When it comes to the submission conversation, I am learning just how important it is to bring up the not-so-beautiful side. Not every marriage is good, not every spouse seeks to honor God with their marriage, not every husband or wife is a believer. There is a hidden, ugly side of far too many marriages: abuse. It used to be that when I thought of abuse in marriages, I thought of women hiding bruises and explaining away cuts and broken bones. And while this is absolutely what happens in abusive marriages, bruises are not always visible and abuse is not always physical. Abuse can be mental, sexual, emotional, and even spiritual. A woman (or man) does not have to be covered in bruises to be considered to be in an abusive marriage.
Abuse is an extremely difficult topic. My promise to you for this post is to tread carefully and to speak with grace. If you are currently being abused or have been abused in the past, your voice matters. You matter. You deserve to be safe.
Additionally, with a topic this delicate and this important, I believe it is important that I am not the only person who speaks on this topic in this space. As such, I have asked two other women who have a lot of wisdom on this topic to write posts on it. Their posts will be shared in the coming weeks. Jennifer Greenberg will be talking about wrong views of submission and Emily Schultz will speaking on victim advocacy. These women are strong voices and I know they will be a blessing to my readers.
So where does this leave this post? I will be sharing a biblical counseling perspective. My bachelor’s degree is in biblical counseling, and while receiving my master’s degree in theology, I took a graduate class on biblical counseling. I hold to the view that Scripture is sufficient for all of life, but that “just throwing a Bible verse at it” is not a solution. Life is much more nuanced and unique than throwing a proof text band-aid would have you believe. We turn to Scripture when we are in pain, knowing it is sufficient to provide hope, healing, and new life, and in that way, we know that we must do more than just grab a Bible verse and call it a day.
Because Scripture is comprehensive, we must be comprehensive in our approach to Scripture and addressing problems of life from Scripture. When it comes to approaching the problem of abuse – especially marital abuse – from Scripture, we must ask, what does the Bible have to say about victims? How does Scripture approach stories of victims? What does the Bible say about those who are dealing with the aftereffects of abuse?
First and foremost, we must acknowledge that God is on the side of abuse victims. In the Old Testament, when a woman was raped, her abuser was stoned. When Tamar, King David’s daughter, was raped by Ammon, her own brother, Absalom, had Ammon assassinated. Jesus himself was abused: accused of sins he did not commit, beaten mercilessly, and suffered a horrific death via crucifixion. Jesus now stands as our advocate. He is our Great High Priest. He sympathizes with our weaknesses, and thus we are able to boldly approach the throne of grace. He is there for us and with us in our suffering (Hebrews 4:14-16).
We have this hope: that no matter how deep our suffering here on earth, that God is with us in our pain and through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, if we are in him, we are bound for Heaven. Heaven, where there will be no more suffering, where we will stand before the Father, complete and whole, able to freely worship and glorify him for all eternity.
This hope is why we can rejoice, why we are commanded to rejoice. This hope is why Paul could sit in a jail cell after being beaten close to death and sing praises to God. He knew that this world is not conclusion, that the sufferings of this present time are nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in due time (Romans 8:18).
But rejoicing is not always what we imagine it to be. It is not always wide smiles, the emotion of happiness, and feeling 100% okay. Having joy and acknowledging our hope in Christ is not always pretty and clean and perfect. The Psalms demonstrate this truth. We wonder where God is, why it seems he has abandoned us (although he never has), and why we must suffer. The book of Job is a primer on suffering. We can glean much comfort from the Psalms and Job. If you have never sat down and just read through the book of Job in one sitting, I highly recommend it. Reading the book like the story it is can help you soak in the comfort and encouragement than can be found in Job. Not only that, we can all relate to Job in some way. We have all gone through suffering. Maybe less or more than he did, but we have all still suffered. We can all relate to Job.
However, just because suffering is a fact of Christian life, just because we have hope in our suffering, and just because we have the Psalms and Job to comfort and relate to us in suffering, does not mean you are stuck in your suffering. If you are being abused, you have permission to leave. You have permission to say no more. This is not how marriage is supposed to be, and qualifies as abandonment.
It is also okay and admirable to want to fight for your marriage. Ask for counseling. Get good, biblical counsel. But if your spouse openly and repeatedly refuses to confess to their abuse of you, refuses counsel, refuses to repent, this is your permission to get out, and fast. Kick them out of the house or take your things and leave. Biblically, the abusive spouse has abandoned their marriage vows and you are within biblical guidelines to end things. Get out, and get help.
I want to also note that I am not using gender pronouns when referring to the abusive spouse. This is because it is not just men who are abusive. The wife can also be the abusive spouse. Sin has no gender, and both men and women can be cruel. Men, you are not weak if your wife is abusive. You are not less of a man because she hits or manipulates you. Get out, and get help.
If you are being abused, go to your elders, ask for help. If you are in a situation where you cannot trust your pastor or elders or you are not part of a local body of believers, please call the National Domestic Violence hotline. Their website is http://www.thehotline.org/ and their phone number is 1−800−799−7233. They will have resources and be able to help you get out of your situation. Search for your city or town’s Christian organizations that have shelters and programs for victims of abuse. There is hope, you can be free.