I’m Nobody Special; What Can I Do To Help Lazarus?
In the 1950’s through the 1970’s I was nurtured in a healthy Christian home by parents who have just now celebrated 63 years of marriage. I’ve had the joy of being married 30+ years to a most wonderful husband.
Domestic abuse was quite hidden in decades of the past; it was hushed. I know my eyes did not see nor comprehend the damage inflicted upon some spouses. Since then I’ve encountered abuse’s ugly face as I walked for years with a friend on the brutal path to emancipation. Through that experience and others, the study of the topic, and the divulgences of survivors, my eyes have been opened. As I have learned their stories I can now count a minimum of 12 women* who were, or are, the targets of domestic/intimate partner abuse and post-divorce harassment.
These women were not walking in Biblical disobedience by petulantly deciding they just didn’t want to be married anymore or because they found someone more attractive. On the contrary, most were trying their hardest to be the best wives possible and uphold their vows before their Lord. Though details differed, most were living with an enemy who shot them with various projectiles, then jeered at them for having the nerve to bleed and/or cry for help while burying the victim in wretched disgust!
Many had children in the tomb of abuse with them. These moms saw their children contracting diseases of the soul; yet another reason to escape so as to remove them from the contamination of abuse or show the adult children a better way.
Sadly, some escapees are scorned in unmerciful judgement by critics who lack the facts, the desire to know details beyond gossip level, have little compassion, and even less understanding of the nature of abuse, to say nothing of right dividing of Scripture.
Recently I pondered Jesus calling Lazarus forth. Yea! A brother brought back to his grieving sisters! High five! All is well! But the story doesn’t end there. Come learn with me.
John 11:44 reads that at the command of Jesus The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Can you imagine the scene? Onlookers stand in stunned silence as Lazarus somehow gets off (out of?) the place where his body had lain. No doubt fearing the expected stench, the spectators probably took a step or two backwards. Lazarus stumbles, hops, falls (?!?) through the tomb opening bound like a mummy at a cheesy high school haunted house.
This scene is comparable to an abused woman fleeing an already broken marriage. Her head is wrapped in the fog deliberately created for her by the abuser to keep her off balance. She is bound both by the tactics of abuse and the PTSD resulting from the continual trauma. Surprised observers sometimes step back from the unmistakable odor of death and, quite frankly, so as to not be in the path of the death angel (abuser) that sometimes pursues her beyond the tomb.
In verse 35 Jesus wept. While God foreknew the sin that would bring death to mankind, He did not ordain death. Sin brings death. Death brings anguish to the living. Death wasn’t supposed to be and it brings Jesus sorrow.
So it is with marriage. God never designed marriage to be one partner habitually lording domination, manipulation and control over the other… all three being evidences of the spirit of witchcraft in operation (1 Sam 16:23). Our loving Father established marriage as a type of the cherished relationship between Jesus and His Bride whom He laid down His life for. God weeps over the cruelty one spouse directs at another. Abuse is sin in any relationship. In marriage the sin of continual abuse breaks covenant, and it brings death.
“Oh, but we are ALL sinners!” parrot the naïve. Don’t go there with me. Submitting one’s sin nature to the cleansing blood of Jesus makes us new people. New in Christ. Our nature is changed as we submit to the sanctification process. We sin. We screw up. And we know it. We humbly repent and keep offering ourselves to be transformed into His image…and we are.
Habitual abuse is a different animal altogether! The abuser sees no wrong in his behavior. He knows others may think it is wrong, but he thinks it’s just fine for him to control and abuse his victim. Repeatedly lying to and about the victim, stealing, purposely ruin her credit, subverting, shaming, ridiculing, raging, imprisoning, gaslighting , abusing financially, sexually, emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally (restricting access to others), parental alienation are the sick tools of domination’s lifestyle. Such a life is completely opposite the occasional “Oh honey, I was a jerk to you today, I was wrong. I’m so sorry.”
The abuser doesn’t abuse because he’s had a bad day. He doesn’t do it because of poor upbringing or trauma in his childhood. He. Does. It. Because. He. Can. It benefits him. We know this because, like a light switch, he can turn the malice off and on at will depending upon who is witnessing his actions. He controls his behavior. It is a choice.
“Habitual, consistent, chronic, practice, lifestyle.” These words differentiate between the occasional “jerk” behavior that plagues us all. Consider the “practice” of medicine. People are doctors because they practice medicine. It is who they are and what they do. People are abusers when they practice abuse. Like doctors, they daily hone and practice their skills. This perpetual lifestyle is evil. It is immoral. It is depraved. It is wicked.
An abused woman is living in a tomb surrounded by death while her essence, her personhood, decays. When the stone is rolled away and fresh air flows in she recognizes the death around her and in her… she’s infected with it through the choices of another.
The wedding promises of love, cherishing, and fidelity, give a glimpse into the union every bride is longing for and expecting. Regrettably, many discover that the spouse has worn an impenetrable mask of calculated goodness, yes, even “godliness” that he excels at using to fool everyone. The mask is conveniently discarded once the vows are spoken. Marriage made a sham by the vows he spoke under false pretenses.
When she seeks help through the court systems, pointy polluted fingers of family, friends, and/or church members level the accusation that she “broke the marriage”. How wrong is their utter arrogance! The abuser’s unrepentant, continual ruthlessness leveled against her broke the vows, and thus the marriage, before she ever left the home! Plainly stated, civil divorce legally ratifies the decision the abuser made to break the marriage.
Unfortunately, there are some who see her staggering out who tell her she must return to the tomb of the dead. That she has no right to be rescued from the destruction, decay, and death because, after all, SHE chose this life, bad as it may be, when she married this man. Marriage becomes the idol to be served. The blame is laid upon her for not serving the idol: She made a bad choice; she must have chosen him out of God’s will; she is at fault. Such logic is akin to blaming a rape victim for the perpetrator’s violence.
Did Lazarus do something out of God’s will to encourage his illness or was it just a result of a sin-cursed world? Scripture doesn’t tell us. Yet, Jesus apparently didn’t care what caused the death. He simply raised Lazarus to life again. Because that’s what Jesus does. He brings life out of death and sets the captives free.
If there is exegesis on the remainder of verse 44, I haven’t heard it yet. “Jesus said to them (the onlookers), “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Lazarus needed help removing his bindings because he did not bind himself!
Thus Jesus commanded the bystanders to release Lazarus from his bindings. Amid joy at renewed life there were practical needs to be addressed. As the bindings came off he was naked in front of everyone! Moles, scars and every private part lay open to be viewed by those who loved him…and those who were merely gawkers. He needed clothing to cover his nakedness!
His financial dealings, having been rearranged as a consequence of his death, had to be reordered to care for him in his remaining years. Four days dead with no food? He could have been famished for a good home-cooked meal and a drink of water!
Jesus calls out the abused wife. Eyewitnesses are stunned and skeptical – “We never saw that side of him!” “Did you pray about this?” What kind of stupid asks a question like that? Of course she prayed about it as she cried out to God for help! “But he didn’t hit you, right?” “But he is a <deacon, pastor, missionary, godly man>, he couldn’t be like you are painting him!” All are inane comments of unbelief equating to “Hey, the tomb couldn’t have been that bad of a place for you to live!”
With the luxury of not living in a tomb, the presumptuous easily reach these conclusions and sanctimoniously spout them. They are totally ignorant of the shame and fear a woman must overcome just to admit she’s abused…even to herself!
As Lazarus had practical needs, so does the woman leaving abuse. Because He is in the business of releasing the captives, and we are His hands, Jesus commands us to remove her bindings. The abuse survivor, too, is naked with the raw pain of broken promises, shattered dreams, rejection, torment, shame, threats, fear, abandonment, and poverty. She needs “covering” that goes beyond mere clothing, which she may also desperately need.
The woman coming out of an abusive marriage needs to be gently washed, sometimes again and again, with kindness, compassion, and the Word of God! She must be patiently filled with the assurance of her Father’s limitless and passionate love for her since she unquestionably has been indoctrinated, by words and actions, that she is unlovable, that she is valueless.
Trusting again can be a fearful thing to one whose trust has been deliberately decimated. Her abuser distorted her reality on a regular basis, so disorientation in the real world is more often the rule than the exception. Thus, her frame of reference for “normal vs not normal” is fragmented.
Often she is penniless because part of the pre-mediated emotional murder committed against her was the intentional manipulation of finances so she would find starting over nearly impossible.
There are many resources available to enlighten the concerned about the hideous patterns of abuse, the excuses offered, and the difficulty escaping it. Great places to start include cryingoutforjustice.com and lundybancroft.com. Searches for “narcissistic abuse” on the internet and Pinterest are helpful, too. Not Under Bondage by Barbara Roberts excellently reveals the whole counsel of God regarding the “God hates divorce” misquote. A Cry for Justice* and Unholy Charade*, both by Pastor Jeff Crippen, enlighten regarding abusers using, and hiding in, the church.
Psalms has dozens of passages revealing how God feels about abusers, oppressors and their victims. Some, like Psalm 82:3,4 below, command our part to play:
Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.
Here are some ways to partner with Jesus in fulfilling this Psalm and removing the grave clothes of a modern-day Lazarus:
- Can you listen (over and over again) without judging as she processes through the hurt?
- Can you discretely press some money into her hand? Poverty is a favorite tool of the abuser.
- Can you drive her to court and stand beside her as her knees shake under his venomous gaze?
- Can you fill a bag of groceries from your own pantry, or give a gift card for food or gas?
- Can you share a coat from your own closet when it’s cold out if you can’t do anything else?
- Can you host a GoFundMe account for legal fees she can’t afford?
- Can you pray? And let her KNOW you are standing with her?
- Can you hold her while she cries?
- Can you assure her that despite the abuser’s claims, she is NOT crazy but suffering from her abuser’s engineered cognitive dissonance?
- Can you praise her for her bravery in the face of her abuser’s “one step short of arrest” retaliation?
- Can you offer her the use of your computer if she doesn’t own one?
- Can you and your friends host a “Love Shower” if she’s not been allowed to take basic necessities from the family home in her attempt to start over?
- Can you help her figure out a budget when she does earn money?
- Can you let her know she can call you for emotional support anytime day or night?
- Can you offer her your extra bedroom while she gets on her feet?
- Can you watch her children while she meets with a lawyer?
- Can you believe she wouldn’t do something this drastic without a good reason?
- Can you go with her when she meets her lawyer to take notes for her to refer to later?
- Can you help her check her free credit report to see if her abuser has opened accounts in her name?
- Can you take her to a bank and teach her how to open an account? (A skill withheld in financial abuse.)
- Can you educate others to put aside their preconceived, and often sanctimonious, biases that threaten to re-abuse her in her time of desperate need?
- Can you stand up for her if members of her own family declare they are “neutral”? (“Neutral” = neutered where evil is concerned; it is cowardice.)
- Can you stand with her if weak church leadership sides with her abuser because it’s less messy for them
- Can you put in a good word for her with a potential employer?
- Can you use your own healing from an abusive marriage to comfort and encourage her?
- Can you have her over for meals and holidays, especially if she is bereft of family?
- Can you help her laugh and forget her troubles for an hour?
- Can you make her YOUR family? Even give her a house key? (She may not have been allowed to have a key in the house she shared with her abuser.)
- Can you choose to use language such as “Have you considered…” rather than “You should…”?
- Can you suggest options, but not be offended if she is unable, or afraid, to follow your train of logic?
- Can you advise, but still support her in making her own decisions? Decision making may be new to her; she may need help seeing all sides of an issue—but she still must decide on her own.
- Can you show her what a healthy, God-honoring marriage looks like from the inside…in your home with all your warts, but also all your loving commitment to each other and the Lord?
- For that matter, does this topic bring to mind your behavior toward your spouse that you need to submit to Jesus and change?
- Can you stand up for her in the midst of gossip and declare “We have not walked in her shoes; there but for the grace of God go we! God is her judge, not any us.”?
- Can you LOVE HER?
You have no idea if you might be the one person standing between that bottle of pills or a razor blade poised over the wrist of an abused woman. A precious woman who has had her last ounce of emotional blood sucked out of her by the vampire delighting in destroying her. YOU might be the only one at that moment to hear Jesus command “Take off her grave clothes and let her go.”
So the question really isn’t “Can you…” but “Will you…”?
He who has pity (compassion, mercy, graciousness) on the poor lends to the Lord, And He will pay back what he has given. (Proverbs 19:17)
* * *
* This post is by Harriet Cook. Harriet is a wife, mother of adult children, and grandmother, loving and serving Jesus for 57 years in the Pacific Northwest. She does not deny there are some male abuse victims. However, her experience is with the gender usually more easily preyed upon.
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