Thursday, June 20, 2013

What does the Bible say about spousal abuse? Can a woman leave an abusive husband? Can she divorce him? How can we reach out to the abused?

The thought of a man mistreating and abusing a woman (especially his own wife) is something that makes even the most godly man’s blood boil. Sadly, it is a fact that every day there are many women who are intimidated, humiliated and harmed by abusive men. (If you can even call them “men”!) This post intends to answer some questions regarding abuse and what a wife can to do (according to the Bible) in those situations.

Abuse of any kind a Sin!
Although this post is dealing specifically with the question of a woman being abused by her husband, the principle applies in all situations. Maliciously abusing another person is sinful. One does not need to go any further than (Mark 12:30-31):
To abuse anyone (whether your spouse or not) would be in violation of the command to “love your neighbor”.

Husbands are commanded to treat their wives with gentleness!
(Ephesians 5:25) “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her”
Jesus would never mistreat, harm or abuse the church, Christ views the church as His precious bride. Jesus loves the church. A husband that abuses his wife (despite what he may claim) is not demonstrating any love at all! Jesus willingly died for the church, sadly many wives die every year by the hands of abusive and controlling men.
(1 Peter 3:7) “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered”.
A real man, a godly man, understands that a woman is to be treated with gentleness and kindness. Men are naturally stronger than women, but at no time are they ever authorized by Scripture to use this strength in an abusive way. A man that mistreats his wife is a dishonorable man who dishonors his wife and his Lord!

It is not a sin to get away from danger!
There are those that would claim that it is noble to allow yourself to be abused, there are even those who try to place the blame on the victim. Even in times where violence is provoked, it is still not acceptable. There is nothing in the Bible that says you have to allow yourself to be harmed. A Christian should not be one to retaliate or seek revenge, but it is ok to seek help and get out of harm’s way. 

Can the victims of abuse leave their abuser?
Yes they can. It is important for the victim to get her and her family out of harms way. It is true that God “hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16). Understand that marriage is supposed to be a lifelong covenant, sadly there are those who break that covenant through adultery or those who use that covenant as an opportunity to imprison and abuse. When a woman is a victim of abuse and her safety or the safety of her children are at risk, she has a couple different options to get out of that dangerous relationship. 

First, the victim could just “separate” from the abuser, maybe she chooses to leave and live at the house of a family member in order to get away. This would probably be a wise first option especially during times abuse. This gives the victim a chance to seek help, get wise counsel and find safety. This time apart may allow counselors or law enforcement to intervene. During this time of intervention there is always the possiblity of repentance and reconciliation. The victim should be careful to make sure that she is not being manipulated to believe that a person has "changed" when they may have not. Be very cautious!

Second, if the victim leaves, the abuser may choose to not have a relationship with her ever again (this sometimes happens).The victim too, may asses the situation and determine that she would never be safe in a relationship with this individual ever again. In this situation both need to remain “unmarried/divorced”.  Note the teachings of (1 Corinthians 7:10-11) that apply in this situation.
But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
Although divorce is never a good thing, in these situations an abused wife might not have any other legal way to completely “get away” and receive complete separation from shared responsibilities without a legal divorce. God’s plan is for one man and one woman to be married for life, however, in a situation where a man is abusing his wife or children, common sense would dictate that it is ok to leave.

Still married “in God’s Eyes?”
God only allows fornication and death to sever the actual marriage covenant. So even if the victim separates, or if a divorce occurs, the covenant of marriage still stands (although they might not be living as husband and wife any more). Remember what is written in (Romans 7:2-3):
For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
Some may make a distinction between divorce and separation. Some say it is a better idea for the victim to just seek separation and not a legal divorce because “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16). I am of the conclusion that divorce and continual separation are basically the same actions in God’s eyes. Paul calls the person who leaves “unmarried” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

When a person leaves their spouse whether or not they seek legal means (through divorce) they are making a choice to remain “unmarried” and celibate  The Bible clearly teaches only fornication and death can actually sever the marriage covenant that was made. So whether or not the separation is done legally is a mute point. Neither parties, whether the victim or the abuser are completely freed in God’s eyes from the initial covenant that was made. Thus, they cannot remarry unless the divorce was because of infidelity. 

What about remarriage?
Although the previously quoted texts teach one may leave an abusive spouse, the Bible teaches that remarriage is not an option. God only allows a person to seek a new spouse after marital infidelity or death. A wife can leave a dangerous husband, she can choose to never talk to him again, she can seek legal protection through divorce, however, she may not choose to seek a new spouse (Romans 7:2-3; Matthew 19:9). A woman in this instance should choose to be unmarried, celibate, and devote her time in service to God and others.

What can I do to help abuse victims?
Do whatever you can to help victims have the confidence to get away, and the courage to speak out about what is happening. Often, abuse victims have low self-esteem and have been constantly told by their spouse that they are “at fault”. If a person confesses that they are being abused, DO NOT EVER make the person feel like it is their fault, do not ridicule them do not tell them to “suck it up” or “hang in there”. Help them, and look for ways to get the victim and their abuser the intervention they need.

The church needs to be there for those women who have had to leave abusive situations. Christians need to help meet the financial needs of these victims who my not be able to make ends meet on their own. Godly men need to step in and protect these people and provide positive male role models to any children who have been around such behavior. It will take many years of compassion to mend the pain and hurt that has occurred. 

If you are being abused by your husband.

Understand, that even in the midst of stress or an argument, a husband should never lay a hand on his wife (or a wife on her husband). If you are being abused there are people that will help you. I know that it is hard to let the world know what is going on behind closed doors, but you need to. Your safety depends on it, if you have children you need to consider their protection as well. Seek help and protection right now before it is too late! God loves you, and it hurts Him to see you hurt.

By Cliff Sabroe - (Quotes from NASB 95)
Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images