(I first posted this over two years ago. With the recent attention to Domestic Violence, I thought it was appropriate to repost. The church should certainly be speaking to issues such as this. As I say at the end, it was not written to any particular person or situation.)
Dear Child of God,
First, and most important, the abuse is not your fault. It doesn’t matter what you have done or haven’t done, the abuse is not your fault.
Your abuser’s behavior is HIS responsibility. HIS sin is between him and God.
No one “deserves” to be hit or used sexually or even verbally assaulted. Nowhere in the Bible are husbands, boyfriends, or anyone else given a mandate or permission to abuse you. You do not deserve to be hurt.
Which is why the first thing to do is . . .
If you are being abused by your boyfriend, terminate the relationship NOW. Get out. Get away. Get safe.
Of course he promises that things will be different once you are married. Of course he promises to change. Of course he tells you that if YOU would just change then he could stop hitting/belittling/raping you.
Run the other way! You CAN do better. God loves you and wants better for you. No matter what your experience may have been, not every man is an abuser. Marriage is a sacred bond instituted by God. Do you want to base that bond on an abusive relationship? Do you want to bring children into the world with someone who is abusive? Get out of that relationship and don’t look back!
But what if you are an abused wife? What if you have already entered into that sacred bond?
My counsel is the same. Get safe. If that means going away, leave. You know better than anyone if it is possible to be safe in your present situation. If you’re not safe where you are – and a realistic evaluation will probably tell you that you’re not – then go to a friend’s house, go to a relative’s home, go to a shelter. Or better yet, get him to go live somewhere else for a while if you can.
Get safe. Get out if you need to. Not necessarily out of the marriage – not yet – but get out of the place or situation where your abuser can continue to hurt you.
Now, there are those who will throw bits and pieces of Scripture at you trying to convince you that God desires you to stay in the place where you are being abused. “God has you there for a reason,” they will say. Or, “There are only two Scriptural reasons for ending a marriage, and abuse is not one of them.” These folks often have the best of intentions and are usually simply misguided.
“God hates divorce,” they will say. Yes, that is a direct quote from Scripture . . . and I agree, that is indeed what it says in Malachi: “God hates divorce.”
But God loves YOU more than God hates divorce. How can I say that with assurance? Because I know that God loves you with a love that is INFINITE. God loves you so much that God sent God’s only Son into the world to die for you. Jesus died so that you could have new life RIGHT NOW. He died so that you could look forward to eternal life with Him.
Jesus died because He loves YOU.
God loves you with a love that is without limits. Certainly, if your marriage ends because of your husband’s abuse, God will grieve for that. But God hasn’t, and God won’t, stop loving you. God won’t stop renewing you. God won’t stop forgiving you.
A God who loves you that much does not want you to be abused.
Yes, marriage is sacred. But that sacredness has already been violated – by your abuser.
Throughout history one of the sins of the human institution that is the church has been to use Biblical directives to excuse men who are abusers. The church has told women who are being abused that they must stay with their husband no matter what because, after all, he’s the head of the household.
The Bible directs husbands to love their wives as Christ loves His church. Christ’s love is, above all, sacrificial. An abusive husband is displaying the opposite of Christ’s love – rather than absorbing pain on your behalf (sacrificial love) he is inflicting that pain (abusive “love”).
And the truth is, the Bible calls on husbands and wives to submit to each other.
By his abuse, your husband has broken the promises he made to you on your wedding day. He promised to love you, to cherish you, to take care of you. It is he who has been unfaithful – unfaithful to the promises he made to you, and unfaithful to the promises he made TO GOD.
Some will say, “But what about forgiveness?” Well, certainly we are all called to forgive those who hurt us. Sometimes that takes a very long time. But, God does not require you to be a doormat . . . or a punching bag. Forgiveness is not the same as opening yourself up to be hurt again.
Forgiveness is also not the same as letting someone off the hook for the consequences of their behavior.
The primary consequence needs to be your getting yourself safe.
If you have kids, then it is exponentially more important to get to safety. “He doesn’t abuse them,” you say, “It’s only me.” But how long before the same ticking time bomb that showers you with shrapnel detonates with your children? Even if your children are not being physically abused, it is at least emotionally abusive for them to live in a situation where mom is being hurt by dad.
What are your children learning? What are they going to take into their own relationships and into their own marriages? Is your little girl learning that “love” means being abused? Is your little boy learning that men are supposed to hurt women?
Jesus taught and demonstrated how much He loves children, and He warned about harming them. Get them to safety!
Let me be clear, I’m not telling you that you should necessarily jump directly to divorce. No. Get safe, then perhaps by the grace of God your husband will repent. Perhaps he will make the complete change of heart and mind God desires him to make. Certainly pray for him.
But do not even consider reuniting until he has taken concrete steps and made tangible changes. One such step is a spiritual commitment demonstrated through action. Another is counseling. Why counseling? Can’t God change him? Certainly, but God works through human means all the time. Someone who has a physical illness needs both prayer AND medical treatment. An abuser needs both prayer AND counseling.
Make sure that YOU get spiritual support – and counseling – as well. This is also vital for your children.
The unfortunate truth is that your husband may not choose to change. He may continue to push away the forgiveness and new life that God offers. You cannot control that. Ultimately, the best available option may be termination of the marriage. That is sad, that is a tragedy, but because we live in a fallen, sinful world sometimes there is not a “good” option, only the best of unfortunate, imperfect options.
No, divorce is not God’s intention. But it is not “the unforgivable sin.” It is a tragic reality in our sinful world where two sinners (we’re all sinners!) come together in a sacred union.
Thank God we live by Grace, not by Law!
Never forget that God loves you. God loves you not matter who you are, no matter what you have done. You are forever God’s child, and, like any loving parent, God does not desire that God’s daughter be abused.
(I did not write this letter to any particular person, but I hope it might be some comfort to those in an abusive situation. I would appreciate feedback, including suggestions for improvement.)