A Cry For Justice

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

“If You Only Understood…” Using History as an Excuse for Sin

But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph 4:20-32)

We have written other posts in which we dealt with typical excuses the abuser makes for his or her evil actions. Recently we published this one that reminded us not to give a get-out-of-jail-free card to an abuser just because they come from an abusive background. Here I want to talk about the same subject, but with broader application for all of us.

I have met numbers of professing Christians who characteristically exercise “bad tempers.” They are known for flying off the handle in anger, lashing out at others, most any time that they are told something they don’t want to hear. Or if they are denied something that they want. Most churches have such people in membership. “Oh yes, Jane. She is a touchy one alright. Don’t get on her wrong side. But we just love her anyway.” That kind of thing you see.

And many times such people’s sin (and that is what it is, sin) is excused because they have some history of mistreatment by others. “Yes, he is a real dragon quite often but then he had a really rough and abusive childhood.” Or, “we must be patient with her. She is very selfish but if you knew her background you would understand.” This kind of thing is very, very common. We are told that sin is to be excused because of the sinning person’s past.

Now, certainly trauma and abuse affect a person. Fear easily morphs into anger. There really are such things as emotional “triggers” that can set off various reactions (usually beginning with fear) in a person and these things are definitely understandable. You beat and abuse an animal over time and you shouldn’t be surprised if it snarls and snaps at you. Nevertheless, when I sin against someone by lashing out at them or hating them in my mind or being in some other way unkind to them, I am responsible for my sin. The Lord calls me to repent of it. I cannot use my past to justify and excuse my sin. I CAN perhaps use my past to help me UNDERSTAND why I launch out into sin in certain scenarios, but not for the purpose of excusing myself, but for the purpose of helping me see why a particular temptation comes my way in the first place so I can be better prepared to stand against it next time.

Trauma and abuse at the hands of the wicked is actually meant by the Lord to cause us to be MORE understanding and kind to people. For instance –

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:33-34)

You even see a very similar dynamic in Jesus’ suffering (without sin by Him of course) –

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:18)

See? The Israelites were abused big time by Pharaoh. But that suffering is to lead them to have more compassion on others in a like situation, not to excuse them for being hateful toward others.

Using our background of troubles as an excuse for sinning against others is a real trap and pitfall. It is a place we just really do not want to go, and those who do can spend years and years in that snare. It prevents us from even recognizing love when it is dumped in our lap. It prevents us from loving others.

This is why good, truthful therapy is so helpful. For the Christian, much of that therapy can come from God’s Word shining a light on what is really going on in our minds. We can benefit greatly from getting help from people who have been down that traumatic, abusive road themselves. Not so we can justify our sin, but (I say again) so that we can better see ourselves, understand what is going on in us, and realize finally that we do not have to keep getting set off like a keg of gunpowder each time some person or situation lights a fuse.

No, this does not mean that we naively and foolishly trust/unconditionally forgive/reconcile with people who are our enemies. If you have read this blog for much time at all you know that we would never teach that nonsense. An enemy remains an enemy as long as their wicked maliciousness is pointed at us. But what we are saying is that we must not fall into the trap of justifying our own sin [or anyone’s] just because of what happened to us before. Sin is sin and it is never excusable. It is “forgiveable” when we confess it to the Lord and ask Him to deliver us from temptation.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Mat 6:9-13)

 

9 Comments

  1. From my own walk dealing with and healing from abuse and trauma.. God has brought wicked men and women in my path to test my past experiences with abuse . Kindness and speaking truth with these kind of people will either ignite more anger or the holy spirit will begin to soften their hatred of God’s word. We are called to be a light in a desolate place. If we ourselves are bitter and hold anger and contempt for wicked people because of our own past experinces. I believe God will not use us to full capacity of His plan for our wilderness walk here on earth. Just my opinions from walking the narrow road. Making it an adventure with Jesus as my guide. 💜Lord help each of us become more like you.

  2. Daffodil

    So true that, while we can’t “excuse’ abusive behavior, we also can’t fall into bitterness. I’ve prayed for the last 8 years for my abuser to truly come to repentance and saving faith in Jesus. Only Christ can ””change a leper’s spots or melt a heart of stone.”

    • broken not shattered

      Bitterness is a normal emotional response to abuse, and while we can’t stay in it, it’s normal to feel and let yourself experience feelings. I feel pretty bitter against the people who lied to me in my old church and made me believe marriage was a slavery for women. But I also know that I don’t hate them. I just don’t trust them. And I’m taking off all those lies they told me and replacing them with truths. I’m just saying that I think bitterness is a normal human emotion.

      • Daffoil

        It certainly is, and only Jesus’s love can help us spit it out, transform it and not let it poison our own heart.

        I’m in a study on 2Corinthians and Paul opened his heart to those in Corinth who rejected his leadership, leaving us a book written out of his own relational sorrow and admission of his weaknesses through which God could and would move in His strength. It’s right not to give trust again unless real repentance is evident, but it’s right to ask God to shield our hearts from the toxic effects of holding onto bitterness. I can understand your frustration and pain, and I’ll surely pray that God helps you transform this loss into a personal gain for you in your heart, mind and spirit as you cling to the truth that you are Hephzibah and Beulah, delighted in and chosen by God, as God spoke through Isaiah in Isaiah 62.

  3. Misti

    If you hydroplane and someone is injured or dies, you’re still responsible for the consequences of that accident, regardless if you did everything you were supposed to or you couldn’t afford new tires. The mitigating circumstances might adjust your degree of responsibility, but it does not remove responsibility entirely.

    By the same token, a background of abuse/trauma doesn’t remove culpability for your own behavior—actions and words.

    Abusers warp responsibility to make slaves of their victims. That is how they keep their victims—dumping their own responsibilities on the victims, probably even inventing more responsibility and dumping it on them. Insisting that a victim is responsible for how others understand or perceive them.

    There’s no way to be universally helpful. Every effort at help fails someone—whether due to the data itself, due to the presentation of data, or due to the other party’s inability or unwillingness to perceive the data.

    For example, this blog is geared towards English-reading abused spouses who view the Christian Bible as authoritative, and the communication style itself is on the academic side. There’s applicability to all who view the Christian Bible as authoritative, and some to abused spouses in general, but your approach omits folks who don’t see the Christian Bible as authoritative and assumes readers have some concept of themselves as persons. This limitation is not a fault or flaw. It a natural consequence or side effect, and embracing that goal enables you to be more effective for your target audience.

    This is a good thing.

    You have your ministry. You aren’t responsible for the whole world, just to do the best you can in your ministry, and y’all do a lovely job at it. Other ministries have their own targets, and they aren’t responsible for yours.

    Such core elements to what “responsibility” even is, but it’s so utterly foreign in abusers.

  4. Renewed Spirit

    Thanks so much for sharing this.

    I was accused of snarling and snapping – well, now that I’ve been ‘enlightened’ on gaslighting – no wonder.
    Bitterness, anger, confusion – all a result of fear.

    Keep educating!

  5. Rachael

    I’ve had people in my family who were abused By their parents and them grew up and abused their own spouse and kids, but I also have people who were abused but refused to treat their spouses and children the way they were treated.

    The only difference I can see is that some of my family have chosen to take responsibility and not give in to their own feelings of anger and helplessness while others blame everyone but themselves and cannot see how damaging their own actions are. Abusers CHOOSE to abuse.

  6. Anonymous

    Thank you Pastor Crippen for another much needed post.

    The bible doesn’t use a person’s childhood or past (abuse or non abuse) as an excuse or as a reason for evil behavior. It does, as Pastor Crippen pointed out, use it in a way that should show us how we should have compassion because of it.

    This is so IMPORTANT. My psychopathic son has always been what he is. And because of this I have had many hard lessons in how we allow abusers to use their childhood perceptions as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. And our current society — in probably all the western countries — rankly manipulates us with it.

    While living in the UK we were in the throes of dealing with his absolutely insane behavior. (The real craziness started at puberty.) We couldn’t do anything to reach him, he was wildly rebellious and all the experts we encountered simply placed all the blame and responsibility back on us (me) and their many suggestions did nothing but burden us further and induce unnecessary guilt and shame in me. (I didn’t know at the time that most of my children and husband were also psychopaths, as they displayed in a more mild manner.)

    We had some workers at our house and we ended up talking about this son (who at the time was institutionalized). One fellow said that we shouldn’t judge him too hard as he’d seen a documentary that showed that our brains don’t stop growing until our 20’s. He went on to share his own personal story. He had married a woman with two young children decades ago. He loved them and treated them as his own. He loved his wife and shared some of his cherished memories about her. He wanted to make sure he did what he could to keep the lines of communication open with their real father–cuz he’d been taught that this was the right thing to do.

    The father of the children was a drug addict and a dealer who’d been in prison during most of the children’s lives. When he got out of jail, this man telling the story let him live on his property in a separate house. The kids didn’t know their real dad as he’d never tried to keep in touch with them during his incarceration so the step-dad told them that he was their father and he encouraged a relationship between them.

    What happened? The kids (now young adults) started hanging out with their real dad and so did the mom. Very quickly they started using and dealing drugs (all of them including the mom). They all moved in with the biological dad and the mom resumed her relationship with him (sexually as well as a mate). The man telling me the story was completely at a lose as to how this could happen and it had been years now and he realized his family was completely lost to him. He had to divorce or they would’ve completely destroyed him. He had no idea that they could’ve all simply been of the same mental and spiritual thinking and once they were given the opportunity to do evil–they took to it like a duck takes to water. (He tried to help them for years.)

    Yet he was still espousing the excuse that we should wait until a person is 20 [or 100] years old cuz their brain is still working on getting that conscience up and running. Yet the bible (and real life) shows us that a working conscience can be seen in even the youngest child.

    [Eds have removed some material which Anonymous was passing on from a psychopath who presents himself as someone can teach about psychopathology. We do not publish any recommendation or info that comes from a psychopath. We do not believe it is wise to learn about psychopathology from psychopaths, even if they do have neuroscience degrees.]

    This teaching (that we need to give abusers unlimited time and understanding until they come around) is rampant in western society; yet those of us who AREN’T abusers are held to the OPPOSITE standard. We are allowed zero excuses or leeway. (“You’re an adult now, so there’s no excuse for you!” I’ve heard this all my life.) And my psychopathic son, who perceives that he was abused, will be able to use this as an excuse for the rest of his life. Because even when people realize that he is evil, they will blame it on his parents, so he will ever and always be the poor innocent victim.

    • Dear Anonymous, please have a look and see how I redacted your comment.

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