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You shall not tempt the Lord your God

This week’s column is written by Catherine Clark Kroeger (Ph.D., University of Minnesota) who is adjunct associate professor of classical and ministry studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is an author, president emerita of Christians for Biblical Equality, and president of Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (PASCH).

“I am overcome with joy because of your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul. You have not handed me over to my enemy but have set me in a safe place” (Psalm 31:7-8, NLT).

When I answered the telephone, I found myself listening to a weeping woman. Between sobs she explained that every three weeks or so her abusive husband strangles her into unconsciousness. Though a professing Christian, he suffocates her with pillows, locks her in closets, and leaves her in terror for her life. She has turned for help to several pastors who call the couple into their office for joint counseling. I explained that couples’ counseling is inadvisable in situations of abuse, and she acknowledged that things were always worse at home after a counseling session.

She has come to realize the danger of her situation and was prepared to leave until a Christian friend told her that she must not break the covenant that she made at the marriage altar and must believe that God would work a miracle of transformation in her husband. I pointed out that her husband was the one who had broken the covenant promise to love and cherish her. A covenant is a solemn agreement between two parties, both of whom must abide by their promises. If one party refuses to honor the agreement, the covenant becomes null and void.

But this victim, who desired above all things to do God’s will, had been told that she must give the Lord enough time to change her abuser, even if that meant remaining in a life-threatening situation. I asked if she remembered the temptation of Jesus when Satan took him to the top of the pinnacle in the temple. Cleverly selecting a Bible verse, the devil urged Christ to throw himself down so that angels would bear him up and keep him from danger. But Jesus staunchly refused to risk his life in the expectation that God would perform a supernatural act. He responded “It is written ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’.” It was not a question of who could quote the best Bible verse but who could honor God and respect the laws of the natural universe.

Jesus refused to defy the force of gravity and put God on the spot for a dramatic intervention. We should not expect God to provide protection when we have taken unreasonable risks that could have been avoided. Certainly the advice provided by well-meaning Christians did not consider this victim’s safety a paramount issue. More than that, it did not consider the welfare of the abusive husband. His dangerous conduct may well have been intended to intimidate his spouse rather than to cause her actual harm, but how very easily his conduct might have escalated one step further into a terrible crime! The conduct is already very wicked and totally inconsistent with God’s purposes for a Christian family.

Separation would provide an environment that would be safer for both victim and perpetrator. A time apart would enable each partner to address some of the other issues that must be faced. The Bible tells us to flee temptation rather than continuing to dwell where we are most likely to fall into sin. We pray “deliver us from evil” but we also need to remove ourselves from situations or circumstances that can lead us into grievous sin and harm.

Indeed, David praised God for having restrained him from acting on his murderous intentions (1 Sam. 25:26, 32-34, 39) and prayed “Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Ps. 19:13; see also 51; 119:29; 120:2; 139:12-14; 141:3-4). Four times the Lord exhorted his followers to pray that they would not fall into temptation, (Matt. 2:41; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:40, 46), and he himself prayed that his own would be kept from evil (John 17:15).

God is able to keep us from falling (2 Thess. 3:3; Jude 24), but let us not tempt the Lord our God, nor place others where temptation may assail them. Rather let us look for his place of safety and peace.

Catherine Kroeger



  1. leigh
    Comment #89995 posted October 15, 2009 at 5:15 am

    Dr. Kroeger, this is beautiful. I had not before seen this part of scripture in this way, yet the application makes sense. Thank you.

  2. Comment #89996 posted October 15, 2009 at 7:53 am

    Excellent advice and wise counsel. Thank you.
    God is good

  3. Comment #89997 posted October 15, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    I am becoming alarmed at what I believe is malpractice by pastors with this sort of advice. I am hearing it from too many sources not to be alarmed that it is more pervasive than we might think.

    What about children witnessing this sort of thing?

  4. Comment #89999 posted October 15, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    For anyone who is interested in understanding the verses in Ephesians 5 re wives’ submission, there is an excellent article on the CBE website (cbeinternational.org)
    Just click on the weekly “Arise” column.

  5. Comment #90000 posted October 15, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    This woman may end up being murdered because of the advice of her Christian friend and the pastors she has seen.

    How many Christian women have died this way?

  6. Comment #90001 posted October 15, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Between sobs she explained that every three weeks or so her abusive husband strangles her into unconsciousness.

    This is attempted murder.

  7. Jewel
    Comment #90003 posted October 16, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Excellent advice except for one thing…Statistics show that separation is a very dangerous time for abused women. Abused wives should be counseled to file for divorce, not merely separate from their abusers. If God works a miracle in both their hearts such that the man is truly changed AND the woman actually feels like sleeping with a man who repeatedly tried to kill her…. they can always remarry.

  8. Francine
    Comment #90004 posted October 16, 2009 at 10:04 am

    what a great post. What caught my eye was about the abuser is the one that breaks to convenant. How many pastors will tell the wife to be more submissive but will not tell the husband that it is he that has sinned and broken the covenant between he and his wife by not loving her as Christ loves the church and that the husband also needs to honor, respect and submit to the wife. The tempting God part is also important. How many times do pastors tell the wife to tempt God by going back into an abusive situation?
    The wife will ask God to protect her and cause her husband to see what he was doing was wrong. God often expects us to get out of harm’s way.

  9. Yvette Sonnet
    Comment #90007 posted October 16, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    The message definitely needs to get out to more pastors and Christian counselors that joint couples counseling is not appropriate! I’ve read that many times the abusive husband puts on a great performance for the counselor, acting very remorseful and concerned about his wife, and then on the way home will do things like yanking her repeatedly by the hair or slamming her head into the dashboard. If during their counseling session the wife shares about how she has been abused, the husband will later blame her for making him look bad.

  10. Comment #90017 posted October 18, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Hey, we’ve been talking about this very thing in various comments boxes at my blog. It’s so difficult for people to understand that abuse is a rendering of the covenant. In the conservative church, we are so trained to think of adultery and desertion as the only “acceptable” reasons to divorce, but the fact is, abuse *is* a form of desertion. When you try to systematically destroy the person you covenanted yourself to love and honor, it rips the covenant to shreds, one little act of abuse at a time.

    Abused women are usually so *internally* beat down, though, by the time they realize that they are being abused, that just telling them to separate or to divorce will rarely be helpful. Friends and family must be willing to be in it for the long haul…it may take her some time before she fully comprehends. I know that it took me years. I look back now and I can’t believe it took so long…but when you are in the situation, and your mind is filled with what the abuser says you are…it is so hard to see anything clearly at all.

    Keep on encouraging her to go get individual counseling (preferably with someone trained in spousal abuse dynamics). Get “Why Does He Do That,” by Lundy Bancroft, for yourself, to better understand what is going on, and for her, if she’s the reading type. It explains how the mind of an abuser works (which explains why all the normal things that help a troubled marriage DON’T work when it’s an abusive one). Keep on encouraging her and telling her that she is worth something, but don’t push her into doing what you want, now. He does that all the time. It will take patience and fortitude, but just being there for her will mean so much to her, when she finally starts coming around….because if her community is primarily made up of those who don’t think that divorce/separation is okay in abusive situations, she’s going to need strong friends when the time comes.

  11. Comment #90018 posted October 18, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Oh my, I forgot to add how much I enjoyed this article and the unique perspective it offered. Wonderful words!

  12. Comment #90022 posted October 20, 2009 at 7:01 am

    Great article. I thought I was the only one whose husband would smother her with a pillow until I started counseling others and found that it happens to others as well. And I remember experiencing the same treatment when going to my pastor. We tried the couples counseling, which made it worse. Now I know better and counsel others to seek separate counseling.

    I just read yesterday where one woman had gone to her pastor for help and he told her to stay and get on her knees by her bed when her husband was alseep and pray that God would touch him. He told her that when her husband found out she was praying for him, he might get mad. But she needed to stay and pray and trust God. She came in with two black eyes, badly beaten, and told her pastor, I hope you are satisfied. He said yes, he was very happy (that’s right, happy) because her husband walked into church and came forward at the altar call… now, do you think if she left the same result may have happened and she would not have been beaten black and blue??? And do you think he truly made an altar call or did it for show?

    I had one client whose pastor told her that if her husband killed her she should consider it joy because that was God’s will for her life…. God’s will? Pa-lease! If that were so God would not have told David to flee Saul, or Rahab to lie to hide the spies. No, God’s will is not that His children should be beaten, whether emotionally or physically. His will is that there would be peace and protection in the home.

  13. Francine
    Comment #90024 posted October 23, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Although all kinds of abuse is wrong, one type of abuse that is seldom reported and dealt with is emotional abuse. I realize that it is not as life threating as physical abuse, but it can be damaging to the soul and spirit of the wife or hushand. My ex-husband was a very controlling person. He felt it was his church giving right to control every aspect of my life. He did it by telling me I was fat, ugly and stupid, until I actually believed that without him I was a nothing. I couldn’t report this type of abuse because at the time it was happening I didn’t realize that it was abuse. Plus, there are not physical signs only emotional scars. It took me years to get over the emotional trauma, but I went through a divorce to do it. I then later met and married a man who loved me so much he would tell me I was just the right size, very pretty and smart enough to do what ever I was called to do. But it took him years of telling me this to get me to believe him. I’m “lucky” some women never get this kind of help.
    How do you help these ladies?

  14. Comment #90028 posted October 23, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    My situation did not involve physical abuse either…which is what made me think it wasn’t abuse…

    …Yet the things done to me, almost all of them in God’s name (thanks to complementarian/patriarchal theology that put him in the position of my prophet, priest and king), were abuse, plain and simple.

  15. Comment #90030 posted October 23, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    One of the saddest things, to my mind, that we encounter in respect to this topic concerns women who leave an emotionally abusive marriage situation only to find, in later years, that their children side with the abusive husband.

    Most often a woman leaves when the children are younger because she senses that living with constant abuse is detrimental to the children’s own well being and relational development. During the separation the children, at the direction of the courts, continue to visit the father, by staying over weekends or alternating week about. Unless the woman has become incredibly embittered by the experience she will usually work hard at not speaking negatively about the children’s father around them. So in time the children forget the issues.

    Add to this mix that the father, who saw no good thing in his spouse during the marriage, continues to berate and malign her in his access times with the children. If he is the religious type he lays on the children all the biblical reasons why he sees that it was wrong for their mother to leave him. As the children develop their own spiritual values they may well be attracted to the simplistic, legalistic outlook of their father, especially if they attend and are influenced by the hierarchical teaching of his church.

    Meanwhile, with no hope of reconciliation in sight, the mother may find herself in a position where another man comes in to her life. Through much agonizing heart-searching and prayer she believes that God may be leading her into a new marriage relationship where mutuality and genuine caring for one another has an opportunity to grow. She is overwhelmed by God’s grace to her in her brokenness only to discover that the children, now teens or young adults, do not share her joy, and in fact become resentful and obstructive.

    Take this a step further…. the disenfranchised father can fill the children’s minds with his belief that it is wrong for a divorced woman to contemplate remarriage and in fact if she does she will be living in adultery. Granted the teen years, communication wise, can be difficult anyway, but, if the mother is the primary carer, and the children in their inexperience, are consumed by this notion, a huge, additional wedge is driven between them.

    This may cause the woman to end the prospective relationship, no matter how promising it appeared to be, or how much in love she felt herself becoming, in favor of reaching out to the children and preserving their relationship. Or, she may push on with a second marriage in the hope that by God’s grace, in time, the children will understand. It seems to me that, in either of these possible scenarios, the original abuse of the estranged husband, who I might add, sundered the marriage, continues to hound the woman in this new form and is in fact very likely energized by the resentful expressions of the children.

    Perhaps there are some women out there who can share their experiences of how they managed situations like I’ve outlined above where there are children involved. It could be that you are going through something like this right now, or, you are just coming through it all onto the other side.

    Maybe, by God’s grace, this is well and truly behind you but there are some valuable life lessons that you’ve learned along the way that you would like to share on this forum.

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