Do you struggle with leaving your abusive spouse because you made a vow to stay together until “death do you part?” This was definitely one of my most difficult challenges. I thought if I sought a divorce, I would be sinning against the Lord. I already felt enough guilt heaped upon my shoulders daily by my husband. I didn’t need the guilt of thinking I had gone against the Bible to be added onto that.
I recommend a book called A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church, by a pastor named Jeff Crippen. This book helped me think through this difficult issue in a new way.[i]
Crippen looks at marriage as a contract, just like any other contract we enter into.[ii] In a contract, each party makes promises. Blessings are given if both parties keep their promises, and curses are given if one of the parties doesn’t. For example, I promise to pay my mortgage to the bank, and they promise to allow me to continue living in my home. If I pay my mortgage on time, I have the blessing of being allowed to continue living in my house. If I refuse to pay my mortgage, curses go into effect. They can evict me from my house!
When spouses enter into a marriage contract, they make promises to each other before witnesses, and before God. Spouses usually promise to:
- Forsake all others
- Until death.
In abusive marriages, the abuser breaks these promises daily. But unlike every other contract, the Christian abuse victim appears to have no recourse. She* is told she cannot break her part of the contract even though the other party (the abusive spouse) never loves, honors, or cherishes her. He receives no curses for breaking his part of the contract, but continues to receive all the blessings forever. As Crippen says, “Something is really wrong with this picture!”[iii]
Crippen says divorce has two parts:
- Destruction of the marriage—accomplished by the willful, habitual, unrepentant breaking of the vows by the abuser. This is what causes the marriage to end.
- Divorce of the marriage—when the marriage is over, the innocent victim may then, without sin, file for divorce from the civil authorities.
In Matthew 19:6b, Jesus says,
Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.
Crippen concludes, “But Jesus did not teach the human marriage covenant is impossible to break. In fact, he instructed no one should break it, indicating that by violation of the vows. . . the guilty spouse separates what God has joined together.
Separating what God has joined together is always sin, but only for the guilty spouse.”[iv] Tweet This
The Bible has much to say about abuse, but it you have to sometimes search for the verses. Here are two that talk about avoiding abusive people:
1 Corinthians 5:11
I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. (NLT)
2 Timothy 3:1-5
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
Therefore, to all Christian abuse victims who are married to abusive spouses: It is not unusual for your abuser to twist God’s word for their own purposes. And what is their purpose? To keep control over you. This allows them to continue abusing you, and to get whatever they want from the relationship.
Question: Do you struggle with leaving your abuser because you are concerned you are going against God?
Dear Lord, I pray you will be with all abuse victims who are reading this blog today. Lord, please help them to discern whether they are being abused, and whether it would be best for them and their children if they were to separate from their abusers, at least for a time. If they do decide this, I pray they will be wise and careful as they move forward, and make a safety plan, (see my blog on safety planning). We pray your peace and protection over them. Amen.
May you feel God’s presence and blessing today.
P.S. If you have had trouble getting help from your church, please check out my Domestic Violence Guide for Churches. This guide describes the dynamics of abuse from a Christian perspective, then educates church leaders how to help those who experience it. Click here to see a preview of the written and video guide.
*Note: Abusers and their victims can be male or female. These principles apply to any situation.
[i] Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood, A Cry for Justice, How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church (United States:Calvary Press Publishing, 2012), 303-305.
[ii] Crippen, A Cry for Justice, 293-294.
[iii] Crippen, A Cry for Justice, 294.
[iv] Crippen, A Cry for Justice, 298.