(CAUTION: I realize this may be a controversial subject and not everyone is going to see it this way. I have worked with women from abusive backgrounds and in abusive relationships long enough to have heard a few of their reasons for staying or going back. In the long run, none of them make any sense to me biblically.)
A significant part of Titus 2’s program involves discussions of co-dependency, personal self- identity, self-worth, and boundaries. A co-dependent mindset may cause one to feel the need to “rescue”, “save”, or be a “mother”, “best-friend”, “confidant” or “savior” in relationships with others who are broken. One’s nurturing nature becomes her own worst enemy. Such a person needs to be needed and feeling needed by a man (or a child or a parent or a best friend) assures that the person will stay, right? And provide financial, emotional, and/or physical security, right? Not necessarily. And with some broken individuals in relationships, if that person that you think needs you so much does stay, the woman may wind up being the one who needs rescuing. Ditto the other direction, too. It can go both ways. This is often part and parcel of addictive behavior with substance abusers in recovery…. the discovery through exploring the relational history of one’s own inability to set boundaries, of relationship addiction which may include conflict avoidance and people-pleasing by one partner in the relationship and aggression and control by the other….and relying on highly changeable emotions to make decisions instead of acting wisely on facts, accountability, and natural consequences. Co-dependency, or relationship addiction, can be a far more insidious and difficult addiction to break than chemical addiction. Because being nurturing, forgiving, and understanding is a good thing, right? Not always. Not with everyone. Not when it harms you or your young children for whom you are still responsible.
When we begin discussing these issues in classes, the comment often arises, “But that’s the Christian thing to do….understand, nurture, forgive, stay in relationship with someone you love at all cost.” Only to a point.
“But Jesus did.” Jesus is the One and Only. He is the Sovereign Lord. His mission in the world is to be the Savior. Mine is not. I desire to be like Jesus in the ways that I can, but there are ways in which I am not equipped to do Jesus’ job. Change the heart of another person who is blind and deaf to the truth is one of them. Only Jesus in one’s heart does that. Witness. Witness again. Then walk away. Jesus told his disciples that when he sent them out to be his witnesses. If the message (of truth) is not received, turn, shake the dust off your feet and move on. Jesus can do things we can not. None of us is Jesus. He knows that. One of satan’s ploys is to bog a Christian down with a “tar baby”….someone that gets us stuck so we spend all our time, energy, and effort trying to persuade that one person, pacifying them, making them happy, attempting to meet their emotional needs and every other need…… in essence to BE their god (without success) and miss all of the other opportunities that God has prepared for us. Or slip into trying to make them be our god.
“But didn’t Jesus say that his disciples would do greater things than he did? Doesn’t that indicate that we should keep on keeping on with everyone?” And indeed, in some ways the disciples did greater things than Jesus then and believers today do, also. What is the greater act? To die because people won’t change and the only way to make a way for their eternal future is to take their sin on yourself so they may have the opportunity to reconsider and come to believe in your act of coming to, identifying with, understanding and saving them? Just like Jesus did. But Jesus is God. He rose from the dead after doing that and it was as much the resurrection of Jesus (that proved his divine incarnation) as it was his sacrificial death on which our faith is based. We, as humans can only make that kind of physical sacrifice once and then our martyred lives are over.
Consider this. Might it be greater to actually break through another person’s resistance to faith in Christ and teach them to follow Christ through your witness, direct them to a knowledge of Christ and to then be able to live to enjoy fellowship with that person in community until God calls you home to heaven? I think Jesus meant that such an act of actually seeing someone saved through the witness of your life…..and to be able to continue living it…..is greater than dying for the sake of people who don’t believe so that they have an opportunity to come to faith afterward by having seen the resurrected Christ! The angels are awed and cheer when a human comes to faith and changes his life through the witness of another believing human. (Luke 15:10) It’s quite an accomplishment, to use the witness of the transformation of flawed people to bring other people to faith! In John 20:29 in proving his resurrection to Thomas, “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” It is greater act of evangelism to see one come to faith without the resurrected Christ and his scars right here in front of us! And it can only be done through the surrendered life of the believer who has Jesus’ Holy Spirit living within as the witness.
Jesus shouldered his cross his way and ushered in the process of bringing the heavenly realm to earth. Our cross….to share in bringing the kingdom of heaven on earth, whatever that looks like in our life….may be the same…but no one bears a cross in the same way that Jesus bore it for us all. I do not believe that Christ expects me to follow his model of silence and surrendered suffering at the hands of enemies. His example of silence and surrender was in obedience to the will of God for a specific purpose and time, not to the selfish interest of another human being or group of human beings, even though that was what it looked like at the time. I don’t believe Christ expects me to go in silence and surrender to the grave for the sake of another person (unless I am responsible for the physical protection of that person as a dependent). He already did”that.
“But Jesus said ‘No greater love has anyone than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.’ I believe that Jesus, while he may actually be speaking of a sacrificial laying down of one’s physical life for an innocent, beloved person, a friend, who is in danger, is not saying that one is to become a voluntary martyr at the hand of an enemy or abuser, neither of which qualify as a “friend”. We also are told that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17). A friend or a brother, is a loving and supportive person in a relationship. A spouse, a beloved, likewise is loving and supportive in a relationship. Anyone who is beating on you, controlling you, demeaning you, denying you support and care is not a friend or a brother or a spouse for whom Christ would expect YOU to die. He already did that.
Turn. Shake the dust off your feet and walk away. Maybe the distance will force the individual to re-consider the value of the relationship that will be missing from his life—–the one with Christ AND the one with you….and change.
I’ve seen more abusers change their ways due to the victim choosing to trust God, “not give in to fear”, and walk away, forcing the abuser to deal with the natural consequences, than I’ve ever seen by the victim staying and trying to rescue the abuser from his own demons or persuade the abuser to change or match the abuser blow for blow.
If you are staying with an abuser because you love him or you think you can fix him, you need to rethink your definition of love and love yourself some, too. If you are staying because it’s the “Christian” thing to do, you may need to spend some additional time in study of the truth of God’s Word, sitting in the office with a Christian counselor or clergy or wise friend who does, and learn more about Christ and what his Word says and how we are to live it out. 1 Corinthians 7 says that an unbeliever (or, I would suggest, also, a nominal believer whose actions do not match his Christian profession) who is “willing to live” with a believing wife is one thing. I would suggest that beating a woman, inciting fear, shaming her, and exercising physical, financial, or emotional power over her does not meet the criteria of “willing to live” with someone….it is forceful intimidation. The Bible does not proscribe anything other than willing and mutually considerate and respectful relationships between a man and a woman in a marriage relationship……and a dating relationship constitutes consideration of and preparation for marriage, so the same rules apply.
1 Peter 3 says wives are to be submissive to their husbands SO THAT an unbelieving husband may be won over without a word by the purity and reverence of her life (IN CHRIST and toward GOD, not toward the unbelieving husband), by her gentle and quiet spirit, shining with inward beauty as the beloved daughter of great worth to God, treated considerately and respectfully by the husband, and doing what is right and not giving way to fear. If an unbelieving or wrongly-believing husband is abusive, causing fear, pain, self-loathing, insecurity, and terror in the wife, then she needs to take her silence, purity and reverence, quiet and gentle spirit, doing what is right and without fear, and with the expectation that she is to be treated considerately and respectfully as a daughter of great worth to God, and LEAVE because it is clear that the reason that she was to be submissive in the first place…in order that he MIGHT be drawn to Christ…is not working with him. He is clearly not willing to live in peace with Christ or with the wife. She has no obligation to remain. Submission by a wife is not to feed the husband’s ego or satisfy his pleasure or prove his power, it is expressly so that she will represent Christ to him and demonstrate to him his responsibility to represent Christ to her, also. If he doesn’t take the hint, her work is done and she needs to leave him to Christ’s discipline (which God may choose to administer through the local sheriff.)
There is, in my opinion, no Christian reason to stay with or return to an abusive relationship…..unless and until the abuser has demonstrated a repentant spir…it (and I mean in the truest spiritual sense of the word) and can assure the FORMER victim that it will not happen again, with accountability built into the process. The problem is that many people find themselves “stuck”…without financial, social, or other resources to actually walk away. But even sometimes those who have those things stay because of other reasons…..Time to have these discussions, folks.