Monday, April 09, 2018

Suffering Love: A Redemptive Force or an Enabling One?

"Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good."
Romans 12:9

As we seek to understand God's way for us in the midst of an abusive relationship, there are times when the Scriptures can provoke us to doubt or fear the heart of the One who loves us. The Scriptures indeed acknowledge that there are times when enduring harsh or inappropriate treatment serves as a powerful testimony and can bring glory to God. But too often we are inclined to believe that, if we are suffering in marriage, we are called to pray, perfect ourselves to attempt to earn our abuser's love, and hope for change.

But what if a hostile husband's behaviors have nothing to do with a lack of understanding, a difficult phase in his life, his struggles at work, or a traumatic childhood? What if the one with whom you share your bed is an utterly self-absorbed, abusive - even wicked - man? What if he knows exactly what he is doing, doesn't care if you are hurting and uses your faith to keep you bound to him? Does your commitment to sacrifice yourself to his will minister to him or merely enable him? If it is the latter, you must ask yourself: Is that what God would have me do?

Some in the church insist that we should not contest suffering at the hands of our spouse, asserting that it must be within God's divine will - to teach us obedience and endurance and to allow us to share in the fellowship of the Lord's suffering.

Really? Is that consistent with the example our Lord set? Did He really lay Himself bare and allow Himself to be tortured so that wickedness might triumph? That is foolishness and needs to be clarified from a biblical perspective, specifically when it comes to abuse in marriage.

Looking at the totality of Scripture, is an abused wife called to remain in an abusive home for life? Some contemporary churches would say 'yes.' One of the oft-quoted verses that seem to support this sentiment was penned by the Apostle Peter, who wrote,"Likewise you women be submissive to your husbands, so that if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by your chaste and respectful behavior..." (I Peter 3:1-2)

This section of Peter's letter immediately follows a section urging servants to bear up under suffering from unreasonable masters, and highlights our Lord's own terrible suffering as a basis comparison, so we are initially prone to accept that suffering to the point of death in marriage is an honorable calling. But, Jesus didn't suffer to promote suffering, but for a profound, redemptive purpose.

So let's take a step back and ask, "What does redemptive love look like?" Let us look not only at the Lord's final days but also at His character, and some of his dealings during His ministry.

First of all, Jesus did not treat all people the same. To the seeking and downtrodden, He offered hope, grace and healing. Yet, the arrogant legalists, those who put on a good show but whose hearts were hardened to the things of God, He very harshly condemned. When they tested Him or crossed Him, He was neither gentle nor accommodating toward them. He called them out for their hypocrisy.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." Matthew 23:27-28

In another encounter, Jesus condemned the religious elite for honoring those who sacrificed their material possessions to essentially purchase good standing in the eyes of the Pharisees while neglecting the primary needs of their families. The mere perception of righteousness was an offensive contradiction to the practical essence of faith. The Pharisees began the encounter by criticizing Jesus for not insisting that His disciples wash properly before eating, as we see here:
"Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread."

And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.' But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God, he is not to honor his father or his mother.' And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.'"Matthew 15:2-8

Rather than enabling these religious people, Jesus consistently skewered them for their arrogance and left them to their own ends, saying to them at one point,"If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains." John 9:41

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