What IS Domestic Violence?

What is Domestic Violence?

abuse, generalThe month of October has been designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The goal of this month is to raise public awareness about domestic violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to recognize, prevent, and respond to domestic violence.
This article is the first in a series that will focus on the topic of domestic violence. For more on this issue, you can read Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence , which is written by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb.
“Domestic violence” is used as an overarching term to encompass a large number of behaviors–physical, verbal, and psychological–that violate the well-being of an individual and his or her ability to act.
Historically, “domestic violence” was mostly associated with physical violence. “Domestic violence” today, however, has a much broader legal definition, which includes sexual, psychological, verbal, and economic abuse.
Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling, or abusive behavior that is used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, exploit, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound an intimate partner.
As such, domestic violence can take many forms, including willful intimidation, physical assault, sexual assault, battery, stalking, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, economic control, psychological abuse, spiritual abuse, isolation, any other abusive behavior, and/or threats of such. Of course, threats of abuse can be as frightening as the abuse itself, particularly, when the victim knows the perpetrator may carry out the threats.
Domestic violence includes the establishment of abusive control and power over another person through fear, isolation, and/or intimidation.[1] Abusive behavior often is thought of as direct “hands-on” infliction of pain but also includes implied threat or actual physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, including withholding finances and medical equipment.[2]
This understanding of domestic violence gets beyond our society’s narrow understanding of the issue and expands the spectrum of actions to be considered domestic violence. A comprehensive definition and understanding of domestic violence includes several elements. Each element is important in understanding domestic violence:
  • Intentional: The abuser consciously or subconsciously sets out to use deliberate abusive tactics to achieve his/her ends. The abuser chooses to abuse and he can choose to stop abusing at any time.
  • Methodical: The abuser systematically uses a series of abusive tactics to gain power over the partner and to control her.
  • Pattern: The abused partner often at first sees the abusive tactics as isolated and unrelated incidents, but they are really a series of related acts that form a pattern of behaviors.
  • Tactics: The abuser uses a variety of tactics to gain power and
 to control his partner such as threats, violence, humiliation, exploitation, or even self-pity.
  • Power: The abuser aims to acquire and employ power in the relationship. For example, the abuser may use force or threats of physical harm to intimidate his or her partner, thereby gaining physical and emotional power. Or the abuser may prohibit the partner from working, making the partner financially dependent on the abuser, and thereby gaining financial power.
  • Control: With sufficient power, the abuser can control his partner–forcing or coercing her to do as the abuser wishes. For example, the abuser controls the decision making for the relationship, or controls who has social contact with the partner, or determines the sexual practices of the partner. The goal of the abuser is to force compliance.
  • Desires: The abuser’s ultimate goal is to get his emotional and physical desires met and he aims to selfishly make use of his partner to meet those needs. Most abusers are afraid their desires will not be fulfilled through a normal healthy relationship. Fear motivates them to use abuse to ensure that their desires will be met.
Domestic violence is a pervasive, life-threatening epidemic and crime that affects millions of people worldwide in every community.
It takes place across all races, ages, socioeconomic statuses, geographic regions, religions, nationalities, and education backgrounds, including traditional, nontraditional, teen dating, and adult dating relationships as well as older populations.[3]
A National Problem
Domestic violence is dangerously good at hiding itself, yet it is extremely prevalent–and extremely damaging–in our world today.
Domestic violence exists in every community and culture (including communities and cultures that we might perceive as happy and “normal”). The number of occurrences of domestic violence is staggering. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused at some point during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family.
Intimate partner violence is pervasive in U.S. society. The prevalence of domestic violence in the United States is difficult to determine because the crime is vastly underreported, yet the statistics are still overwhelmingly high: one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.[4]
Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. Approximately 30% of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year.[5]
In terms of lifetime abuse rates, various studies show that 22-33% of American women will be assaulted–including rape, physical violence, or stalking–by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.[6] Young women are particularly at risk. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence and sexual assault.[7] Similarly, women who are 20-24 years of age are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.[8] And among teenage girls, one in three reports knowing a friend or a peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, or physically injured by a partner.[9] Violence against women is primarily intimate partner violence: 64% of women who reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/ or stalked since the age of 18 were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabitating partner, boyfriend, or date.[10]
Even if the recipient of abuse is the mother (and not any children), children are affected by domestic abuse in staggering and long-lasting ways. And it is here, among some of the household’s most vulnerable members, that we see some of the most toxic effects of the cycle of abuse. If you have children, this section will be especially hard to read, but please bear with us, because we think it’s important that you know this information.
To begin with, studies suggest that between 10-15 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year.[11] And for these children, abusive adults can cause tremendous long-term physical, emotional, and spiritual damage in their lives. This is true even if the the mother is physically abused (but the children are not physically hurt), though roughly half of men who physically abuse their wives also abuse their children.[12] Bruce Perry, one of the top neurological trauma researchers in the world, has conclusively shown that when young children merely witness domestic violence, this trauma exposure creates long-term physiological changes, including significant structural alteration and damage to the brain.[13]
The aftermath of abuse comes out in children’s behavior as well. Children exposed to violence are more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, be exploited in teenage prostitution, and commit sexual assault crimes.[14] Children who witness violence at home display emotional and behavioral disturbances as diverse as withdrawal, low self-esteem, nightmares, self-blame, and aggression against peers, family members, and property.[15]
The damage also occurs in more intangible ways. Children who witness the abuse often experience their mother’s powerlessness and humiliation. Many lose their childhood innocence because their sense of security has been violated and they feel dramatically unsafe. Children often develop anxiety in anticipation of the next attack, blame themselves for the abuse, and fear abandonment – especially if they should fail to keep the violence secret. They are left isolated and frightened as they carry the weight of shame, responsibility, guilt, and anger.[16]
And here, among children, we see one of the most toxic effects of the cycle of abuse: Witnessing violence from one parent or caregiver to another is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.[17] Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.[18] Men exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or domestic violence as children are almost four times more likely than other men to perpetrate domestic violence as adults.[19]
The most common factor among men who abuse their wives is that they experienced (received or witnessed) domestic violence themselves in childhood. Again, this history does not excuse anyone from choosing destructive behavior, but it does illustrate the far-reaching effects of abuse.
Additionally, we know that girls who grow up in physically abusive homes are more likely to be physically and sexually victimized by their own intimate partners in adulthood. Daughters are more than six times more likely to be sexually abused in homes where intimate partner violence occurs.[20] Children in homes where domestic violence occurs are physically abused or seriously neglected at a rate of 1500% higher than the national average in the general population.[21] And even when they grow into adults, children who’ve grown up in abusive households are 15 times more likely to be abused by other adults.
If you are reading this and are still on the fence about getting out of the relationship.
All of these studies point to destructive effects of abuse that are long-term. Even if your child has not personally suffered abuse yet, the consequences of even witnessing it in the home over the rest of their lives could be catastrophic.
Frequency and Duration
One of the common perceptions that keep many women in abusive relationships is the belief that this time, he’ll change–that this time, he really means it when he says it won’t happen again. But the numbers tell another story.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately half of the women raped by an intimate partner and two-thirds of the women physically assaulted by an intimate partner said they were victimized multiple times by the same partner.[22] Female rape victims have reported 4.5 rapes on average by the same partner, and female physical assault victims averaged 6.9 assaults. Among women who were victimized multiple times by the same partner, 63% of rape victims and 70% of assault victims say their victimization lasted a year or more. On average, women who were raped multiple times said their victimization occurred over 3.8 years, and women who were physically assaulted multiple times said their victimization occurred over 4.5 years.[23]
Verbal abuse is one of the biggest indicators that physical abuse may follow. Much of the violence perpetrated against women by male partners is part of a systematic pattern of dominance and control, or what some researchers have called “patriarchal terrorism.”
Naming Violence
Naming and describing the evil done to victims does not ensure their healing. However, if domestic violence is not defined, named, or described, then it remains hidden.
There is an epidemic of domestic violence and victims need the kind of hope and healing that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can provide. Tragically, most churches and Christians are woefully unprepared to help the one in four women who have been abused. Helping victims of domestic violence starts with knowing what is.
Justin is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology, philosophy, and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Lindsey, are authors of: Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence , Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault . Justin has written or edited numerous books: Know the Heretics  (2014), K now the Creeds and Councils  (2014), On the Grace of God , Acts: A 12-Week Study, For the World , and Christian Theologies of Scripture
[1]  E. J. Alpert, S. Cohen, and R.D. Sege, “Family Violence: An Overview,” Academic Medicine 72: S3-S6, 1997; R. L. Muelleman, P.A. Leneghan, and R. A. Pakieser, “Battered: Injury Locations and Types,” Annals of Emergency Medicine 28:486-492, 1996; R. L. Muelleman, J. Reuwer, T. G. Sanson, et al., “An Emergency Medicine Approach to Violence Throughout the Life Cycle,” Academic Emergency Medicine 3:708- 715, 1996; L. E. Saltzman and D. Johnson, “CDC’s Family and Intimate Violence Prevention Team: Basing programs on science,” Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association 51:83-86, 1996
[2] J. C. Campbell and K. L. Soeke, “Women’s Responses to Battering: A Test of the Model,” Research in Nursing and Health 22 (1999), 49-58; R. L. Muelleman, P.A. Leneghan, and R. A. Pakieser, “Battered: Injury Locations and Types,” Annals of Emergency Medicine 28:486-492, 1996; R. L. Muelleman, J. Reuwer, T. G. Sanson, et al., “An Emergency Medicine Approach to Violence Throughout the Life Cycle,” Academic Emergency Medicine 3:708- 715, 1996; L. E. Saltzman and D. Johnson, “CDC’s Family and Intimate Violence Prevention Team: Basing programs on science,” Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association 51:83-86, 1996
[3] L. R. Chambliss, “Domestic Violence: A Public Health Crisis,” Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology 40 (1997), 630-638; L. E. Keller, “Invisible Victims: Battered Women in Psychiatric and Medical Emergency Rooms,” Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic 60 (1996), 1-21; S. Y. Melvin and M. C. Rhyne, “Domestic Violence,” Advanced Internal Medicine 43 (1998), 1-25; R. L. Muelleman, P.A. Leneghan, and R. A. Pakieser, “Battered: Injury Locations and Types,” Annals of Emergency Medicine 28:486-492, 1996; R. L. Muelleman, J. Reuwer, T. G. Sanson, et al., “An Emergency Medicine Approach to Violence Throughout the Life Cycle,” Academic Emergency Medicine 3:708- 715, 1996
[4] Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, “Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey,” National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 2000; Tjaden, P., and N. Thoennes. Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey  Research Report. Washington, DC, and Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 2000, NCJ 183781; Sara Glazer, “Violence, Against Women” CO Researcher, Congressional Quarterly 3: 8, February, 1993, p. 171; N. S. Jecker, “Privacy Beliefs and the Violent Family: Extending the Ethical Argument for Physician Intervention,” Journal of the American Medical Association 269 (1993), 776-780; M.T. Loring, and R.W. Smith, “Health Care Barriers and Interventions for Battered Women,” Public Health Reports 109:328-38, 1994.
[5] Allstate Foundation National Poll on Domestic Violence, 2006. Lieberman Research Inc., Tracking Survey conducted for The Advertising Council and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, July – October 1996
[6] Helen M. Eigengerg, Women Battering in the United States: Till Death Do Us Part (Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 2001), 62-85.
[7] U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Intimate Partner Violence in the United States,” December 2006.
[8] U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Intimate Partner Violence in the United States,” December 2006.
[9] “Liz Claiborne, Inc., Omnibuzz Topline Findings: Teen Relationship Abuse Research,” available at http://www.teenresearch.com.
[10] Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, “Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey,” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 2000.
[11] R. McDonold, “Estimating the Number of American Children Living in Partner Violent Families” Journal of Family Psychology 30:1 (2006), 137-142.
[12] The landmark study that established this correlation was done by Murray Straus, and reported in “Ordinary Violence, Child Abuse, and Wife-Beating: What Do They Have in Common?” in Physical Violence in American Families, ed. Murray Straus and Richard Gelles (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transition, 1990), 403-24.
[13] Bruce Perry, “The Neurodevelopmental Impact of Violence in Childhood,” in Textbook of Child and Adolescent Forensic Psychiatry, eds. D. Schetky and E. Benedek (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 2001), 21-38.
[14] D. A. Wolfe, C. Wekerle, D. Reitzel, and R. Gough, “Strategies to Address Violence in the Lives of High Risk Youth,” in Ending the Cycle of Violence: Community Responses to Children of Battered Women, edited by E. Peled, P.G. Jaffe and J.L Edleson. New York, NY: Sage Publications, 1995).
[15] Inat Peled, Peter C. Jaffe, and Jeffrey L. Edleson, eds., Ending the Cycle of Violence: Community Responses to Children of Battered Women (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1995).
[16] Carol J. Adams, Women Battering (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1994), 21.
[17] I. Frieze and A. Browne, “Violence in Marriage,” in Family Violence, eds. L. Ohlin and M. Tonry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 163- 218.
[18] M. A. Straus and R. J. Gelles, Physical Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1992).
[19] C. L. Whitfield, R. F. Anda, S. R. Dube, and V. J. Felitti, “Violent Childhood Experiences and the Risk of Intimate Partner Violence in Adults,” Journal of Interpersonal 
Violence 18 (2003), 166-185.
[20] Carol J. Adams, Women Battering (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1994), 22.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, “Extent, Nature, and Consequences of intimate Partner Violence: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey,” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 2000.
[23] Ibid.

– See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/articles/what-is-domestic-violence.php#sthash.CyrZF2Ov.dpuf

Manipulation, Part 1 – Gaslighting


“That’s not what I said and not how I meant what I said!”

This piece on “Gaslighting” is the first in a series about the oppressive manipulations tactics many of the folks I counsel experience on a regular basis.

What we will discuss in this series happens in homes, churches, businesses, friendships – all kinds of environments where hurt people hurt other people.

I pray you will find it useful.


Gaslighting is a sophisticated manipulation tactic employing a specific kind of lying that people with certain character and personality defects use to create doubt in the minds of others.

The goal is togaslight make the target person doubt their own judgment and perceptions, and to create doubt in the minds of others about the believability of the targeted person.

Here’s where the term comes from, how it works, and what to be on the alert for.

In the classic suspense thriller, Gaslight (MGM, 1944), Paula (Ingrid Bergman) marries the villainous Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), not realizing that he is the one who murdered her aunt and is now searching for her missing jewels.

To cover up his treachery, he tries to persuade Paula that she is going mad, so he can search the attic for the jewels without her interference.

He plants missing objects on her person in order to make her believe that she has no recollection of reality.

He tries to isolate her, not allowing her to have visitors or to leave the house.

He tries to make her think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp.

If this sounds somehow familiar, you have probably encountered the form of psychological abuse known as “Gaslighting.”

Essentially, it describes methods of manipulation that are designed to make the victim lose their grip on the truth or doubt their perception of reality, in order to gain power and control over them.

Effective gaslighting can be accomplished in several different ways.

Sometimes, a person can assert something with such an apparent intensity of conviction that the other person begins to doubt their own perspective – like someone stealing something that belongs to you and being so unwaveringly insistent that it really belongs to them that you give up.

Other times, vigorous and unwavering denial coupled with a display of righteous indignation can accomplish the same task – like being aggressive toward you and, when you stand up for yourself, vehemently accusing you of being abusive.

Bringing up historical facts that seem largely accurate but contain minute, hard-to-prove distortions and using them to “prove” they are right – like rewording things you or they said so that there are too many little lies to try and fight that you don’t know where to begin.

Gaslighting is particularly effective when coupled with other tactics such as shaming and guilting.

Anything that aids in getting another person to doubt their judgment and back down will work for the gaslighter. One of the scary parts of Gaslighting is that, oftentimes, the gaslighter seems to believe that what they are saying is true.

Gaslighting can be a terrifying experience. It can quickly put you on the defensive, manipulate you in to trying to justify your own actions or behaviors, when what you started out to do was challenge someone else’s wrong behavior.

A gaslighter’s prevarications may be presented so convincingly and with such conviction, that you not only doubt your own memories and sense of judgment, you also start to fear that other’s (who don’t know the truth and don’t see things from your perspective) will become persuaded to believe the gaslighter instead of you.

This leaves you feeling even more trapped, more confused, more powerless, and feeds a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

What To Do

  • ALWAYS keep yourself (and any children) safe FIRST!
  • Avoid arguing the “facts” with the gaslighter – they will not surrender to your view of things unless it serves their purpose (we will discuss this more when we look at “Assenting in Order to Manipulate”).
  • Remember that you are not responsible for the other person’s feelings or behaviors
  • Keep a journal (if you can do so safely) of these kinds of conversations when they occur. You will find the running record a powerful tool in reassuring yourself that you aren’t the crazy one.
  • Consider recording (again, if you can do so SAFELY) some of the interactions.
  • Have safe and perceptive people with whom you can discuss these things. A dialog with a trusted counselor, pastor, family member, or friend so they are aware of what you are dealing with can be very helpful.
  • Do the healthy best-practices you need to do to get out from under this kind of oppressive behavior. Calmly refuse to accept it, and absent yourself from the conversation when it starts.

There will be more coming in the days ahead.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wounded Hearts and Mangled Souls – an Excerpt


“We have to be careful slinging that word ‘abuse’ around too freely, you know. That can become abusive itself. Abuse is a lot rarer than some people make it out to be.”

The following is excerpted from a book I am writing about my experience as a Biblical counselor who seems to have specialized in abuse. I say, “seems to have specialized,” because it wasn’t a primary area for counseling focus I planned, it has just ended up that way. Let me know what you think, hm?

For over twenty-five years, I have sat week in and week out with troubled and hurting people who seek God’s answers to their struggles. I serve the Body of Christ in a number of roles, one of which is as a Biblical counselor.

Before coming to me, most of the people I meet with have gone to pastors and therapists and psychologists and prayer groups and all manner of folk in an effort to find resolution to two recurring battles in their lives: the pain of the evil they have suffered and the shame of the sins they have committed—often as a result of the evil they have suffered.

When people ask me what it is I do and I mention Biblical counseling, they get an odd look on their face and many ask, “What’s that?” The simplest answer I have come up with is this: Biblical counseling is targeted discipleship aimed at guiding people into the robust relationship with Jesus Christ that their current struggles are preventing. Not a textbook definition, but we find it to be an excellent working definition.

There is one area of counseling expertise that God has developed me in over the past twenty-six years and that is in the area of abuse and its cognates. Abuse in its various and tawdry forms is rampant in society and increasingly so. Sad to say, it is at least as widespread within the church in America as it is without, and (in some cases) is even more prevalent.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this is that almost every single one of the almost twenty-six hundred counselees I have worked with has been involved in a local church where they could not get help, where they experienced the abuse in the first place, or where they experienced additional wounding when they did seek help.

Am I bringing an indictment against the church in America? Indeed I am. I have been banging on the doors and walls and windows of the church for over a quarter century, trying to get the church to understand and address these matters well. The most common response?

“We have to be careful slinging that word ‘abuse’ around too freely, you know. That can become abusive itself. Abuse is a lot rarer than some people make it out to be.”


This not only breaks my heart, but angers me just about as much.

Can I tell you how intentionally ignorant and arrogantly obtuse that is?

Statistically, when a pastor stands behind his pulpit on a Saturday evening or Sunday morning, for every hundred people sitting in front of him, only twelve to fourteen of those hundred people have not –and I say again, have not –either personally experienced abuse/neglect or been a first-hand witness to abuse or domestic violence/oppression in their own home.

Let me make that point as clear as I can. Out of a hundred people sitting down to listen to a Christian sermon on any given weekend, eighty-six to eighty-eight of those people have (statistically) either experienced or witnessed abuse or domestic brutality and/or oppression in their home. I am not talking about the occasional sinful treatment sinners perpetrate on one another. I am speaking about an atmosphere and a pattern of attitudes and behaviors that have had a defining effect on those involved.

These folks have been misused and abused beyond the normal wear-and-tear we experience as fallen human beings bound in relationship with other fallen human beings. These folks have become objectified, considered as “things” to be used for someone else’s own sensual pleasures or as punching bags on which to vent their rage. They have been minimized and cast aside as inconvenient or, even worse, as a nuisance and a bother.

They have been little children cowering under covers and in closets as one adult has verbally reviled and physically terrorized the other adult in their home.

They have been children and adolescents silently begging God, “PLEASE don’t let him come in my room tonight!!”

Most of these abusive self-proclaimed stalwarts of our communities and churches have made their victims believe they were deserving of this mistreatment or that they (the victims) had caused it, setting them up for more abuse now and later. Or they have cast these used-up “less-than’s” aside as one would an empty candy wrapper or a melon rind and moved on to the next person who has become targeted as their prey.

Over and over again, I hear the same heart-cries about the church and its leadership: “Where were they?” “Why didn’t they stop it?” “Why didn’t they help?” “Why don’t they talk about it?”

And, even more often, these wounded hearts and mangled souls seem sadly resigned to a recurring sense of, “They just don’t understand and don’t know how to help.”

My goal is to do three things:

First, to clearly articulate what constitutes abuse by God’s definition and by the fruit borne out in people’s lives;

Second, to call Christ’s church to action as the agent of God’s grace and truth in the lives of the offended and the offenders;

Third, to provide resources and references to equip the church to answer the call and be the safest place for wounded hearts and mangled souls to find rest, hope, and healing.

My goal is not to offend, but I will. My goal is not to blame, but I will. My goal is not to shame, but I hope I do some of that in a God-focused way that leads to repentance and fruit in keeping with repentance.

My main goal is to equip and to motivate God’s people to rise to the call to be instrument’s in the hands of the Redeemer as He satisfies the cry of the psalmist: “Lord, you have heard the request of the oppressed; You make them feel secure because You listen to their prayer.You defend the fatherless and oppressed, so that mere mortals may no longer terrorize them.”(Psalm 10:17-18 NET).

Perhaps you are one of the many survivors of abuse, neglect, domestic violence/oppression, or sexual assault who has been looking to the church, hoping she would be a bastion of hope and help in your time of trouble.

My challenge to you is to become the very answer to prayer that you have sought. Become someone whom God has healed of the brokenness and sinfulness that has plagued your life and become His agent of grace and healing in the lives of others who are like you.

I say this because that is why I do what I do and why I am writing this book. You see, I, too, am a survivor. And I have learned that God always intends for the evil we have suffered to be turned into good.

That is not just the trite mouthing of some Bible verse too often tossed around Christian circles like a well-worn beanbag toy. While we often lob Romans 8:28 into a conversation as if it was the silver bullet that will kill off every tortured memory or gasping-for-breath anxiety attack, its misuse does not invalidate the truth of the verse.

Bad hermeneutics notwithstanding, God does sovereignly take every good and every ill in the life of those who are His and works it to their good—eventually.

The verses that have become my “anchor verses” are 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.

“Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

When I look back at the abuse I suffered and the abusiveness that became part of my way of dealing with the pain of what I had endured, and when I see how God has chosen to use me to bring help and comfort to so many over the years since the day I became a follower of Christ, it is these verses that have been the greatest help to me in making sense of it all.

What I have learned and have found strength in is the understanding that God entrusted those experiences to me as a stewardship; something to be managed and invested and returned to Him with a profit. Had I not gone through what I have and had I not experienced the healing that He has brought into my life, I would not be equipped to sit with person after person and guide them through that same process of healing and, in turn, them becoming a helper to Him in bringing that same comfort and healing to others.

Don’t take this to mean that I can now look back on the beatings and the screaming and the molesting and all of the other sordid things that were done to me and say, “Yippee! I am so glad s/he did that to me!” Not in the least.

But, what I can honestly do is look at each of the memories as they come to mind and see the benefit that God has been able to bring into the life of someone else as a result of how He has walked with me through it all.

The point is this: abuse is to be expected but not accepted. The misuse or abuse of one person by another is never okay with God. Yet, knowing it will come, He has determined to put these evils to work and to turn them from evil into good.

And, lest we forget, God brought redemption into this world and into our lives through abuse! Jesus of Nazareth suffered the most inhumane and torturous treatment any human being has ever experienced, and it is because of that abuse that salvation can be ours. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 NASB)

Forgiveness — Part 3


“But aren’t we supposed to forgive, forget, and move on?”

In Part 1 of this series on Forgiveness, I outlined how we have arrived at such a fractured and unbiblical view of what forgiveness is and is not.

In Part 2, I discussed the foundational aspect of forgiveness. The first of the three types of forgiveness in the human experience is JUDICIAL FORGIVENESS.

The second type of forgiveness is INTERNAL FORGIVENESS, and this is the one we are responsible for.

Internal Forgiveness

This level of forgiveness is almost impossible unless we have already gone to God and received His (Judicial) forgiveness.

That provides the seed-bed for us to forgive others. If we don’t have that foundation of God’s forgiveness of us as the foundation for our own forgiveness of others, in practice we end up setting our own standards for forgiveness.

What happens is we almost can’t help expecting those people to live up to a standard for forgiveness that we have set in our own heart. We may even be able to rationally explain why our stance on what it will take for us to forgive. But if we have not gone to God and been forgiven in Christ, we have only human standards to work from.

Then it becomes between them and us and not them and God.  I have to be able to say that it is between them and God to live up to His standard; not between them and me for them to live up to my standard.

When we are living in unforgiveness, it is like carrying a backpack full of sharp, jagged rocks. We tote them around and, while we may learn to live with the pain and discomfort, our life lacks joy and God’s peace.

When we are able to forgive, we remove those jagged rocks and hand them over to God.  We walk away from them and leave them where they belong. When we walk in unforgiveness, we are trying to bear something that is not ours to bear.  Let that person be God’s business, not yours.  Romans 12:19:  Leave room for the wrath of God (“Leave it to Me,” says God).

Internal Forgiveness is NOT “forgive, forget, move on, and leave myself open to be misused/abused all over again.”

Internal Forgiveness is where I no longer demand or expect revenge or retribution for the wrong done to me. It is not me declaring my offender, “Not guilty!” It is me declaring my offender “Responsible to God for what you have done.”

I can do this without being face-to-face with my offender; I can do this with someone who has passed on to their exit interview and who I will not see again in this life. I can do this to someone present in my life, or someone from my past.

By entering into Internal Forgiveness, I am the one who is released from the event(s) that took place. I am not responsible or accountable for the wrongs of another – I am only responsible for what I DO with what others have done to me.

This is connected to Judicial Forgiveness in that both are precursors to the third and final type of forgiveness (which we will examine in the upcoming Part 4), “Relational Forgiveness”.

As we learned in Part 2, God is the only one who can extend JUDICIAL FORGIVENESS. As we learned today in Part 3, we are the only one who is responsible for INTERNAL FORGIVENESS. Next time we will see that the offending party has the greatest amount of responsibility and work to do in RELATIONAL FORGIVENESS being extended.