Wednesday, July 30, 2014

2 Questions on Divorce (Part 6) What about abuse and the safety of the abused?

Hello again everyone.  I pray all are well.  This has been an interesting series for me in a challenging time. With my computer down and the difficulty of typing up this type of stuff on a phone, I have had to get creative about the blogging process. Writing about divorce is not exactly the most comfortable experience in the world.  I really have no idea who looks at it and who doesn't.  I also know that it is an extremely sensitive subject for those have been through it or are in the midst of it.  I would not want anyone to think that I do not understand that.  It is only because of my own personal experiences, not with getting a divorce, but with being approached by people who have had troubles and actually want to know what God really says about it, that I speak to it at all.

This can be difficult information to come by in this do what feels good and look out for #1 society we live in. There are many who do not care what God says because they are self-professing non-Christians.  Then there are those who are willing to twist what God says on any number of subjects because they actually think it is good for the people they are advising.  They believe it is better to compromise God's word rather than to try to help people rightly understand and apply God's word, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

No matter what, I do not ever want to be one of those people.  I do not pretend to know everything about the bible, but I do understand a lot.  I have spent a considerable amount of time studying on and thinking through the subjects that I speak to.   I know that scripture gives a lot more clear instruction and information than many let on, and can be much more helpful taken just as it is than people believe.  The Protestant Reformation began because Martin Luther believed the same thing.  He believed in the clarity of much of scripture and in peoples right to read it for themselves.

Speaking to divorce is not ever intended to be a hammer over the head of those who are having trouble or those who are already divorced or remarried.  My only goal is to provide some basic biblical information relating to the subject and to suggest that all hope is not lost.  God does want your marriage not only to survive, but to thrive.  No matter the circumstance.  There is not a scenario that can be thought of in which God has not worked miracles.  While His answer may not always be yes, it is always do all you can unless I give you a way out, and even then don't give up without a fight.

I have spoken to the allowances that God's word speaks to relating to divorce and I have spoken to suffering not only as it relates to difficulties in marriage but also in general.  As always these are inexhaustible discussions.  There is always more to be said.  But in the spirit of blogging, I seek to create some             constructive, biblical thought processes verses trying to cure the problem, as it were.

So What About Abuse?
Perhaps someone has wondered in all this talk of tuffing it out, trusting God, and suffering well, "What do we do with cases of abuse regarding the spouse or children?"  Many well meaning people have suggested that abuse must be an allowance for divorce in God's eyes because God certainly doesn't want to see any spouse stuck in an abusive marriage either male or, as is the majority of cases, female.

I would agree that God's ideal scenario is not a woman or children getting abused verbally, emotionally, psychologically, or physically.  It doesn't exactly jive with loving your neighbor or your enemy.  It also doesn't fit at all with God's purpose for marriage which is to represent Christ's relationship with the church. No where does scripture suggest that Christ abuses his bride.  In fact, Christ took great amounts of abuse on behalf of His bride.  Christ also places great value on children and does not take kindly to their abuse.

God's Faithfulness and Our Faithfulness
However, there is also no where in scripture where God suggests that abandoning our marriage covenant is the answer either.  In fact, Christ has taken rejection upon rejection from His bride and continues to be faithful.  In the OT book of Hosea, God instructs the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer. When she rejects him and is unfaithful, God instructs him to go after her and remain faithful to his commitment.  Though it is debated as to whether this is a literal story or intended as an allegory, it is clear that this book is recorded for us as an example of God's faithfulness to His people in the face of repeated rejection in unfaithfulness.

Divorce is often the knee jerk reaction in these situations but it need not be the end result. These are difficult truths in the face of marital suffering but they are also beautiful opportunities for encouragement regarding God's faithfulness in every circumstance.  God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit know what it is to be rejected, beaten, scoffed at, scorned, and ignored by those they love.  If we are expected to represent Christ's faithfulness, what do we do when domestic abuse is a problem?

If Not Divorce Then What's the Answer?
How do we apply the biblical standards for marriage and divorce when the physical safety of the spouse and children are at stake?  This could be an ongoing discussion, studies and conferences are held among professionals, not only to discuss the abused, but to discuss ways to help the abuser.  There is so much out there sociologically regarding this matter.  I am not an expert on the psychological reasons that often play into abuse.  Let it suffice to say that the abuser is often a victim themselves.  They are acting out of past pain that they often do not understand themselves, if they are even fully aware that it exists.  I do believe however, that there is a biblical way to handle situations of abuse that can protect the abused while discouraging divorce that is pursued by the abused.

The Church's Responsibility
We as the church must ensure that we are keeping our ears and eyes open for signs of abuse among our members.  In addition, our members must know that the elders and deacons are available and desiring to help provide safety and shelter for the abused.  They must also make it clear that they are willing to lovingly confront and try to help the abuser figure out what is going on.

It is the job of the leaders of the church, to lead the church body in providing safety and support for the abused while looking for a way to bring resolution and restoration to everyone involved.  The end goal is saving the marriage and restoring the family.  It may take time, but if we truly believe that God is a fan of marriage and that a patient, forgiving, loving response to offense is desired in every circumstance, then we are responsible to pursue that.

What If the Abuser Will Not Repent?
If you read the last couple of posts then you will remember that I spoke to the case of the unbelieving spouse.  My conviction is that if an abused, believing spouse is doing all they can, with the help of the church, to fight for their marriage while remaining safe, then they have upheld their end of the covenant commitment.

If the abuser is exhibiting no desire to repent and work toward getting help then they are lacking the righteous fruit that is expected of a true believer in whom the Spirit of God is working.  If they are a member of a healthy church then church discipline would be the next step.  This would possibly involve the eventual removal of membership from the church with an understanding that the church is no longer recognizing the abuser as a believer.  If they were not a church member or professing believer to begin with, there is still a place for teaching the abuser of their need for Christ.

If the abuser presents as an unbeliever that is shows no interest in responding to a call for repentance, then they will likely leave of their own accord.  Many abusive spouses are not gonna stick around if the pressure is being put on them to get it together and they see that the abused spouse has the support of their church family.  Now, after much effort to rectify the situation in as loving and biblical a way as possible, you have biblical grounds for divorce.

Is it really that simple?
While I have presented this in an abbreviated form, I am not at all suggesting that this is simple.  It is quite often I'm sure, a grueling, painful process that will require much pastoral care and patience on the part of all parties involved.  It will likely involve professional counseling as well.  As I said, I am not an expert.  The only reason I speak to this at all is because there are many more out there dealing with this challenge than there are being offered solutions by the church.

I would encourage anyone who is in this kind of a scenario, or knows someone who is, to engage your pastoral staff if they do not know about it. Tell them your situation and ask for their help.  If they are unwilling to get involved then quite frankly, you may need to look for a pastoral staff that is interested in helping you find a solution.  They are out there.  The church should be a safe haven for all who need it.  But please whatever you do, if you are the abused, don't stop looking for help.  Find a safe place, pray for your spouse, and don't give up.  God has not disappeared. He is there.  He loves you, He knows your circumstances, and He has a plan.

As always, I am just one lone guy trying to put my convictions and heart out there to be used by God in anyway He sees fit.  If it helps one person in thinking through this difficult challenge in life, for themselves or for someone else, then it is worth the risk of any criticism that I may receive for daring to speak to it.

Love in Christ,


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