As Domestic Violence Awareness month closes, I wanted to write a special message to all of the people who tell victims of abuse to stay in the abusive relationship and work things out. My message to you is: Everything has a time limit.
A Time to Flee and Avoid Danger
Let’s take a look at Acts 19. In this chapter, Paul arrives in Ephesus and begins to teach in the synagogue. Acts 19:8-10 (MSG) says, “Paul then went straight to the meeting place. He had the run of the place for three months, doing his best to make the things of the kingdom of God real and convincing to them. But then resistance began to form as some of them began spreading evil rumors through the congregation about the Christian way of life. So Paul left, taking the disciples with him…” Take a look at the cause and effect that took place here. Cause: Resistance formed and evil rumors spread. Effect: Paul left with the disciples. Paul tried his best to reveal the true and living God and the hope that we have in Jesus, but not everyone was convinced. But instead of just leaving peacefully and allowing those who did believe to learn about Christianity, some people chose to turn the synagogue into a hostile environment. Instead of sticking around for things to turn ugly, Paul left and started to teach elsewhere.
Let me give you another example from the Old Testament. In Exodus 1, we find out that the king of Egypt became scared that the Israelites would eventually overpower the Egyptians because of how numerous they had become. So, the king decided to enslave the Israelites. The Egyptians made the Israelites’ “lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly” (Exodus 1:14 NIV). The king even ordered the Israelite’s newborn baby boys to be killed at birth. The Israelites endured slavery for many years until God called Moses to deliver them out of Egypt.
Domestic Violence is a Trap of the Enemy
As a domestic violence advocate, here’s what I know:
Abusers want to have power and control over their spouses.
They want to control their spouse to the point that their spouses are afraid to make a move without their approval. The abuser’s desire for power and control can become dangerous, and many times, fatal. Abuse doesn’t always leave visible scars that heal with time. Most victims have the hardest time healing from the psychological, emotional, and verbal scars that they cannot seem to erase.
Abuse is real and it happens in way more households than what’s reported. Victims of abuse have different levels of tolerance for abuse, so some will immediately leave, some will leave after many years, and some may never leave.
Team, it is not up to us to judge the victim, it is up to us to assist the victim.
I also know that God does not expect us to stay in situations that have the ability to become abusive or violent, nor does He expect us to stay after it has become abusive or violent. God wants us to value ourselves and our wellbeing enough to leave.
The reason I chose those two examples is that they are completely different. Paul left in Acts 19 before things became violent and he became a victim. In Exodus, the Israelites were enslaved for so many years that they became used to the abuse and God had to intervene. These are the types of cases I see in my work as an advocate at a domestic violence shelter on the regular. Some women leave before things escalate and some women come to us after decades of abuse.
So, What’s the Play Call?
No matter where a victim of abuse is on her (or his) journey to leaving an abusive relationship, it is a God-given right to leave; no one, especially not a Christian, should cast guilt on someone for making personal safety a priority.
As a matter of fact, her community should support her and help her escape to safety like the believers in Thessalonica did for Paul, when some of the Jews formed a mob to hunt down Paul and Silas in Acts 17. The mob broke into the house of a friend of Paul and Silas, and when the mob could not find them, they dragged the friends out of the home to go before the city officials. “That night, under cover of darkness, their friends got Paul and Silas out of town as fast as they could” (Acts 17:10 MSG). Paul and Silas had some great friends who valued their lives. Believers should do the same for anyone who is trying to escape abuse.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233 or visit www.thehotline.org.