Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A biblical perspective on being trapped in an abusive marriage

So often I've heard that Christian wives should "submit submit submit", without clarification on when they should not submit and without proper attention paid to the husbands actions. In my situation, I ended up feeling guilty for my constant "failures" to be a "good Christian wife" (which meant keeping an abusive man placated 100% of the time) and felt isolated and trapped in a marriage with no biblical way out. For a long time I simply chose to live in denial instead of facing what my life had become.

Also, an alarming amount of Christians seem more concerned with the restoration of a marriage instead of the restoration of an abused individual. I want to piece together some quotes from the book Not Under Bondage by Barbara Robers to better explain myself:

In many religious circles, pastors treat divorce far more harshly than they treat wife beating. In a 1986 study of severely abused victims, one in three who turned to clergy said they were instructed that they could not leave the relationship or that it would be sinful to do so, and that divorce was strongly discouraged. They reported they felt trapped by their religion.

It also troubles victims when commentators acknowledge violence as a legitimate ground for divorce, but do not acknowledge non-violent methods of abuse.

Abuse does not have to physical to be destructive.

Abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, social, financial, spiritual, and sexual.

Although the victim will often appear calm, there may be a log jam of trauma below her calm exterior, so she may not present the problems clearly to outsiders. This is not surprising, given that victims often hide the problem even from themselves. They have spent all their energy walking on eggshells and trying to "fix" the relationship. The abuse problem can be masked by labels of mental illness, the perpetrator's addictions, work or financial difficulties.

Most victims tolerate and become worn down by serious abuse before recognizing that abuse is the problem. Many excuse their spouse's bad conduct and overlook its damaging effects for a very long time. Typically, they choose to suffer in silence. This denial (non-recognition of the existence of the abuse) is a way of coping.

(I'm going to stop there, but I could honestly quote half the book to explain what I went through and the thoughts running through my head)

Well, I am flabbergasted and simply can't get over that I have never been told about the passage in Jeremiah 3, or discovered it on my own before today.

I came across a Q&A concerning biblical divorce online and it is so encouraging for me to read, especially when I've started feeling emotionally drained after fellow Christians attempt to give advice without knowing what I've been through.

This is from NLQ: The Marriage Covenant & Covenant Breaking. I really encourage you to go to the link and read the entire post. Below is just one section that I found especially insightful.

Q: What if my husband is completely unrepentant and refuses to change behaviors that, if I am honest with myself, I must admit are harming my children, our marriage and myself? Is there anything I can do then?

A: The Bible regards marriage as a solemn contract, or covenant. A covenant is a kind of treaty between two parties, characterized by promises that need to be kept. When a covenant has been violated– when one of the parties breaks the covenant promises so frequently, callously or heinously that the wronged party must consider it irrevocably broken– there are ways for the one who has been wronged to end the covenant. Marriage is no different.

In Jeremiah 3, Israel’s covenant with God is pictured as a marriage contract. God had kept His covenant promises, but Israel had continually broken them without repentance or any attempt to right the wrongs. In verse 8 God says, “And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce. . . .” God describes Himself here as the wronged party in a marriage covenant. The promises of the covenant had been broken beyond repair– not by God, but by Israel. God’s divorce of Israel did not break the covenant; it merely acknowledged that the covenant had been broken. But God nevertheless described Himself as getting a divorce. Since God would never sin, it could not have been wrong for Him to get a divorce– because He was not the one who broke the covenant. Covenant-breaking is a wrong that we must avoid; but when the other party has irretrievably broken the covenant, the wronged party is not obligated to pretend that the covenant is intact. It is up to the wronged party to decide when enough is enough. Forgiveness is important, but forgiveness alone will not restore a broken covenant. The party who broke the covenant must repent and bear the fruit of repentance, showing a real desire to change his ways and beginning to honor the covenant again. Israel refused to do so in Jeremiah 3, and the Bible gives us a picture of God finally deciding that enough was enough, and withdrawing from His covenant with Israel.

And from farther down in the post:

God has graciously provided for the victims of broken covenants, that they may be set free and not enslaved or under bondage. Both Jesus and Paul understood just-cause divorce to be allowed by the Scriptures, and neither Jesus nor Paul ever spoke against just-cause divorce. If you are in a situation where your marriage covenant is broken and your marriage and family life have become intolerable, God’s merciful provision is for you and your children.

Remember, God’s goal in the New Covenant is to restore marriage to what He intended for it from the beginning. In order to do that, both parties must have the ability to enforce the marriage covenant and hold the other accountable. If that fails, just-cause divorce is the last resort– but if that last resort is needed, it is available to His children. His love and grace are ours always.

And this last bit I will share is from the website Divorce Help For Christian Women:

What the Bible says about divorce

Although the Bible says God hates divorce, it does not mean that God hates you, if you are divorced. I came to think about that statement in a whole new way when I went through my own divorce. In fact, after experiencing first-hand the pain and suffering divorce causes, who wouldn’t say: “I hate divorce!”? I hated having my home torn apart. I despised the rejection I felt. I was crushed by the grief and loss my kids went through. Who isn’t? No wonder a loving God who would go to such great lengths to spare us the painful consequences of sin that he even sent his son to die for us, hates divorce! What loving father wouldn’t? The words “I hate divorce” spring from God's compassion, not condemnation.

Second, I came to realize that God valued me more than he valued my marriage. Marriage is instituted by God for people’s protection and well-being. It’s meant to be a safe place that serves the needs God wired into us when he made us: needs for intimacy and union and procreation as well as the need to mature and grow to become more loving people. It’s meant to serve our needs by providing a safe place for us to thrive. We were not created to serve it. It was created to serve us. People are what matter to God, not rule-keeping.

I drew that conclusion from Matthew 12:1-8:

“At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. [2] When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath." [3] He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? [4] He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread--which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. [5] Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? [6] I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. [7] If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. [8] For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

In other words, God’s mercy trumps God’s laws. You can’t read the gospels and all the accounts of Jesus healing on the Sabbath or fraternizing with the “unclean” and miss that! God’s first priority is to always love people. They rank higher than the institutions or the laws that are meant to protect them. Jesus would never allow someone’s dignity to be crushed so that a rule might be upheld. He is not in favor of marriage (keeping a legal vow) at the expense of someone’s dignity (abuse).

There is so much more to say, but I feel that this is as much as I can handle today. Sometime in the future I will share more about my experience.

P.S. I am open to hearing other opinions as long as they are expressed in a mature and sensitive manner.


eddie would go said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mrs. Cheerio said...

Megan, last night I had the opportunity to watch a live-feed of something called "Secret Church", hosted by The Church at Brook Hills and pastor David Platt. He is an amazing teacher, leader and speaker. I have really appreciated his teachings in the past, and this was no different.

Part of the series last night was on divorce and how we as Christians are affected by it. His words were so gentle, but so powerful. I encourage you to listen to here once it is uploaded: http://www.disciplemakingintl.org/media/schurch/series_list/?id=293

I admit, I have not been praying for you and this situation as much as I could, however, you and little Oliver are never far from my thoughts as you go through this season of life. No doubt it is difficult, excruciating at times, but I would like to encourage you that God has not abandoned you or left you alone in this. He is faithful and loving and kind and has purposed these things in your life for reasons unknown to us right now. Having said that, I do not doubt that it feels very lonely right now and perhaps divorce seems like the obvious choice to make here, possibly the only choice.

One of the things that has stood out to me most about divorce in the church is that although it is super common, it is rarely handed Biblically. David Platt taught last night that there are two permissible means for divorce in the Bible: one ground is adultery between believers and the other is abandonment between a believer and an unbeliever.

Obviously, under either of these circumstances, divorce would be permissible and is not considered sin. However, Platt encouraged that there is a third option, also: look for reconciliation. Forgiveness is always an option.

It would be my hope and prayer that as you wade these waters of decision making, contemplation and prayer, that you might seek God's grace to help you move toward reconciliation if it is at all possible.

I want to be clear here that I do not claim to understand or know the amount of pain and suffering that has been caused to you and your family, but I do know that God is capable of redeeming the most horrible of circumstances and that His love and care for us goes beyond all measure of hurt that we have endured.

I wish the online stuff was available for you to listen to know, because it is far more encouraging than my lame attempts here, but the PDF of the study guide is available if you would read it.

I will be praying for you, your husband and Oliver in this.

Corey said...

To me, the things that abusive men do are so much worse than cheating...and someone who would conduct themselves in such an abusive and clearly unbiblical manner is not someone who is living as a believer. Therefore, these are clear grounds for a divorce which can be biblically justified. I don't understand christians encouraging ANYONE to stay in such an unhealthy environment when it is not what God intended marriage to be. Especially when most cases become physically violent, not to mention the psychological damage that is done. Why is the woman expected to suffer even though the man is not even trying to hold to the holy covenant he made with his wife to "love, honor, and cherish"??? there is a serious flaw in most christians thought process when it comes to abuse. God does not expect us to honor a covenant that is trashed by the other party. He didn't do it.

Mrs. Cheerio said...

I just want to be clear that I am not encouraging or condoning physical, verbal, or emotional abuse by anyone to anyone- whether they be Christian or otherwise. If this is happening or has happened, I strongly suggest getting your church elders involved for church discipline and if that does not help, go to the police and get protection, in doing so, desiring that he get the help he needs so that reconciliation can occur- with a motive of serving and saving not punishing or threatening.

I agree that the church has historically handled abuse cases terribly. It is awful some of the advice Christian women have gotten, which does not make a good case for what I'm saying, but something I understand to be a sensitive topic.

The verse in Jeremiah is taken completely out of context for divorce and is not applicable to believers seeking divorce. It is a metaphor for Israel being unfaithful to God, and descriptive language on "her" being and "adulteress" is used to show the importance of the text. Again, this verse does not back up an unbiblical divorce.

If your husband says he is not a believer, and HE is the one to initiate divorce, then so be it.

To "love, honor and cherish" are words from the Common Book of Prayer, not the Bible. The Bible says very clearly that men are to "love and cherish their wives as Christ loved the Church and laid down his life for her" (Ephesians 5), which obviously is not what is happening here, but again, not grounds for divorce.

God absolutely expects us to honor a covenant, even when it is trashed by the other party- even when everything in society/culture says for us to run, we have a commitment before God to honor marriage.

Again Megan, if you need help, please seek it from the church, someone with a Biblical perspective on marriage and the gospel or even the authorities if there is danger.

Megan said...

I'll clarify a few things now:

While I have not made any concrete decisions, I believe divorce in my case is Biblically supported. My husband may confess to be a believer, but has continually conducted himself as an unbeliever without true repentance, and has abandoned me in every way EXCEPT physically.

I feel that if I revealed more details of my abuse publicly it would make my actions more understandable and relateable, but 1) I'm just not ready and 2) it feels like cheapening my abuse to have to use it as a defense for my decisions.

I strongly disagree with Mrs. Cheerio, but I don't expect every one to agree with me, and I'm not making it my mission to convince every one that I am right. I am, however, committed to sharing this biblical perspective on divorce in hopes of helping other abused women that feel trapped in a dangerous marriage by the church and fellow Christians.

I am thankful for encouragement, but in no way feel abandoned by God, and never have. He is the one constant in my life and is what kept me sane during the worst experiences of my life.

I do not view divorce as the obvious choice to make in this situation, but through seeking God's wisdom and using my God-given intelligence, common sense, and self respect, I do view it as the safest and healthiest choice to make.

I have sought advice from fellow Christians - as well as received advice I have not asked for - but have spent the most time talking about it with God and listening to HIM above all others. I have not rushed into anything and I am taking my time to listen to ONLY him as he guides me in my decisions.

The verses in Jeremiah are very much "in context" and are a direct analogy of marriage given by God. It is also much more applicable to this situation than say, Joshua 9, which is an example some "good Christians" gave to me (I use quotations because I am always advised to seek instruction from "good Christians" and these people would seem to fit that), despite there being no intention shown in the bible for it to apply to a marriage situation, and even if it was, the circumstances are entirely different and do not fit.

I think it is very very easy for Christians to sit back and point to what the "right" thing is for someone else to do when they are not the ones stuck in the circumstance, or when they have already escaped a similar circumstance in the past and claimed what they did to escape was "ungodly" or a mistake.

That said, I always welcome prayers for wisdom in my decision making.

Laura said...

Hi Megan,

This is the first time I have ever posted here, but I've been reading your blog for a while. I feel very heart-broken for you, and I pray that you find healing. Some of my favourite verses are in Psalm 147: "He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds... great is our Lord; His understanding is beyond measure."

I don't want to enter the debate here... I just wanted to say that you are the only one (besides God) who knows what went on in your marriage and what you endured from your husband. You are the only one who can make the choice to leave or stay, but I do know that whatever you choose, God will be with you 100%. No matter what you do, He will be there.

Life is full of tough choices and some of us have to walk a hard road, but isn't it wonderful that we can rely on God to help us and to give us peace?

~ Laura

Julianna said...

I am not even remotely religious, so I can only look at this from a common sense perspective.

Are you happy being married to this man? Does he treat you with love and respect? Is this man someone that you want your child to be around?

I have a feeling from all I've read in your blog that the answers to all of these questions are NO.

The Bible is a BOOK. Yes, a lot of people look to it for guidance, but it is still just a BOOK. Written MANY, MANY years ago by people that we don't even know, in a different time, in a different world. So much of it doesn't even make sense to the world we live in today.

So if you answered NO to the questions I asked ... then your choice should be obvious. JUST DO WHAT IS GOOD FOR YOU. Why would you sacrifice your happiness or your life for a God that would rather you stay miserable (and by that I mean, if God is anti-divorce, then that means he doesn't care if you're in a bad situation? I don't believe God wants us to be miserable under any circumstances) Although I'm not into religion I do believe that there is a God that created us all, gave us free will and wants us to use our brains to choose what is best for us and not over analyze the Bible when we need to make a decision.

Brewier said...

Amen. :)

Nicky said...

I watched my mom, a Christian woman be abused physically by my dad. After 8 years of it, she left with nothing. That was 26 years ago and she's a living testimony of a victim restored.

I am Christian as well and do not subscribe to the idea of living with abuse of any kind ... especially after what we lived through. I agree with the authors above, when the covenant is broken, it takes repentance from the breaker to begin to heal it. Healing isn't a one-sided affair.

When I did my psych study at a Christian liberal arts college one of the books when we studied in the psychology of abuse was "Refuge from Abuse -- Healing and Hope for Abused Christian Women" by Nancy Nason Clark & Catherine Clark Kroeger.

I hope it's a helpful resource for you and my prayers are with you for healing, for the restoration of the "years the locusts have eaten".

Elle said...

My twin sister divorced her abusive husband. I let her live in my house, eat my food...I put up with her intolerable child (her son is 6 and already showing signs of abuse to everyone around him). I let her wash her clothes and helped her for the last year. She was married to him for 8 years. Now, I am not talking to her. I'm so angry at her I could spit tacks. She has decided to work it out with him. As a Christian, I feel bad for being angry at her and for not encouraging her to try to work out her marriage, but come on! This guy has not changed! The only thing he has changed is his underwear! Anyway, as a person who wants to help my sister be better and live a full life and not be subjected to abuse, after 9 years of her whining about her lot in life, I can no longer be the person who lifts her out of that relationship. She has to want that for herself and honestly, I don't think she even knows what she wants. He has her convinced that for the best of their son, they work it out. They aren't Christians either, so I know he hasn't worked out anything. I told her I can't have my family and my kids subjected to her ex's and her son's abuse any longer. Her son comes in our house and calls my kids "f---ing liars" and then punches his mom. So yeah, I am glad you got out. But please, whatever you do, don't ever feel guilty for the choice to leave. You took a huge step - a very life altering one and don't ever allow your ex to make you feel guilty for that. As for other Christians, I think they don't know what they haven't lived through themselves. It's always easy to give advice until you actually step foot in that world and live it daily. So hang in there. I don't know your full story, but you made a step towards freedom so walk in it :)

Dee Dee Robertson said...

Very well said! My husband and I discuss the importance of having a covenant marriage between, husband, wife, and God. God won't break that covenant but if a husband or wife chooses to break that covenant and is unrepentant, there isn't anything the other spouse can do. You can't restore someone who sees no reason for restoration.
God has a plan for us all that includes a hope and a future, He wants the best for us! Sometimes that means leaving a broken marriage. More churches need to address that.
Keep moving forward!