Hope and Healing

Article by   October 2014
Now that we have defined domestic abuse, provided a sketch of the suffering victims live with, and briefly explored the manipulative and complex world of abusers, we are in a better position to take a look at how the Bible addresses this issue and the healing found in Jesus for those effected by domestic abuse. 

The God Who Hears

The Bible provides numerous examples of God delivering his people from suffering, oppression, and violence. In Gen. 6-9, we read of God's judging the "violence" (6:11) of a world gone wrong, and through that judgment, delivering Noah and his family. The book of Exodus tells of God "remembering" His covenant and "hearing" (Ex. 2:23-24) the groans of His people suffering violence under the domineering hand of Egypt. God's people suffer, they cry out, and God hears. 

In fact, one of the most common laments in Scripture includes prayers to God to protect the writer from enemy harm. Psalm 55 follows this literary pattern, and it also carries a unique twist--making it especially relevant for sufferers of domestic abuse. Here, the enemy posing harm to the psalmist is named as a "companion" and "familiar friend" (verse 13).[1]  Psalm 55 is a psalm of betrayal by someone close to the writer, which correlates closely to the victim's experience of intimate partner violence. Derek Kidner outlines the psalm in the following way:
The intolerable strain (verses 1-3)
The urge to escape (verses 4-8) 
The forces of anarchy (verses 9-11) 
The false friend (verses 12-15) 
The God who hears (verses 16-19) 
The smooth talker (verses 20-21) 
The long view (verses 22-23)
In the end, this psalm provides a very helpful expression of emotion and lament for anyone facing suffering, but especially those who have been harmed by someone who used to be a friend and trusted companion. David's emotions are deep and real. He is violently oppressed and he laments this fully, while expressing his aching hope for justice to be done to his enemy. He also calls out to God as the only one who really sees what is happening, asking Him to "hide not" and respond, rather than overlook this extreme injustice. 

According to scholar John Goldingay, Psalm 55 encourages those suffering...
  • To throw onto God what God or other people throw onto us.
  • To be open to God with the inner turmoil of our hearts and the outer turmoil that causes this.
  • To be open with God about our longing to be away to the safety of some other place where we would not be subject to such experiences.
  • To urge God to act directly to frustrate the plans of people who attack us.
  • To draw God's attention to ways in which such malice characterizes the places where we live.
  • To ask for God to deal justly with our attackers rather than taking matters into our own hands.
  • To trust God to act justly on our behalf and to protect us.[2] 
The original intent of God was shalom, a term that means fullness of peace, universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. Shalom entails harmonious relationships with both God and others, a profound and comprehensive sort of well-being, and an abundant welfare overflowing with peace, justice, and common good (Isa. 32:14-20). Abuse breaks shalom.
 
Ephesians 5:25 says, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." When He came to earth, He laid aside His heavenly power for His bride the church. The Scriptures call husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church--and Christ does not abuse His church. He protects and cherishes it. When a husband abuses his wife, he lies horribly about the character of God and the gospel of Christ. But God is not standing idly by to watch violence run its course. He will not allow evil to have the final word. His response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and re-creation.

Domestic Abuse and the Great Physician

Theologians have long said that to really know what God is like you should look to Jesus. Even Jesus claims that the way to know God is through Himself (John 14:6, 9). So if we want the clearest picture of what God thinks of woman (the primary victims of domestic abuse), and his plans to deal with violence, we need to look to Jesus. 

Jesus and women. Jesus upheld the rights of women against accepted cultural conventions where they were often considered inferior to men. As Alvin Schmidt, a sociologist who studied the rise of Christianity, remarks, Jesus' "actions and teachings raised the status of women to new heights, often to the consternation and dismay of his friends and enemies. By word and deed, he went against the ancient, taken-for-granted beliefs and practices that defined woman as socially, intellectually, and spiritually inferior."[3] 

Jesus spoke with women (John 4), taught women (Luke 10:38-42), and included women as followers (Luke 8:2-3), even though this was socially objectionable. These women followers include Mary, Martha, Joanna, Mary Magdalene, Susanna, Salome, and more. The story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman perhaps epitomizes his commitment to revolutionizing the lot of the disenfranchised of his day. Despite strong cultural taboos against any social exchange between a Jewish holy man and a sexually promiscuous Samaritan woman, Jesus speaks to this woman in private, affirms her personhood and leads her to faith in himself and to service as an evangelist (John 4:1-42)."[4] 

Jesus also would have offended contemporary Jewish listeners when in Matthew 5:27-28 He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (ESV). New Testament professor Grant Osborne says of the passage, "Jesus' teaching on lust in the antithesis of [Matthew] 5:27-28 also exhibits two significant differences from normal Jewish thought. First, Jesus places the blame squarely upon the man, whose own lustful look is the sin. Many rabbis blamed the woman, who according to them enticed the man. Second this obviously was not intended by Jesus to obviate contact with women. As already noted, Jesus often initiated such contacts and considered many women his friends. The problem of lust called for spiritual control on the man's part rather than the seclusion of women."[5] 

Jesus and violence. Jesus condemned physical violence and verbal violence as equal offenses. In Matthew 5:21, He says, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." Also, in Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus says, "But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

According to the Bible, in Jesus Christ God suffered for His people. Jesus Christ came into this violent world that was shattered by sin, and He suffered a violent death at the hands of violent men in order to save rebellious sinners. He came that He might rescue us from divine wrath and provide instead divine peace, mercy, grace, and love. The sinless one suffered disgrace, in order to bring sinners and sufferers the grace of God. The cross is both the consequence of evil and God's method of accomplishing redemption. Jesus proves, by the resurrection, that God redeems and heals. He is in the work of redemption today.

Moreover Jesus suffers along with his people. Jesus knows what it means to be alone, naked, bleeding, and crying out to God. He shared in absolute abandonment and the pain of sufferers, and was a victim of violence and suffered injustice. While the cross shows us that God understands pain and does not judge you for your feelings of grief, the resurrection shows you that God is active in restoring peace--that He conquered sin and is reversing its effects. In Luke 4:17 we are told that Jesus came to set the captives free. This includes women who are threatened with violence and abuse.

Suffering, Grace, and Healing

As any victim of domestic violence knows --man or woman-- abuse affects the whole person. However, so does grace. Grace is the love of God shown to both sinners and sufferers; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God. Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.[6] To the experience of one-way violence, God brings "one-way love."[7] 

Grace offers an incredible gift - the gift of refuting faulty thinking and replacing it with God-given truth. Instead of damaged, filthy, useless, failure or sinful, God uses new words to lavishly redefine those who are His: redeemed and forgiven (Eph. 1:1-6), made righteous (Rom. 5:1), new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), God's workmanship (Eph. 2:10) reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18), saint (1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1), chosen, holy, and beloved (Col. 3:12), child of light, not darkness (1 Thess. 5:5), pure, blameless, glory of God (Phil. 1:10-11), holy, blameless, and above reproach (Col. 1:21-22), and the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). "I will call them 'my people' who are not my people," God tell us, "and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one" (Rom. 9:25). Grace is a powerful catalyst for healing; it has the power to turn despair into hope. Grace listens, lifts up, cures, transforms, and restores.

If you believe in Christ, your identity is deeper than any of your wounds. Your new identity is more secure and stable than any other identity that has been attributed to you. That means you are not doomed to live as a victim. It doesn't eliminate your wounds nor silence your cry for deliverance or healing. But it does mean those wounds are not the final word on who you are. They don't enslave you and determine your life.

Jesus responds to your pain. Your story does not end with abuse and violence. Your life was intended for more than shame, guilt, fear, anger, and confusion. The abuse does not define you or have the last word on your identity. Yes, it is part of your story, but not the end of your story. In Jesus, the God who delivers us from evil also offers us a path to healing.


Justin is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology, philosophy, and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Lindsey, are authors of: Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic ViolenceRid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault. Justin has written or edited numerous books: Know the Heretics (2014), Know the Creeds and Councils (2014), On the Grace of GodActs: A 12-Week Study, For the Worldand Christian Theologies of Scripture


Notes:

[1] Derek Kidner, "Such a cry as this helps to make the Psalter a book for the extremities of experience as well as for it normalities." Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 199. 

[2] John Goldingay, Psalms, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 179. 

[3] Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 102-3. 

[4] Craig L. Blomberg, "Woman," in Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 826.

[5] Grant R. Osborne, "Women in Jesus' Ministry," Westminster Theological Journal 51:2 (Fall 1989): 274. 

[6] John R. W. Stott, Christ the Controversialist: A Study in Some Essentials of Evangelical Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1970), 214.

[7] Paul F. M. Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 64


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