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.