Responding to Abuse God's Way
"I myself have never able to find out precisely what a feminist is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat." ~Rebecca West
By Robin Mullins Senger
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Many women interpret this passage to mean God requires them to endure toxic and abusive behavior.
Love does NOT equal acceptance of abuse. Love never means you have to tolerate mistreatment for the sake of an abuser’s sadistic pleasure.
It’s important to always consider the WHOLE Word in context, not just a verse here and there like abusers favor doing. We can encounter the worst people and situations in life, and our response be Godly love. We can also be silent until the trouble passes, yet not submit in our hearts to the abuse, but wait in wisdom and patience until the opportune time to act. Screaming and throwing dishes is not going to help the situation. It’s easy to become controlling and manipulative to counter-act mistreatment. Responding to mistreatment with mistreatment of our own only makes the situation worse.
How do we practice God’s love in an abusive marriage? Many feel like this verse is saying they have to passively submit to mistreatment, but God never asks us to be doormats. Even Jesus served others and responded to abuse without ever being a doormat. He is our example. Jesus maintained His integrity and self-respect even though He was abused and mistreated. No one can ever say Jesus was weak as He practiced love. His loving response to lies, threats, trickery and abuse can never be mistaken as passivity, fear and weakness.
Responding with love doesn’t necessarily mean any of these things:
Patiently waiting until the abuser sees the error of his ways and repents.
Kindness is acceptance.
You bear up under the abuse no matter what for however long you can survive.
You hold onto hope until you are in the grave.
You endure whatever he wants to do to you.
You have any expectation of change.
Jesus responded with love in the face of gross abuse and mistreatment by the religious leaders, of all people. He could have let emotion take over and returned what was being dished out to Him. But He didn’t. Instead, He clearly remained in control of Himself and chose to respond with love. Of course, sometimes love speaks truth that is hard, which He spoke at times to His abusers. But we still see Him in control and His actions and words deliberate because He was staying connected to His Father and choosing His response knowing there was a bigger thing to accomplish than what was in the moment.
Practicing love, tolerance, and compassion does not mean that we are being weak and accepting abuse. We can show respect and Christ-like love without accepting mistreatment. Christ’s love considers the best interests of others, even when it is difficult or involves sacrifice, but it doesn’t sacrifice personal integrity in the process. Reacting to abuse in kind, or passively accepting mistreatment does not help anyone, but rather enables abusers.
You don’t always have a choice in what is going on. But you always have a choice in your response. The more you lean in to God, knowing that He is for you, the more you will find peace in the midst of the storms, and you will be surprised at how often you will be able to respond in a way that diffuses the battles rather than inciting them further.
Love strengthens us – not weakens us! Evil (abuse) will never be able to triumph over Christ’s love. We are talking about Christ’s love – a spiritual state of being, not human feelings of love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 was written as a broad teaching, as is much of the Bible. Then there are unique situations that require something different or in addition to. If we look at the whole Bible, we never see God tolerating or rewarding abuse. He sternly rebukes abusive people, not giving them any honor or just hoping for the best. In fact, He confronted them publicly – calling them out for their hypocrisy and wickedness, even calling them “snakes,” a “brood of vipers” and “sons of hell”. (Matthew 16:11-12, 23:1-36, Luke 11:37-12:3, Luke 18:9-14). Does that fit in with your interpretation of “bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things?”
I chose to respond to Brian with love. Frankly, my response was born more out of fear rather than perfect Christ-like love. Responding with love didn’t fix anything either. Brian was going to be abusive no matter what because that was his character. There was no way he was going to choose to admit error and change.
But my response, as imperfect as it was, still kept the level of abuse down compared to what it could have been. That’s hindsight talking of course. Looking back, I am amazed that things weren’t worse, but I believe that in clinging to my faith and maintaining in front of him a quiet pleasing demeanor helped to keep him subdued from becoming physically violent with me or the kids. He was certainly capable of violence – his reputation was one of being an extremely violent man. However, I believe with all of my heart that responding to his ego in a non-combative way, and my pleas to God for protection, did not give him the excuse to turn physically violent before I was able to flee.
The important thing is that I did flee with the children. I never did passively resign myself to living in that environment indefinitely. I tried my best to make the marriage work, but eventually came to a place of acceptance that it wasn’t going to and staying was only placing my children and myself in danger spiritually, psychologically and physically.
Isaiah 41:10-13 was a passage that comforted me greatly both while I was with him and after I fled and faced his wrath:
“Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Yes, all who are incensed against you shall be ashamed and disgraced; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.”