The Character of God
as it relates to abuse in marriage…
by Del Hungerford
Have you thought about what God’s character is really like? What IS character? The definition of character according to The Random House Dictionary is “The aggregate of features and traits that form the apparent individual nature of some person or thing.” So we can ask, “What is God’s nature? Or, what makes Him who He is?” Based on the true character of God, how should we see Him in light of an abusive marriage? What will God’s character say about staying or leaving? Much of this can be determined by looking at the history of how God (in the Old Testament), and Jesus (in the New Testament), dealt with people. We see some of these answers in the Bible. We see how we are to treat each other, in addition to how Jesus himself treated those around Him. In the Bible, we learn by example. It’s those examples that give us the framework on how we should walk out our lives. We see the good, the bad, and the ugly all in scripture. We see people being people, and watch as they are either victorious, or suffer because of their actions. Through all of this, we get a clear picture of God’s character and how His love for mankind never fails.
Let’s start with some basics:
- God is our father
- God never changes
- God does not lie
- God is not a “respecter of persons”
- God is love
- God keeps His promises
- God is just
- God forgives and expects us to forgive others as He forgives us
What is a Father Figure?
The first hurdle to get over is how we truly think of God. Ponder for a moment your own father. If you have a good father, he will exhibit many of the same attributes listed above. Unfortunately, in today’s society, the family structure is so damaged that few of us truly see what a good father is like. Imagine what your dad would be like if he exhibited all the above signs. Imagine him only saying good things about you… Imagine him not lying to you… Imagine that he always keeps his promises… Imagine him not putting one person above another and treating all family members equally (and other’s outside the family as well)… Can you imagine your dad loving you unconditionally, despite your actions? Now, this may all sound pretty far fetched, but at least you will get an idea of what an ideal human father would look like. God is ALL of these!
We now have the perfect father figure… Our Lord Jesus Christ is the example of a perfect father.
Let’s say that you go to your dad and tell him that your boyfriend or husband is abusing you. (Hmmmm…. how many of us would actually share this with a parent?) Assuming your father is not an abuser and treats you with love and respect, how would he respond? Do you think God would respond any differently? Now, let’s say that you’ve been in counseling and so has your abuser. After months, or even years of counseling, there’s no change. The abuser doesn’t see his problem. Nothing you, a pastor, or counselor says, helps him understand the scope of his behavior. Or worse yet, even if the abuser sees the problem, what if he doesn’t want to (or can’t seem to) change? What would your dad say to you about that? How would he react if he saw you beaten down mentally or even physically? What if your personality has changed as a result? What if you were sick and unhealthy because of the relationship? You’ve tried separation and it hasn’t worked so what do you do? I’m sure your dad would have some opinions on this! Some may possibly add a few choice swear words to the conversation. Most fathers love their children and want the best for them, so your dad would give you advice that he hopes could lead you to wholeness. Why would your Father God do any differently?
If you have one of those fathers who is an abuser, my example will not make sense to you. Instead, think of what the perfect father figure would be like for you. Imagine everything that God is: He’s loving, He’s patient, He’s kind, He doesn’t judge, He listens to you, He loves you despite what you’ve done. The list could go. With your imagination going, THIS is the kind of father figure your earthly father could be like, and that your heavenly father IS!!!!
We are Made in the Image of God… Male and Female
To continue making my point… God doesn’t care about our sex, race or religion. (See scriptures below) Why would He put a specific human above any one of us and require us to answer to him (or her in some cases)? I understand that we have governmental leaders, bosses, and those in general authority over us but, they don’t have authority over any part of our lives that isn’t directly related to our “position” under them. Even in a marriage, we are individuals. God made us “after His own image… male and female.” (Genesis 1:26) God said “let us make man in our image.” This is referring to the tri-une God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, but still function as three separate beings. In other words, they have three different identities and still function as one. If God created male and female in “our image” as described in Genesis 1:26, we are created as two equal beings. In Ephesians 5:31, it says that the man and wife “become one flesh” upon marriage. This means that they are ONE with each other but function as two individuals. Both male and female each have a part in “taking dominion” over the earth. This is well explained in the first few chapters of Genesis. God never made a distinction as to one person being above or below the other when He created Adam and Eve. When Adam sinned, all things changed, but that is a story reserved for later.
We’ve established that men and women were originally created as equals. The husband and wife become “one flesh” upon marriage, but still function as individuals within that unity. This can’t be done if the husband believes that he must rule over his wife. Ruling “over the wife” takes the oneness out of that relationship. Remember…. the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three parts of ONE being that each have a function. A husband and wife are two parts of one being that God calls a family (Genesis 2:24). When the husband and wife become one flesh, no one part is more important than the other.
The trinity is three parts of one being. No one part of that trinity is more important than the other, and they can’t function without the other two parts. It takes all three parts of God to be one God. Now, let’s go back and look at how the husband and wife are to function “as one flesh.” If that covenant between husband and wife is broken at any time in the marriage, they are no longer acting as one. When a husband requires that his wife submit to him, he’s broken the oneness. He’s just put himself above her, taking away the equality of the relationship. When he does this, he’s not acting toward his wife in love. According to God, that is sin.
Let’s look at it from another angle. God doesn’t expect the church to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ (the tri-une being). Submission is an act of love and is given voluntarily. Because we submit our relationship to God willingly, it’s much more meaningful and intimate. The same is true in a marital relationship. Think of all the times in the New Testament we (as Christians) are called “the bride of Christ.” We would never expect our “husband” (Christ) to abuse us. I would be willing to bet that 100% of Christians would drop their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ if He treated us the same way an abusive husband treats his wife. Not one of us, as a Christian, could ever imagine God treating His “bride” in an abusive manner.
I personally do not believe that God’s character would require that a woman stay with her abuser. Read further…
- God is our father: (from Hebrew “ab.” Refers to God as father of His people; head or founder of a household) Deut. 32:6; Psalm 68:5; Psalm 89:26. In the New Testament: (from the Greek “pater” meaning the originator and transmitter of anything; generator or nearest ancestor.) Scriptures where Jesus calls God “Father” throughout the New Testament in addition to the following: The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6; Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:3; II Corinthians 1:2; Galations 1:4.
- God never changes: These scriptures show that what God says He does, He will do. He is a God of His Word when it comes to the promises He’s given us. Although there are some scriptures (in Jonah) where God does change His mind, it’s because of the prayers of the people. They repented so God decided not to destroy them. In THIS case, because God is good, the prayers influenced God’s decision so that Ninevah would not be destroyed. Scriptures that show God is a “keeper of His Word” include: Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Romans 11:29 (God doesn’t change the “call” on a person’s life); I Samuel 15:29; Psalm 110:4; Proverbs 30:5; Jeremiah 4:27; Hebrews 7:21
- God does not lie: It is NOT in God’s character to lie. The following scriptures show that He is a truthful God who keeps His Word to His children; of which we are ALL considered his “kids.” Whether we chose to acknowledge we are His children is not the point. We are what He says we are: Numbers 23:19; I Samuel 15:29; Proverbs 30:5; John 3:33; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:17-19
- God is not “a respecter of persons”: These scriptures show that God doesn’t see a difference between any race or sex. If God sees no difference, then why should we? The scriptures often used for men in Christian homes to “rule over” the wife, don’t seem to fit with any of these scriptures, so there appears to be a conflict here. Since we know there is no conflict in scripture, our interpretation of I Timothy 2, is probably incorrect. Even Paul had women as part of his ministry (Priscilla who is first introduced in Acts 18). There must be some logical explanations to the apparent contradiction. However, I won’t go into this here. You can get the book “The Woman Question” by Kenneth Hagin and do your own study. (See main page for ordering information). Not to belabor the point but… if God didn’t want women in leadership, why was Deborah a judge over all of Israel? (See Judges 4 for her story.) Scriptures for study: Genesis 1:27, Genesis 5:2; Matthew 19:4-5; Mark 10:6; Galations 3:28. Even in the New Testament, women were a part of church leadership. Examples are: Tryphena, Tryphosa, Priscilla, Persis, Anna the prophetess, etc. Do some Word studies of your own. “Spoon feeding” the information will not help the reader make it become “rhema” to them. Personal study of any subject, with guidance, is the best method of learning.
- God is love: The God form of love comes from several places. First, in Hebrew “chashaq” is used when it’s talking about God’s love for us. It means to long for and to be joined together, to cleave to, or be very attached to. For the love toward God we show as humans, the word “ahab” is used, meaning the human kind of love for God, which is not as deep as God’s love for us. We are to desire, delight, or breathe after Him. Deuteronomy 7:7; Psalm 32:10; Jeremiah 31:3; John 14:21; John 15:9; Romans 5:5; Romans 8:35-39; Ephesians 2:4. In the New Testament, the God kind of love is called “agape” or “agapao,” meaning to love dearly (the deepest kind of love). Read all of I Corinthians 13. This is what’s considered the “love chapter” of where God describes His love for humankind and how we are to love others. The best kind of love looks past faults and accepts people for whom they are. God does this with us daily. But… don’t get this mixed up with loving someone to the point that we are willing to ignore the wrongdoing. I think this is where Christian women in abusive relationships get it twisted. You can love some but still hate their actions.
- God keeps His promises: When God says He will do something, He does. The most widely used example of this is when God promised Abraham he would be the father of many nations. All of Genesis chapter 17; Romans 9:8; Galatians 3:17-18. In addition, God talks about keeping His promise to us on several other occasions. Again, here are a few scriptures: Numbers 23:19; Proverbs 30:5; Jeremiah 17:7; Joshua 23:14. The point here is that when God says he will do something, He does it!!!
- God is just: All the scriptures in Jonah show this because God “judged” the city based on their behavior. He was going to destroy the city but when they repented and “turned from their wicked ways,” God didn’t destroy them. A couple of other scriptures that show how just God is. Psalm 92:15 and Revelations 15:3. This is another Word study that can be done on your own.
- God forgives and expects us to forgive other’s as He’s forgiven us: Two scriptures focus on people in the Old Testament repenting, and God forgives them of their sin. II Chronicles 7:14 and Jeremiah 36:3. The same is true with the story of Jonah. (see the book of Jonah) In the New Testament, God talks about forgiving. He wants to forgive us but for us to live in the “fullness of Christ,” we are to forgive others. This is an automatic ticket to being forgiven by God. In other words, if WE can’t forgive, then it blocks the forgiveness of God from working in our lives: Mark 2:7-10; Mark 11:25-16; Luke 11:4; Luke 17:3; II Corinthians 2:10; I John 1:9. See also the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-34. This shows how unforgiveness can restrict what God can do. Jesus teaches how the spirit of unforgiveness takes it’s toll on our spirit, minds, and bodies, and emotions.
Ponder the scriptures above. Read each category and really look at what each of the scriptures provided is saying. It should give you a good idea of God’s character for these specific topics. If God doesn’t change and he, is love, is just, forgives us, prefers no one person over another, and does not lie; we have the perfect example set before us on how we should treat each other. Now, in looking at the scriptures on unforgiveness in #8 above, there are consequences for unforgiveness. (Refer back to the main page for information on sin.) Let’s for a moment meditate on the actions of an abuser. First of all, look over the list of abusive behaviors (under “Abuse Definitions”). We’ve already determined that these behaviors are sinful behaviors. Now, on top of that, the abuser doesn’t show love, is unforgiving, is not just, doesn’t keep his/her promises, and lies to you. Since we are talking about the husband in this article, I will refer to the abuser as male from here on out. So… the abuser (in this case, a husband) is demonstrating the exact opposite of who God is and how He asks us to treat each other. Since we are made in HIS image (refer back to Genesis), we are to be like God. When we don’t act in love and do things contrary to God, we open ourselves up for all kinds of bad things to happen. It allows filth and garbage to come into our lives. We might as well open up the door to the trash man and say, “Bring it on in!”
The Law of Love and Forgiveness
Let’s take a look at what God says about people who continue the kinds of behaviors that are the opposite of those listed above… But before doing so, realize that we live according to spiritual principles. We “reap what we sow” (Galations 6). Whoever lives by “the law of love,” Christian or not, will reap the benefits of living in love. If we love first, we reap the benefits of love, Christian or not. Do you ever wonder why a non-Christian might appear to be living a good life where everything seems to be going right for him/her? It’s entirely possible that this person is living according to the “law of love.” He/she is reaping the benefits of “heaven here on earth” because he/she is following God’s commandment of Love. He or she is demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit as described in Galations 5:22. Anyone has the ability to live out of love. Because mankind is made in God’s image, we all have the capability to live according to the law’s of God. Some just don’t realize that’s what they’re doing. They don’t recognize the “Christianese” (words, phrases, sayings, etc.) that the Christian community uses to teach these principles. Those Chinese proverbs we’ve heard for years? Many of them are scriptural principles meant to help us walk in love. Therefore, those following them will “reap the law of love.” Again, because “love conquers all,” when living by love, all else falls into place. This is true for Christians as well as non-Christians. I actually know lots of non-Christian people who walk in more love than some Christians. And… their lives show it. This is a very sad witness for those of us in the Christian community. If we want people to see Jesus in our lives, we must demonstrate that by walking in love.
Back to people who use the opposite behaviors of the characteristics described of God above… We already know that an abuser is not walking in love. I can safely say this because the abuser wants control. It all functions out that one element. Love doesn’t control or want it’s own desires. (Read I Corinthians 13 again.) Eventually, continued poor behaviors by anyone, will take it’s toll on the individual, in addition to affecting those around him/her. What does God say about this? Remember Ninevah? Jonah was mad at God because He didn’t destroy the city after they repented. Because of their repentance, God didn’t destroy them. Now, look at Sodom and Gomorrah. God took out the only righteous people in the city and then destroyed it. (Read the entire story in Genesis 18 and 19.) The people refused to repent so the city reaped the rewards of their behavior. In this case, it was destruction of the cities.
Repentance leads to forgiveness. Lack of repentance leads to some form of destruction. I would venture to guess that if God took righteous people out of an unforgiving city, He would allow a woman to walk away from an unrepentant and abusive husband. Sure, people repent but is there change with it? To repent means to “turn 180 degrees and go a different direction.” If an abuser refuses to change, then he/she will get to suffer the consequences of that choice. The key here is repentance, followed by a definitive change in behavior. Did you notice that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed (Genesis 14)? It was because the people refused to repent and they were wicked. Wickedness ALWAYS brings some form of destruction, unless there’s repentance. That’s how you can determine if there’s been true repentance. Keep in mind that the fruit takes time to “grow” or be shown on a person, just like a fruit tree in real life takes time to turn from a flower into actual fruit. What happens as a result of our choices in life is what we call the “fruit” of that choice. In the New Testament, we are told to judge the “fruit” of a behavior and not the person. (Matthew 7:16-20) We are to continue loving the person but that doesn’t mean we have to “be best buddies” with that person. I believe we are to treat all people the same whether we like them or not. However, God doesn’t expect us to have relationships with people that exhibit destructive behaviors towards us. (Refer back to the main page on the book by Malcom Smith titled “Toxic Love.”)
Character of an Abuser
Like it or not, both the husband and wife in an abusive relationship, are functioning exactly opposite as God desires for that couple to live. God directed the husband to lead his household, but in doing that, to “love the wife as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:24-33). The woman is instructed to “submit” (Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18). The word submit here is from “hypotasso,” and according to Strong’s Concordance: “This word was a Greek military term meaning to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader. In non-military use, it was a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” This definition is a far cry from what many churches teach about a wife submitting to her husband. (Italics/bold mine in the quote.) Not to belabor the point, but when a husband loves his wife the way God intended, a wife can easily “voluntarily have an attitude of giving in.” This is all part of love. Love respects, not demands.
The character of an abuser is exhibited through all the traits listed in the abusive behaviors. To refresh your memory… control, indifference, blocking, diverting, crazymaking, withholding, lying, sabotage, name calling, denial, judging, criticizing… just to name a few. Our “character” is our nature. It’s how we behave on a daily and consistent basis. When people around us exhibit these kinds of behaviors as part of their daily nature, they are behaving like an unbeliever, even if they are a Christian. What does God say about the benefits of our behaviors? What does God say will happen to those who continually lead sinful lives? There are consequences. Below are some sins that sound very much like the typical abuser:
- Romans 1:29 – injustice (unrighteousness of heart and life), malice (evil purposes), greed, deceit, bad character, gossip
- Galatians 5:20-21 – adultery, hatred, contention, strife, anger, self-promoting, selfishness, envy, drunkenness, murdering
It appears that in Galatians 5:21, that “those who practice such things won’t inherit the Kingdom of God.” Paul is talking to Christians here. At the beginning of the chapter, he talks about love being the greatest commandment. Starting in verse 22, Paul lists the fruits of the spirit. (Joy, peace, kindness, longsuffering, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.) They are the opposite of the behaviors listed earlier. So, I might suggest that if I were sitting in church listening to Paul preach on Galatians 5, I would probably be mindful of how I act! If I want to receive the fullness of what God has for me, I need to demonstrate the fruits of the spirit. The list of sins, are fruits of the flesh. So my point here… Christian or not… those who demonstrate the “fruits of the flesh” on a regular and consistent basis will probably never end up where God desires for them to be. Since an abusive husband (who is unwilling or unable to change) exhibits poor character traits, where do you think that will get him?
As a side note, look over the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. How do abusive behaviors fit into how God commanded us to live? What about the two “greatest” commandments given to us in Matthew 22:36? They tell us to: 1) Love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, and mind; and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. Who is your neighbor? Anyone but yourself. When you love God with everything that’s within you and treat your neighbor well, you won’t be abusive. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love others. If you don’t love others, you won’t treat them well. This is “breeding” grounds for abuse. The more we demonstrate “lack of love” towards people, the more our actions become like a plague that begins to destroy us. That “plague” multiplies because of the wickedness in our hearts. In case you forgot, check out the plagues over Egypt when Moses went before the Pharoah. (Exodus 11 and 12) These plagues came as a result of Pharoah’s heart attitude. Think how it could have been had his heart not been so hard?
An abuser displays “fruits of the flesh” characteristics. An abuser’s character is built upon the amount of love that they have for themselves, which is then translated to those around them. Abusers never love themselves. Therefore, they can’t love others, including a spouse. IF the abuser can get the needed help to work through issues, a marriage stands a chance of being repaired. If the abuser refuses or doesn’t have the ability to be helped (unless there’s a major healing from God), there is nothing the other spouse can do to “make” the abuser change. We don’t have control over another’s will. We MUST understand this!!!
In order for an abusive husband to change, he must begin to develop the characteristics of God. He must first learn to love himself. This all takes time. It will NOT be easy and will require work. This includes proper counseling, a time of healing, in addition to a time of relearning new and better character traits that demonstrate the fruits of the spirit. Demonstration is the key here. If the husband cannot exhibit the character of God on a consistent basis, then his “character” may fall back upon the abusive tendencies. It took years for him to “learn” to be abusive. Why do we think these kinds of issues can be fixed without a rebuilding process of his character?
Insights Into an Abuser
Keep in mind that the abusive husband was more than likely abused himself. He is acting out what was done to him. He knows no other way because love was not demonstrated in very many forms while he was growing up. The abusive husband needs a huge touch of the Lord to heal these broken wounds that have plagued him his entire life. The hurts have festered and turned into major “sores” in his life. He’s tended them and they have become his pets. In order to make himself feel better, he treats others poorly. It always starts with the people closest to him. When approached with this behavior, he has the CHOICE to make a change for the better. Few do it. Why? It’s because we don’t deal well with change. Change is new and requires us to revisit the pain of the past to dig up the roots that caused that pain. Men especially struggle with this because they are taught to be “macho” in society. Crying, showing weakness, admitting wrongness, etc. can often be tough for someone showing that macho spirit.
My husband was sexually abused by his father. He hated his father. That was obvious from the time I met him. That alone should have been warning flags for me but I believed that my husband was working through the issues of his abuse. However, the fruit he exhibited eventually showed he had not dealt with it. Unfortunately, the abuse was continual and constant from the time he was a young child. This happened during his formative years, which determined many of his attitudes and behaviors growing up. His father was also very verbally and emotionally abusive to his mother. Again, this shows how he “grew” as an abuser. His family example was very poor. He was never able to completely let God work out the full healing. It was too painful. When faced with it, there was a time that he really tried to work through it. That’s when I first met him. Over the next five years, he demonstrated through his fruits (often by the way he treated me and those around him) that he had indeed NOT dealt with the abuse. When finally confronted in counseling with the fact that he was abusive, he laughed about it. It wasn’t long after that time that we divorced. In 2010, and he divorced again. It appears that he never learned to work through the abuse, and has abused yet another woman. Not even a year after his divorce was final, his second ex-wife died mysteriously. He then went on to another woman…
In conclusion, the character of God is everything that’s good and perfect. Because we are made in God’s image, we have the ability to have His same character. Unfortunately, sin keeps us from perfection. God’s character doesn’t allow for Him to make people do as He wishes. When people chose to turn from God, which is what happens when they consistently demonstrate the fruits of the flesh, God has no choice but to step back and allow that person to be left to their own devices. These people will suffer the consequences of their own behavior. Now, why then would He allow that person to drag others with him/her? This is what happens in an abusive marriage. The abusive husband drags his wife down, often brainwashing her in the process. I have yet to meet a victim (including myself) that didn’t (or doesn’t) try to hide the abuse and then make excuses for her husband’s behavior. The Christian victim then focuses on the abuser, because whether we like it or not, circumstances often make it difficult to focus on God.
Some abusive husbands can change. Other’s won’t or can’t. For those that can get help, they need to do so. The wife should only accept him back when there’s been a demonstrated period of change. For those that can’t or won’t change, there aren’t many options left. In my case, I left. Although the decision was ultimately made by my ex-husband to get a divorce, I was heading that direction anyway. I realized that by getting into my Father God’s arms and allowing him to be my daddy, I understood that I didn’t have to stay in the abusive marriage. It was destroying me, which in turn kept me from having the relationship with God that He desired for me. My focus was no longer on God. It was on the circumstances surrounding me. My Father God was like my human father. I believed that neither of them approved of my relationship. Yes, I was in a covenant with my husband, but HE broke that covenant way before I signed those divorce papers. There was nothing I could do about his choice. I am free from the guilt that I am a divorced Christian woman who left her abuser.