1 Peter 2: 21–23 states, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate. When he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
I met a woman who had left her violent husband and was going through divorce proceedings. She was angry at the legal system for allowing her husband to stretch out the process. She felt that, due to his status in the military, the judge was lenient with him and accepted his excuses to constantly reschedule the hearings. Rescheduling was a financial burden for her because she had to pay for her lawyer’s time with each new change. Yet her anger at her husband’s manipulating the courts was nothing compared to her feelings towards God. At any mention of God, her body stiffened and her language was overcome with emotion. “God? Where is God? Why is he allowing me to suffer? How can he let my husband get away with the pain he’s causing?” Her tone of voice was so intense that it made me want to leave the room.
“Where is God?” “Why is he is allowing me to suffer?” “Why has he abandoned me?” These are questions that many Christian women ask when they are experiencing domestic violence. I used to ask myself the same questions. As Christians, we often turn to the scriptures to explain our suffering. They are used to justify the reasons for our suffering. In 1 Peter 2 we are told, “Didn’t Christ suffer unjustly?” He suffered physical pain and false accusations. He was spat on, called names, and made the center of cruel jokes, but he didn’t retaliate. Since he suffered in silence and did not retaliate, we too are expected to do likewise and follow in his footsteps.
But when 1 Peter is used to justify our sufferings, it makes it easy to accept abuse, and it also produces guilt. We feel guilty because our suffering is less than what Jesus experienced on the cross. I felt guilty because I wasn’t suffering as much as Jesus was suffering. Therefore, by this logic, I had no right to complain. When we think this way, we accept abuse and come to believe that we are following Christ’s footsteps.
We are told that our abusive marriage is our “cross to bear,” that it is God’s will for our lives. Our suffering is rationalized with scriptures like Matthew 16:24, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” and Luke 14:27, “You cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross, and follow me” (NLT).
The question here is, what is the cross we have to bear? Is it our “cross” to be beaten until we cannot see through our blackened eyes or speak through swollen lips? Is every vicious act our “cross?” Does bearing our cross mean we must accept insults, physical threats, or separation from our friends and family?
One of the books that helped me decide that my suffering was neither my cross nor God’s will for my life was, No Place for Abuse, by Catherine Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark. They point out that Christ went to the cross voluntarily. His suffering was for a greater good, which is salvation for all. Carrying our cross means surrendering to God and allowing Christ to lead us, and not to be led by the sinful actions of others.
The suffering experienced in an abusive relationship is involuntary and has no benefit to anyone, not even the abuser. Where are the good results from the abuse? Is standing and letting someone inflict pain doing any good or saving anyone? Did you choose to be beaten or verbally insulted? I am pretty sure that no one enters a relationship knowing she is going to be hurt. And surely no one believes that putting up with the violence will stop it. I have yet to meet a woman whose suffering caused her abusive partner to clean up his act.
Covering up someone else’s sins and quietly accepting abuse is not the kind of suffering that leads to good results. It only allows the abuser to dodge the consequences of his cruelty.
Also, surrendering to God’s will does not mean accepting senseless suffering and the abuser’s lack of remorse. Yes, the word senseless is appropriate when we suffer at the hands of someone who professes to love us.
Carrying our cross does not mean accepting every mistreatment by others, especially when God has given us the power to make changes. Abuse destroys the souls of both victim and abuser. When I finally accepted these facts, I was able to set boundaries and seek accountability for my ex-husband’s actions.
What about you? God loves you. And, as his daughter, you have a much higher calling than to be a victim. You don’t need to suffer senselessly. Jesus has freed you from oppression (Luke 4: 18–19) and will bind and heal your broken heart (Isaiah 61: 1–2). That means that he has set you free from abuse and will comfort you when you suffer. Since he has set you free, you need no longer be burdened by the bondage of abuse (Galatians 5: 1).
He wants you to live life to the fullest (John 10: 10), which means a life free of violence for you and your children. When Jesus was crucified, he took upon himself the suffering deserved by all sinners. Therefore, you don’t have to suffer as he did. 1 Peter 2: 24 states, “He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross. So, we can be dead to sins and live for what is right” (NLT). Do what is right by exposing the abuse and seeking accountability which is repentance. Repentance means showing remorse and making amends for the suffering he caused. Making amends at the very least is that he stops abusing you.
Next Blog: The Christian Abused Woman: What Submission is Not
*No Place for Abuse: Biblical & Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence by Catherine Clark Kroeger & Nancy Nason-Clark
Liz Brody’s article, “Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships,” in http://www.glamour.com, compiled data from an online survey of 2,500 women ages 18-35. According to this survey, the number one reason why these women stayed in their abusive relationships was love. I believe most people marry because of love. Love is the glue that holds a relationship together.
Love allows us to see the good in others, despite their flaws. It gives us faith in them. It enables us to envision their full potential, to look beyond the gloomy present and see the shiny future. Most importantly, love keeps hope alive. Hope for change. Hope for a better tomorrow.
I married out of love. When I met my Xavier, I saw his ability to make his dream come true. I could relate to his dreams and plans. As a team, I believed that we would fulfill those dreams together. I had faith in him even when I saw his flaws. I believed that he could change.
He behaved in ways that looked an awful lot like love. For example, he bought me gifts and flowers, took me to dinner, and attended to my physical needs. All these actions “proved” that he loved me.
Then, when the abuse began to worm its way into the relationship, my view of love became skewed. How could he say he loved me when his actions showed otherwise? How could he whisper sweet words of love to me one moment, and then a few hours later belittle and degrade me? Even though I couldn’t make sense of his behaviors, I still needed to be loved by him. Therefore, I made it my responsibility to make him so happy that he could feel loved enough to love me back.
When that didn’t happen, I internalized that I wasn’t good enough. There was something wrong with me. Or maybe I wasn’t smart enough to know his needs. But to arrive at this kind of thinking, I had to discard my own belief of love and accept his version.
To accept his abuse and still believe that he loved me was incredibly dysfunctional. I wish I knew then what I know now: I had embraced a sick view of love from a person who did not know what healthy love was, let alone how to give it. I wish I also knew that he wasn’t the giver of the love that I needed to nourish my well-being.
My definition of love wasn’t healthy either. I had come to believe that my happiness and self-worth was the result of another person’s actions towards me. When I left my husband, I had to work on re-learning love, especially self-love. I had to go back to the ultimate giver and source of love, which is God. I had to redefine love and embrace that love in order to heal.
To a Christian, God is the wellspring of love. The bible says God is love. It is he who is the giver of love, not out partners. Let’s see how scripture defines love and compare it to the behaviors seen in our abusive relationships. I will paraphrase the definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8. (I will be quoting from my book, A Path to Hope: Restoring the Spirit of the Abused Christian Woman.)
What is love and what is not love?
Love is… patient.
Love allows for your faults without criticizing everything you do. It doesn’t harp on your mistakes to belittle you. It guides you patiently through difficulties by teaching you to overcome your challenges.
Love is… kind.
Love is empathic and compassionate. It produces goodness. It doesn’t make you feel “stupid,” “lazy,” “useless,” “like a failure,” or “unwanted.” It does not ridicule you. It always strives to bring comfort and joy, not fear or pain.
Love is not… jealous.
Love is trusting, not suspicious. It does not spy on you or gather information to use against you. It does not stalk you. Nor does it try to separate you from your friends and family. Love always expects the best and gives you the benefit of the doubt.
Love is not… boastful or proud.
Love is humble. It does not need to be superior or make others feel that they are wrong. Love listens and seeks input. It accepts responsibility rather than seeking blame.
Love is not… rude.
Love is respectful and considerate. It is not aggressive. It does not seek to degrade. Love does not ignore your presence. Love respects you and your needs.
Love does not… demand its own way.
Love thrives on freedom. Where there is love, there is freedom. Love does not demand “my way or the highway”. It is not controlling. It respects your right to make choices, even when they are sometimes wrong. Love accepts and rejoices in the individuality and uniqueness of every one of us.
Love is not… irritable.
Love is self-controlled. It is not easily angered, overly emotional, out of control, and does not experience “fits of rage.” Love is calm and accepts others’ weaknesses and differences.
Love does not… keep a record of wrongs.
Love is forgiving. It does not undermine or erode your confidence by keeping a record of your mistakes. It does not hold grudges. Love moves forward, rather than dwelling on the past.
Love does not… rejoice about injustices.
Love embraces justice. It does not take away your moral and legal rights, which include the right to speak your mind or participate in the decision-making processes, as well as the right to privacy. It does not take away your right to socialize or have your own personal friendships. It does not view its own rights and needs as more important than yours. Love recognizes the value and equality of others.
Love rejoices when truth wins.
Love cannot lie. It never deceives. Love does not keep secrets or twist reality. Rather, it celebrates when the truth is spoken. It does not hide abuse but exposes it. Love is honest and open because it has nothing to hide.
Love never… loses faith.
Love is faithful. It has faith in you and your good character. It has faith in your abilities and accomplishments. Love leads you to believe in yourself.
Love is… always hopeful.
Love has high hopes for the future. It expects improvement and growth. Love seeks ultimate joy and peace for others.
Love endures through every circumstance.
Love does not change with the circumstances. It does not use bad circumstances or outside influences as an excuse for doing wrong or hurting someone. Love endures patiently to achieve what is right.
Love will… last forever.
Love never dies. It does not show itself only when things are going well. It does not disappear during disagreements or conflicts. Love lasts forever.
Form the scriptural definition of love, we can all see that we were not loved in our abusive relationships. Our abusers’ actions did not demonstrate love. To move forward, we have to go to the source of love and embrace God’s love so that we can love ourselves and then love others. When we embrace God’s love, we are empowered to break free from the shackles of abuse.
Paul knew that our inner power is established in understanding God’s love, so he prayed for us in Ephesians 3:16-19: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Put your hope and trust in God’s love. Let your roots grow deeper in his marvelous love so that you may receive the power that comes only from God. This power will allow you to discard all of your dysfunctional forms of love and to love yourself and others the way he intended.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:9).
Next blog: Understanding Abuse: The Abused Christian Woman