What does the Bible say about abuse and how to deal with it?
There are three major kinds of abuse within a relationship: Physical abuse when someone hits, slaps, beats, burns, kicks, or stabs you. But it also includes arm grabbing, shaking or being pushed. There is sexual abuse, which is any exploitation of your body against your will. And there is emotional abuse, which is wide spread and very misunderstood.
Emotional abuse is when someone threatens or humiliates you. This includes name-calling, putting you down, insulting you, or breaking your things. Control is a huge part of emotional abuse and involves chronic anger, jealousy, accusations, and distrust. The main symptoms that you maybe experiencing emotional abuse include feeling depressed, anxious, and unhappy in your relationship, that you feel isolated and that you’re down on yourself, or even hate yourself, especially when you’re together.
So what does the Bible say about such abuse?
The Bible is completely clear that any form of abuse is unacceptable. God hates the idea of anyone being abused.
The Bible lays out how we are to treat those we love and its all about sacrificial love: a love that yearns for the absolute very best for the person. A love where we put the others needs before our own. The Bible talks of us loving our partners with care and concern and the greatest of respect.
As Colossians 3:19 reads: ‘Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.’The greek for ‘harsh’ is pikraino which means not being angry or bitter towards the partner, not causing continued pain, intense hostility and expressing hatred towards another. The passage is clear that a partner is not to be hostile or violent. Emotional, sexual and physical abuse is not acceptable behavior for a Christian husband or partner. So what is acceptable?
To truly love your spouse.
So what does the Bible mean when it talks about love? The greek for love in the Colossians passage is agapao, which is to value, esteem, manifest generous concern for, be faithful towards, and to delight in. In other words, to love another is to treat them like they are the most wonderful and amazing person in the world. As 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 states:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
A healthy Godly relationship is one where both partners feel protected and safe, where anger is minimal and worked through, and where serving the other is the norm. If a partner’s behavior is envious, unable to admit fault, more interested in themselves and easily angered then that person’s behavior is outside of God’s will and is sinful.
So what does the Bible say if you are trapped in an abusive relationship? The Bible is clear that reconciliation and healing is the preferred path; that the abusing partner confesses their sin and changes their behavior; and the abused partner forgives the perpetrator. But what if the abuse continues and reconciliation and change doesn’t come? Then prayerful thought and consideration should be given to divorce.
The Bible shares that there are two instances where divorce is acceptable: adultery (Matthew 5:32) and with a non-believing spouse. The second is detailed in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 which states:
12To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
The greek word for ‘unbelieving’ is apistos which literally means being unfaithful, false, and treacherous. In the case of abuse the partner is indeed being unfaithful to the calling and expectations of marriage (that of offering sacrificial love as shared above), and is being treacherous in how they treat their partner. So an abusing partner is in effect ‘unbelieving’, which is grounds for divorce within the Bible.
But the passage suggests that separation only happens when the unbeliever leaves (verse 15). How then does this apply? Well when a partner abuses the other, they are in effect leaving the bounds of expectation of a Godly marriage. And for many people who are abused, they will often share how alone they feel, even though they live in the same house as their partner. The person who is abusing in effect leaves the marriage agreement while remaining within the relationship. So the Bible is clear: sustained abuse is grounds for divorce.
So the first step should be counseling and a genuine attempt at reconciliation and healing – this is God’s preference. But if the person who is abusing refuses to change then there are Biblical grounds for leaving the marriage.
God charges us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 to care for our bodies: our emotions, our mind and our physical self. Our safety and the safety of our children is our responsibility. It notes:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
We honor God with how we treat our body, so if your body, your emotions, mind and physical self are being damaged, we honor God by finding a safe place to be.
As Gaetane Reimer posted on the ‘Abuse in a relationship is NOT ok.’ page:
God never chose for us to be abused by our spouse. He said we were to give up our lives for the gospel’s sake, not for someone’s sickness. Allowing yourself to be abused continually is just saying that you really don’t love yourself enough to get away from it. If God loves us enough to let His precious Son die for us, then we are very valuable. I must love myself. When you stay you are also abusing yourself and all that God created you to be.
So what can you do right now if you are being abused? Approach your pastor, your doctor or a trusted friend. The key is not to go it alone but to find support people. One of the realities of someone being abused is that they often feel isolated and alone; the person abusing will do all they can to keep the abuse secret. So share it with people you trust. Please don’t keep it to yourself, in doing so you are aiding the abuse.
To get professional help :
If you live in the USA: Focus on the Family help line (A Christian service) (800) A-Family (232-6459)
National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
In the UK: Woman’s Aid: 0808 2000 247
In Australia: Lifeline – Crisis Counselling Line : 13 11 14
Or if in another country, Google: Domestic Violence support services.
It is advisable to use a friends phone and computer as controlling partners will monitor phone and computer access.
And remember that in Christ you are never alone. As Matthew 5:3-10 records:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.