April 2, 2011

A Theological Perspective on Child Abuse



With The Rev. Monte W. Holland

     Some important questions arise when speaking of theology and violence, abuse of children, spouses, family and friends. Below is an attempt to answer some of them.

  • Children must be MADE to OBEY (their parents, their caretakers), right?

Obedience IS important. Ephesians 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:20-21 instruct children to be obedient. But this directive does not stop there. It goes on to instruct PARENTS not to PROVOKE their children (to wrath). Implied is a mutual RESPECT: respect that begets respect. “Nobody ever hates his own flesh, but rather nourishes and cherishes it just as Christ does for the church…” (Ephesians 5:29) Our children are born out of our love, part of a continuation of our flesh. We should not treat them with hate or hateful actions.

  • Does not the Bible state that to spare the rod is to spoil the child? (Proverbs 13:24)

     Nowhere in the New Testament—the “new law”—is abuse justified. Rather, the opposite is expected, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12) The Great Commandment directs us You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-40) Our family members—our spouse, our children, and sometimes our parents—are our closest neighbors. Hebrews 12:7-11 is one Scripture that instructs us on discipline. It states that if you are without discipline then you are illegitimate children and not sons. The key word here is DISCIPLINE. Discipline differs from PUNISHMENT. Discipline comes from inside of us. Punishment is imposed from outside elements. The goal of discipline is to teach, to direct. The goal of punishment is to control, often through fear. LOVE is demonstrated in guiding a child via discipline into the ways of the Lord.

  • Why shouldn’t a person punish, abuse a child? After all, they need to be made civilized.

     Humans are made in the image of God. Would we not consider it improper, or even sinful, to violate or deface someone who bears the likeness of God? (Genesis 1:26-27) Since every person is made in God’s image, when anyone treats another person with disrespect, when any one of us is being intentionally hurt, there is a violation of the divine image of God.

     Furthermore, I Corinthians 3:16-17 instructs us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Is anyone justified in damaging or destroying God’s temple, in the form of themselves, their spouse, their family or their friends?

  • Doesn’t a person who is abusive recognize their wrongness?

     Not necessarily. A person who is abusive (or being abused) may not see their behavior as antagonistic to Christianity or human caring. They may be unclear of how little basis such conduct has in Christian truth, and needless unjustifiable pain may be inflicted partially because of fuzzy Christian thinking or even as a lack of this teaching. Furthermore, their own perspective may be warped due to the abuse THEY received—they may have grown up themselves in an abusive situation, and may feel that this is a cultural norm.

  • Did “The Devil make me do it?”

     “Look what you made me do!” and “I would not have done that if…” are words that run through our child rearing and other relationships. The abuser places blame for the abuse and his loss of control on some outside force—drugs, alcohol, the child’s (spouse’s) behavior, etc. The Bible leaves no doubt that evil is a powerful force. Temptation is real and often ferocious, but with every temptation is provided the way of escape. (I Corinthians 10:13) Trying to “pass the buck (of blame)” and excusing behavior is to ignore the fact that the way of escape is available. Recall Adam’s excuse? Eve was his cause, and his excuse, for disobedience! Adam was the original buck passer!

  • Is not the abused person being punished for some sin? Isn’t God trying to teach the abused a lesson? Doesn’t God have a purpose in the abuse?

    There is such a thing as reaping what one sows, but that is not all the reaping one does. We reap a great deal that we do not sow—both bad and good. Matthew 5:45 states …for he makes his sun rise on the evil, and on the good, and sends rain on the just, and on the unjust. God does want us to grow and we may do so as a RESULT of terrible experiences. But it would be a despicable God who SOUGHT this growth through lessons causing others to harm them. The hand that hurts is never a Divine hand. Yet God is not absent from any situation, and it is in order to look for his supporting and healing hand even in the midst of an abusive situation. This, however, is a long way from thinking of abuse as either the will or work of the Lord.

  • Won’t praying solve the problem?

     Sometimes well-meaning pastors and friends offer the advice “pray about it” to persons who are suffering from abuse or being abusive. Prayer is always in order, but it may not be in order to urge harder and more persistent prayer in an abusive situation. This will serve to increase the guilt that the abused person already has: if my prayer life were what it should be, or were I not guilty of other failures (or the failures I am being abused for), this would not be happening to me.

  • I have been so abusive (or abused) that there is no forgiveness. There is no God for me!

     God forgives ALL sin (except blasphemy against Him)! Full repentance, seeking God, and accepting Him into your life, then following through in Christian fellowship and teaching (and even receiving counseling)can lead to God’s forgiveness. And who are we to decide that we are not worthy of God’s healing grace when it is offered to us?

     However, forgiveness does NOT mean the removal of all consequences of our behavior.

  • Is self-respect compatible with humility?

     The Bible values humility very highly. We are called to be humble in the presence of God and to have a humble spirit in our relationships with other human beings. It is not contrary to Christian teaching that we are of infinite worth. (Matthew 10:29-31) It is very likely that the abuser in a situation has a low regard for self. The right kind of self-respect (eg., being made in the image of God) will not allow one to degrade one’s own self in such a way. The abused will also have trouble with self-respect. Both the abused and the abuser bring into question the basic Biblical view of the high valuation which God places on each man.

  • Is assertiveness compatible with love?

     Assertiveness is defined as inclined to listen, confident, positive. Assertiveness is what allows us to confront a person with love: it involves respect of the other person balanced with respect for ourselves. It does not mean to pamper, cater to another person’s whims, or to allow the other person to degrade themselves. It does not mean to push the other person around, either. To love is to want what is best for the other person, and that best cannot be the hell that abusive behavior creates. I Timothy 6:13 tells us to instruct with authority. Being a Christian does not mean to be a doormat, nor does it mean to be aggressive and controlling. It means to assertively, with authority, love the other person.

  • Aren’t children our property, to do with what we want?    

     Society in general  has moved a great distance from this thought. Children are a gift from God, to nurture and raise to be honor Him. Property doesn’t have soul.





Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath



 BRAMBLES (Brief RAMBLES) 1-9 August 15, 2008






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