Gospel Hope for the Abuser

On Sunday I preached that a wife should submit to her husband.  (We do things like this from time to time to keep attendance levels manageable.)  Near the close of the message I addressed several questions wives might have in the “What if…?” department.  What if my husband’s passive, or is a tyrant, or fails anytime he tries to lead, or abuses me; am I still to submit–and what does that look like?  

Tuesday morning I got awake early thinking about this blog and out of left field God brought an incident to my mind from about 37 years ago that I’d just as soon forget.  I couldn’t go back to sleep and for the next hour and a half lay there (hey, it was my day off!) thinking about that awful day, with a growing and disturbing suspicion I was to write about it.  

Betty and I had been married about a year when we took a trip to the ocean with some friends.  We stayed in a boardinghouse and did the typical ocean things: get burnt on the sand, eat junk on the boardwalk, shop.  We were with the other couple some, but sometimes by ourselves.

Without going into detail, I’ll just say that I wanted Betty to do something one way, but she did it another way.  When she came back from a walk with the other woman and I found out what she’d done, I remember raising my hand to strike her while she cowered with her hands raised over her head for protection.

With my hand in the air, I willed it not to go further.  Later my rage was replaced by shame.  Maybe Betty’s fear was replaced by denial because she does not remember the incident.  Until several years ago we never talked about it and I never threatened her again.

As I said Sunday, it is Islam that lets a husband threaten and hurt his wife, not Christianity.  While the Qur’an counsels a husband to lock his recalcitrant wife in a room, deprive her of sex, and even whip her, the Bible tells a husband to love his wife like Christ loves the Church.  It infuriates me when I hear of a man who says he loves Jesus yet hurts his wife, but I know all too well how deep the root of sin runs.  Apart from God’s grace, I am that abuser.  

Back then, I was religious and churchgoing but not a Christian.  Once God saved me He began a work in my heart as a husband that I cannot thank Him enough for.  I am still on the way, but at a Keystone marriage conference a dozen years ago when Betty said publicly that I was the most gentle man she’d ever met, it was one of the high points of my life.  Only God could have changed a man who saw marriage as something for me to see it as something for Him–and us.  

Even abusers can find hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He saves the repentant and trusting sinner from hell but that’s not all He died for; He died to save us from the poison of sin’s power–in all its forms.  With Jesus, even the abuser can change.  His sanctifying power is available to those who will humble themselves enough to admit their sin, and ask the Lord, his wife, and Christian brothers, for help.