A Biblical Approach to Abuse and Untrustworthy People
I wanted to write him off forever. One of the people in my life, who I thought I was the closest to, had just wronged me in a major way, deciding to do something that completely, and painfully, broke my trust in him. The situation hurt me deeply and built up a wall of distance and caution for years. About a year after the incident one of my other friends asked me why I seem so distant from someone I used to be so close to. After explaining why, the well-intended response was, “Well, shouldn’t you ‘just forgive’ him?” Maybe you’ve had a similar circumstance, perhaps your situation involved someone who chronically causes pain or has proven distrustful or maybe you’ve been abused, and are wrestling with this question: “What is the proper response to those who have deeply hurt me?”
Because I want to focus on Biblical permission and our Godly calling I won’t break-down some of the verses that are often quoted to convince the offended that being hurt by another person is some sort of Christian duty and that trusting the untrustworthy is a godly act (Mathew 5:38-39, 1 Corinthians 13:7). I will say these verses aren’t as simple and clear as they may seem and should be used with caution as we process our offenses. Since these verses play such a large role in how we think about relational interaction I want to shine a light on an expanded view on what is Biblical when we are abused or deeply hurt and offended.
Actions to Take
GET OUT OF THE SITUATION
Proverbs 27:12 says, ““The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on suffer for it.” Many characters in the Bible (including Jesus) saw danger and fled. Yes, ultimately Jesus walks towards the abuser/ torturer (because that was what He had come to do) but throughout His ministry Jesus faced danger and fled from it. This is also true of David, Paul, Moses and almost every major Bible character. If you’ve heard “you have to stay in your situation,” and you’re facing someone who is chronically hurting you that’s danger- get out!
Luke 17:3 says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Webster’s Dictionary defines rebuke as reproving, reprimanding, or forbidding. It is, in essence, setting boundaries. What those boundaries are will depend on the offense. With my situation it took years before I put myself in a situation where I would trust my friend, years before I could talk to him with the openness that we had prior to the event. Boundaries are there for your protection AND for the protection of the one hurting you. If you have someone in your life who continually hurts you boundaries set limits to their access to that hurt, in essence protecting them from their opportunity to hurt.
If you read these two Biblical permissions with hesitation or disagreement let me remind you that Jesus calls Himself “The Good Shepherd.” The primary responsibility of a shepherd is to protect the sheep from danger, to steer them away from things that can harm them. A response to abuse and chronic pain that says “you should just accept it,” is not a shepherd’s response.
BUT… Isn’t our interaction with the world supposed to look lovingly different?
Yes, and that is where the Biblical Mandates come into play.
Luke 6:27-28 is a command that Jesus give just prior to His “turn the other cheek” statement. “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Yes, that is right, and extremely hard, you are called to love your enemy, but His instruction on how to do that doesn’t mean that you have to stay in your situation. It does mean that you have to: do good, bless, and pray for the offender. When Jesus later talks about turning the other cheek the intention is that you are not to seek revenge. If the offense is worthy, do you seek justice? Absolutely, but you pursue justice with love and not hatred. In terms of those who have proven distrustful, you still have your boundaries, but you pray for relational restoration (with them and God and with you and them WHEN appropriate), for the person to become trustworthy, for them to come to know Christ and be transformed by Him.
Luke 17:4 (which proceeds the boundaries statement in verse three) says: and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” It is crucial to know two things here. First, forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetfulness. The actions to take that I talked about above are based on a knowledge of the offender and a loving, protective response. Forgetting the evil done would not allow proper boundaries to be established. Forgiveness does mean releasing the person from what you’re due because of their actions. This DOES NOT MEAN that there shouldn’t be consequences. Instead, it means that the consequences are based on what the offense deserves not the revenge you want. Here is an example: My friend totally broke trust and offended me. I had to get to a point where I needed to release Him from my right to have Him apologize and “pay for how he hurt me.” My forgiveness says, “what I’m due is no more,” BUT our relationship still wasn’t the same and took years to heal because of the consequences of his actions. I didn’t begrudgingly not trust him, thinking “I’m not giving you my trust you jerk.” I did think, “Your actions have broken the trust and so when you ask this or that of me, I can’t interact with you in the same way because what you’ve brought on yourself.”
-Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetfulness, but it also doesn’t mean you hold it over their head as a weapon.
-Forgiveness does mean releasing the person from what you are due.
-Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the person’s actions don’t have repercussions.
-Forgiveness is giving up your right for revenge/ repayment.
-Forgiveness is not an elimination of the natural and proper consequences of someone's actions.
-Forgiveness treats the consequences with love, not vengeance.
Second, the word “repent” means to “change one’s way of life.” In this verse it isn’t clear if the “seven times a day” is the same offense repeated, but because of what repent means I would suggest it isn’t. In other words, if someone is hurting you with the same offense over and over, they are not repenting, even if they are saying “I’m sorry.” A statement of “I repent” should be accompanied by some sort of action or progression of actions that move away from the thing they are repenting from. In that case, forgiveness is to be offered, but again, that doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t consequences.
How in the world can I do this when I’ve been hurt so bad?
It’s not easy, and not knowing your story I want to say, “I’m so sorry this happened to you and God completely knows your pain and is with you.” The path to establishing healthy boundaries, of knowing when to get out, of forgiving and loving are difficult but I pray these last three tips will help.
KNOW WHO THE ENEMY IS
Ephesian 6:12 says; “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The devil is at work, scheming to destroy people and turn them away from the hope of Christ. I know this may be tough to read because, depending on your situation you may want ‘that person’ to burn in hell, but they are not the primary enemy. The reason why you were hurt was a ploy of the devil and he’s attempting to use your pain to drive you away from healing and from a deeper understanding of God’s love. As you process your response to those who have hurt you keep in mind that God wants the best for you and His mandates will lead to healing. The devil’s hatred with lead to snares of darkness. God can use your story for good and keeping in mind who this fight is against can keep you from allowing your situation a foothold for evil.
KNOW WE WERE HIS ENEMIES
Love your enemy. Forgive that person. No way! I can’t! In my life the mandates don’t work with my own reasoning and strength. It is only when I remember that I was the offender to Jesus, that my sin and rejection put Him on the cross, that He was completely innocent and loving and I don’t deserve His forgiveness, that I can gain the strength I need to be obedient to His commands. I was His enemy and He offered me love and forgiveness so I can look at my enemy and, with His strength, do the same.
So, where does this leave us?
There is still a lot of gray. Each story is unique and needs to be handled with prayer, advice, and loving community but I’ll leave you with this 1 Corinthians 1;25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. May you respond in love to those who have hurt you, not with worldly wisdom, but with Godly wisdom, and may you know the Good Shepherd loves you.