As October is National Abuse Awareness Month, I started a two part series about abuse with a blog post last week that looked at 5 types of abuse. This week I want to look at three important facts that we need to understand about abuse.
Point 1: Abuse is Prevalent
The statistics are always so shocking to me because unless you are in a home where abuse happens, you don’t see it and so it’s hard to believe how prevalent it really is.
So… a few statistics:
- One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. It’s the number one health risk to women. Think of that: a woman’s greatest risk of injury is from the person she is living with. For men, one out of seven will experience domestic abuse.
- In terms of sexual abuse, the numbers are one out of six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18 and for girls it’s one out of four.
- When it comes to verbal and emotional abuse, the numbers are much higher.
How do the statistics change in Christian homes? They don’t. In fact, in some ways, our faith can blind us to the abuse around us. We assume that “good Christian people” aren’t abusers. But they can be.
Someone was just telling me the other day about how an elder at their church was arrested for abusing his wife. I’d like to think that the church is a sanctuary from abuse but the church is full of sinners…so it’s going to happen.
That leads me to my second point about abuse.
Point 2: Abuse is Predictable
The Bible tells us that we are fallen people. Without Gods help, we are capable of doing all kinds of evil.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. – Psalm 51:5
There is no one righteous, not even one… there is no one who does good, not even one. – Romans 3:10-12
We read about abuse throughout the Bible. We see it in the opening pages of the Bible in how Adam treats Eve or when Cain kills his brother.
The prophet Samuel reports how the priests took advantage of women who worked at the church:
Now Eli (the chief priest), who was very old, heard about everything his sons (also priests) were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. – 1 Samuel 2:22
And one of the most embarrassing stories in the Bible tells about how one of King David’s son’s entraps his step-sister and rapes her. I’ll let you read the story on your own, but look what happens after the assault:
Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred…He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her.” So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went… And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman. When King David heard all this, he was furious. – 2 Samuel 12:15-21
This is such a sad story. Tamar’s virtue and dreams were destroyed. Amnon got away with his reckless and demeaning behavior. And David was shamefully quiet and passive.
David was furious, but he didn’t do anything about it. What kind of message did that send? And so just like today…Tamar lived in silent shame while the perpetrator got away with it and everyone else kept quiet. It wasn’t right then and it’s not right now. We don’t want to be the people that keep quiet.
Later in the Bible you can read a letter written by James, the brother of Jesus. James zeros in on how easily we can verbally abuse each other:
The tongue … is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. – James 3:6-10
This letter was written to believers. James is telling them, “Hey guys, we’ve got a problem. You are praising Jesus in worship but using your same lips to tear people down with your words. That’s not right.” I’ve got a problem with this too.
I don’t know why it is but some Christians think they only have to watch their words in church but get a free pass to put down their family members, their boss, swear at the quarterback on TV, or rip the president and politicians on Facebook. I’m sorry, but that’s verbal abuse. There are no free passes for followers of Jesus when it comes to how we talk about people. If God created them, we owe them our respect.
Abuse isn’t limited to evil people who live in ugly houses in the bad side of town. Abusers are you and me. We are all capable of mistreating others and many of us do. Abusers are rich and poor, black and white, Christian and non-Christian.
Point 3: Abuse is Redeemable
I’ll say again, abuse is redeemable…that is, you can overcome it.
God is moved by human suffering. We see this in the story of Moses. Before God called Moses to deliver his people out of Egypt it says:
The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and saw their pain. – Exodus 2:23-25
The word in Hebrew for “saw their pain” is literally, “and knew them.” The word for “know” is “to have intimate knowledge.” So it means that God understood the pain of their situation. That means he knows your pain too.
The prophet Isaiah spoke about what the messiah would be like when he appeared (he was talking about Jesus) and he said:
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, he will faithfully bring forth justice. In his name the nations will put their hope.” – Isaiah 42:3,4
I’ve always liked that image of a bruised reed. Reeds were used to make baskets, sandals, etc. What is a bruised reed worth? Nothing, right? Reeds aren’t rare. Where you find one you find hundreds. So if one is bruised you just get rid of it. You use it for kindling. But not Jesus. He cares that much. That’s the point.
If he cares that much about a reed, how much more does he care for you?
And the smoldering wick? We’ve all had to deal with them. You blow out a candle and walk away. But then you walk back in the room and it’s full of smoke because even though the flame went out, the wick kept burning. Smoldering wicks are irritating. Sometimes we feel worthless, like a bruised reed, and irritating to people, like the smoldering wick. Both are dispensable. But when the messiah comes, he won’t discard either.
Isaiah mentions the word justice here…implying that taking care of the abused is a justice issue…meaning, it’s the right thing to do. It’s the godly thing to do. You don’t look past the hurting. You help them.
If you are a victim of abuse, I want to encourage you that you are not alone. Abuse is prevalent. There are many survivors of abuse. They are probably sitting next to you. It’s predictable. But it’s redeemable. You can move beyond it.
I mentioned Joyce Meyer’s story in my last post. She was abused repeatedly by her father until she left home at 18. It was really sick what she was exposed to. She said she did the math and realized that he assaulted her over 200 times. But then she said, Look at me. How could I do what I do if God wasn’t alive and well? God took my pain and made it my gain. God took my mess and made it my message. And she quoted Isaiah 61 that says:
The Lord…sent me to …bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes… Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs. – Isaiah 61:7
So, no matter who you are or what’s been done to you…God can change your life and use you for good. Instead of lamenting the loss of abuse all your life, you can celebrate how God can gave you a double portion.
But I’m not just speaking to the abused here today. I’m speaking to those of you who might be abusers. The statistics tell me that there have to be a number of abusers reading this today. God has compassion for you too. If you struggle with abuse, I hope you’ll seek out help. I’m happy to talk to you and I guarantee I’ll offer you no shame.
Let me share one last verse with you. I presented at a conference for counselors in Minnesota about shame. One of the counselors came up to meet me and she shared a verse with me about shame that I’ve never heard before. It’s from Psalm 34, and it says:
Those who look to God are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. – Psalm 34:5
If you want to be radiant and never be covered with shame, I hope you will look to God. The good thing about that is you can do it right now and the healing can begin.
Let me pray to that end for us.
Father, thank you that you are close to the broken hearted. You see their pain. I thank you that you will not crush the broken hearted and that instead of shame you give us a double portion. I ask that you would bring great grace to our efforts to help victims of abuse and help both the abused and abusers find the courage they need to get help.