really badly. And the toddler hurts only himself…and you are protecting him. In calling an abuser to account you are actually protecting him AND yourself. It is interesting……how all of the persons usually talking about this “spiritual” aspect of reacting to an abuser are MEN…who have no clue (typically) how fearful it is for a woman to live with someone who is bigger, and stronger, and downright scary. Jeff…you rock!

  19. keeningforthedawn

    Jeff and Barbara, thank you for daring to take a closer look at the concept of unconditional love. This quote, for me, sums up the crux of the post:

    ‘If He has anything that can be defined as “love” for His enemies (and many would argue that His common grace toward everyone is not the same as love), that kind of love is not the fullness of the love He has for His own people in Christ.’

    Joe, Kind of Anonymous, and Abigail have already touched on points that came to mind as I read this post. When confronted with the idea of unconditional love, I have to agree with Sara that the definition of love can vary and may be rather broad. That being said, when confronted with the “unconditional love, joy, peace, and lots & lots of grace” card, my response is something like this:

    “The best way for me to show love is to say NO to abuse, to stand against evil, and set firm boundaries that will protect my family and me. That is the most loving thing for everyone involved.”

    • The best way for me to show love is to say NO to abuse, to stand against evil, and set firm boundaries that will protect my family and me. That is the most loving thing for everyone involved.

      And everyone said AMEN!

      • joepote01

        Yes! Very well stated! 🙂

  20. kind of anonymous

    Keeningforthedawn’s last comment made me think of something, when she mentioned having the grace card pulled ….First thought: it reminded me of the movie by that name, Grace Card. It’s got some good stuff in it but one part of it bugs me because I think it shorts the truth and waters it down a bit. There’s a scene where the main character, realizing perhaps that the law approach doesn’t produce change but keeps people broken and bound, says ” It’s not justice we need, but grace”.

    Grace is necessary for many reasons. But, I am thinking that the fact that we need grace doesn’t mean we don’t deserve justice and don’t need that fact, and the holiness of God alongside of it, emphasized too. Grace ceases to be grace when it’s just given because it’s the less unpleasant option/happier choice. It amounts to taking God’s gifts and leaving God behind. Knowing we need grace because there is no other way forward isn’t quite the same thing as knowing we are utterly dependent on grace and lost without it because of our sin which justly calls for the death. Not suggesting hellfire and brimstone sermons of course, where people are coerced via being turned into cowering wrecks but still…

    The second thought that Keening’s comment triggered was the use of another card; the dreaded “family card“. I’ve noticed that unhealthy families that tend to operate out of a control/domination paradigm use that a lot to put you in a position where you cannot decently say no, set boundaries or confront abuse, without basically having some real iron parts. It’s a thinly veiled intimidation tactic that allows the abusee to be put off balance so its easier for the abuser to seize control and push over their boundaries. Really dirty pool. I experienced this once, when my ex husband and I were out with his family at the regular family trip to a restaurant. None of us smoked except for one person and we did not want to take our newborn infant into the smoking section. My mother in law said to me ” Don’t you value family”? in a wheedling tone.

    So the insinuation was that if I didn’t meekly sit in the smoking section so that one inconsiderate person could have her cancer stick whilst ten other people inculding babies, who didn’t smoke, were forced to, then I was a jerk and selfishly refusing to value family. No one would have objected to someone leaving the table to use the restroom or take a cell call, so why was it such a big deal for her to step outside to have a smoke? This woman had a child who had to be on breathing therapyin later years and she STILL smoked around her, which in my opinion is abuse of a child. In reality, these people are so focused on what they want that they don’t particularly care if its real as long as it looks like it is. My MIL’s idol was the image of the happy family over which she presided as its loving matriarch. And she was willing to have you be abused and used all manner of manipulative tactics to force you into line to have that.

    It never occurred to her and her equally abusive husband that if they stopped trying to control and indenture at all costs and respected other’s rights and freedoms too, people would WANT to be around them and they wouldn’t need to be forced or coerced. The chance that people might not do as they wanted was not a chance they were willing to take. So the family card was used gratuitously. For instance, It’s a reasonable expectation to stay with family if you’re out of town, if you have a good relationship with that person that is mutually loving and respectful,and if you have had the courtesy to call ahead and make sure its convenient for them too. It’s not reasonable, if the out of towner has habitually been a rude bully who has the assumed expectation that they are in charge and you are to submit to them and have no say, and that one then pretends nothing wrong happened and expects you to follow suit while they just show up and dare you to say no. Abusive families do not like the idea of anyone setting boundaries or having authority except them.

    So you are in this situation and you go to the church for help and they pull the same card on you too. I’ve been told, when speaking to a pastor’s wife, that “Family is sacred” and God doesn’t want us to have walls against people, after she was told about how directly abusive and controlling these people were, even of abuse that involved a male relative trying to force uwanted kisses on me. Total denial that some famlies are evil. Was Eli’s family so sacred that God expected Eli to continue putting up with his two wicked sons? No. Clearly God sees it as an idolatry problem, where God’s priests are doing their own thing and making the temple for their purposes, when the guiding principle becomes chasing what we want and need it to be, prostrating ourselves before an image of an ideal rather than chasing Him and dealing accordingly with reality.

    It is alarming when you realize that the church is operating on worldly dynamics and isn’t much different and won’t call it so. There’s more than a few cards in the devil’s straight-ways-made-crooked deck. Anyone been carded lately?

  21. Valerie

    I came across this on Patheos.com and thought it was quite interesting:

    Then, where did this idea of indiscriminant, “unconditional love” originate? Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm first used this expression in 1934. He later developed it in his highly-successful book, The Art of Loving (1956). Fromm was an atheist who rejected authoritarian government, taught an unbiblical self-love, and argued strenuously against Christian faith. Humanist psychologist Carl Rogers, who has been second only to Sigmund Freud as a clinical therapist, refined Fromm’s idea of unconditional love. Rogers’ parents were devout Pentecostals; but he apostatized from Christianity and adopted Taoism. Later in life, Rogers experienced and promoted the occult and rejected the concept of fidelity in marriage. He was a leader of the idea, “whatever feels right, do it.” Much of the church has accepted the expression “unconditional love,” if not some of its ramifications, which originated from these ungodly men.

  22. kind of anonymous

    Wow, didn’t know that, Valerie. This is one I am still thinking on for sure. So if Fromm and Rogers try to root unconditional love in the goodness of man, then its foundation is faulty from the start and on shifting sand. No human being is capable of that kind of love on his or her own anyway. Not to mention it makes man the source/godhead, rather than God. I remember reading some things about the founding of pyschology and the main point was the the vast majority of those who founded psychology had a strong opposition to God and christianity and some openly stated that their goal was to do away with christianity altogether. Haven’t the article to reference anymore but could probably find it if I dug around a bit. Personally I think there is something to the idea that psychology to at least some degree is an alternative religion of secular humanism.

    Barb and Jeff, relative to this question of sorting truth and error as it pertains to psychology, are there any books out there that you know of, that do a good, biblically solid job of separating the wheat from the chaff without getting into the legalism/phariseeism that biblical counseling has major problems with?

    • Re your question about books, I am not familiar enough with that field to point you to any books in particular, other than the books of Dr George Simon.

      • kind of anonymous

        thanks Barb 🙂

    • A.W.

      Kind of Anonymous,

      While I have found George Simon’s book In Sheep’s Clothing helpful for recognizing manipulative behavior, I would be cautious with his promotion of M. Scott Peck, a “Christian” psychologist who sounds like nothing so much as a “New Ager.”

      http://www.equip.org/articles/m-scott-peck-traveling-down-the-wrong-road/

      And there are most definitely other insidious influences within psychology… Carl Rogers was also the principle investigator on an MK Ultra subproject. And Carl Rogers was the thesis mentor for William Thetford, who after his own stints with Bluebird, the Human Ecology Fund, and MK Ultra, went on to give the world the incredibly blasphemous, New Age “A Course in Miracles” (he was Helen Schucman’s ‘co-scribe’).

      There is quite a subtle, manipulative, and coercive purpose to much of it, from Carl Roger’s ‘encounter groups’ to M. Scott Peck’s ‘Community Building.’ You are quite right to be wary.

      A.W.

      • thanks A. W.

        I am not aware of when or where George Simon promoted M Scott Peck’s work. Can you please give us the link or the cittion for where he did so?

        On the Course In Miracles…. I was sucked in by that after I was born again. It took some years, and much suffering and God’s grace in the midst of my suffering, before I realised the Course in Miracles was a load of codswallop and I burned it one morning after having prayed for God to show me whether it was true or not.

        I thought that the Course In Miracles was God’s updated revelation, replacing the Bible. Boy was I glad when I got that sorted out! The answer to my prayer was simple: the CIM was false teaching. God advised me to simply burn it. I had a warmish house for a few hours that morning! I was so relieved to know truth from falsehood! How simple the answer to prayer can be!

      • AW

        Hi Barbara, I’ve looked high and low for my copy of In Sheep’s Clothing and can’t find it, so I’m working off of memory of the last time I read it (over a year ago). I think Dr. Simon quoted M. Scott Peck at the beginning of one or two chapters (a separate area at the top of the page before the chapter starts). He also discussed Peck’s work approvingly in at least one section of the text.

        If I find the book, I’ll check back in with the specific info you requested. I did check Dr. Simon’s website for references to Peck and there is one recent one where Dr. Simon’s thankfully mentions several caveats to Peck’s writings.

        I’m so thankful God showed you the truth about A Course in Miracles (ACIM). He is faithful to answer our prayers, but I think you mentioned the most important thing — You wanted to know the truth, and I think you were prepared to obey whatever God showed you. I have several dear family members who are enamoured on ACIM, among many other New Age teachings, and their anger at and intolerance of the truth keeps growing. It’s grieving to watch.

      • Thanks so much, AW.

        I seem to have lost my copy of In Sheep’s Clothing as well, so that makes two of us. I think I lent it to someone and it never came back.

        Grieving with you for those relatives of your who are enamoured with A Course In Miracles. What a dangerous book it is! When I first started reading it I thought it was the update and replacement for the Bible. Then I got stuck in the mire of its teaching. I nearly suicided. Thank God he showed me the truth about it.

        I don’t think I would have sought the truth about that book unless I’d already been born again. I was born again, then I got sidetracked by ACIM. Probably your relatives who are into ACIM have not been born again — never met Jesus.

        When I was trying to follow ACIM, I tried to find other people who were following it. I did find a few such people but when I talked to them it was clear, pretty much straight away, that they hadn’t met Jesus.

  23. M&M

    I heard the “unconditional” idea was an attempt to explain how the Greek “agape” is different from other kinds of love in the original texts. Anyone have thoughts on that?

    Regarding Martin Luther King Jr I find it important to note that his “non-resistance” wasn’t done with the idea of always accepting abuse, but with a strategic plan to shame the perpetrators and change laws. He actually was resisting in a non-violent ways.

    About “Christians shoot their wounded” of course they do — by “shooting” the victim. 😦 😦

    • Jeff Crippen

      I have heard all kinds of sermons and talks on supposed nuances of love in the New Testament, based on which Greek word was being used. But as always, it is the context the word is used in that defines it. I suspect it would be a stretch to conclude that agape is a uniquely unconditional love. Thanks M&M for the question.

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