What Does the Bible Say About Emotional Abuse?
“I knew that God love me, but I couldn’t figure out why those I sought help from didn’t treat me as He did. They told me God had called me to suffer, and it was my job to suffer well. It was confusing because the character of God isn’t that of a cruel, heartless punisher.”
“One hard question I really struggle with is how do I really believe God loves me? I grew up in an abusive home and ended up with an emotionally abusive marriage. I feel like I was set up to fail, like I never even had a chance. I have such a hard time reconciling God’s love with putting so many of us women in these situations pretty much from day one. We are primed to be abused. It doesn’t feel like love to me.”
~Quotes from Emotional Abuse Survivors
What Does the Bible Say About Emotional Abuse?
Many Christians believe God condones some kinds of abuse. Everyone seems to have their own standards for what constitutes abuse, and they also have their own ideas about how the various types of abuse fit into their personal theology. And every single one firmly believes his particular opinion about abuse is the absolute truth, and anyone who disagrees, especially an abuse survivor, is wrong and deserves to be shunned.
Of course, most of them haven’t even studied the subject. They just buy into the propaganda fed to them by teachers who believe in a historically pagan, power-over structure of human relationships. It’s fascinating and tragic. An abuse victim’s pastor and Christian friends not only minimize what she is going through (as if they know), but they also callously lecture her about how God wants her to glorify Him through her suffering.
What kind of a god requires the suffering of women and children in order to be glorified? Moloch, maybe. Baal, maybe. But not Jehovah God. He is not a sadistic, pagan god, and I believe what will glorify Him most is to expose misogynistic lies and teach the truth about abuse.
Contrary to the propaganda you’ve been taught, God doesn’t set women up to be abused as children and then adults. God doesn’t perpetrate abuse on human beings. Human beings do that all on their own.
God doesn’t control people. He let Adam and Eve choose, and He has let every human ever since choose. People sin, and they do horrible things to other people. We see the effects of this on a global scale. God promises to love us, to be with us, to assist us in our efforts to overcome the effects of sin here on earth, and to one day set us free for all eternity.
Every effort we make to tell the truth, pray the truth, live the truth, and put our hope and trust in our Creator, advances His Kingdom a little bit further on this earth. When we take a stand against abuse, whether it is abuse in our own life or in the lives of others, we are working on His behalf and for His glory.
Here’s what God really thinks of abuse:
1. God hates abuse.
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)
Interestingly enough, Christians love to say “God hates divorce,” and they will forbid an abuse victim from getting legal protection from her abuser and even excommunicate her if she doesn’t obey them. But they won’t do a thing about abuse even though God clearly hates it just as much. Here’s an idea: as long as we are getting radical about the things God hates, why not get radical about dealing with abuse? If God hates abuse, why are they not supporting the victim in helping her acquire legal protection and excommunicating her abuser?
One reason: MISOGYNY
2. God says an abuser is a fraud, and his religion is worthless. These are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and they are dangerous.
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
“I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren.” (2 Corinthians 11:26)
“But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.” (Galatians 2:4)
3. God says abusers are an abomination.
“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.” Proverbs 17:15
Abusive men and churches justify the wicked and condemn the righteous when they support abusers and condemn victims. This is an abomination to God.
4. God says verbal abuse harms people and carries the power of death.
“…the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21)
“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking!’” (Proverbs 26:18)
Religious people will say it’s no big deal. God says it’s a matter of life and death.
5. God says emotional abuse is a heavy burden to bear up under.
“A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty, but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both.” (Proverbs 27:3)
“A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14)
You may get no compassion or understanding from religious people, but your Creator and Savior sees and validates the horror of it.
6. God has hard words for abusers who damage their children in different ways.
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)
How many emotionally abusive fathers create a chaotic, confusing, hypocritical environment for their children to grow up in, causing those children to want nothing to do with their father’s God. This is perhaps the most devastating result of covert abuse. Especially when it is endorsed by the church. God will not be mocked.
7. God says verbal abuse (emotional abuse) is the equivalent of being gutted with a knife.
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)
“My companion stretched out his hand against his friends; he violated his covenant. His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.” (Psalm 55:20-21)
Many emotional abuse victims are told that emotional abuse isn’t real abuse. People who haven’t experienced emotional abuse will ignorantly claim that real abuse is being beaten, and you have to beaten a lot for it to be serious enough to justify legal protection through divorce. Even then, they encourage the victim to forgive and suffer. But emotional abuse? No biggie to them. And it’s certainly not something to even consider leaving your husband over.
But you need to know that God doesn’t see it that way. He knows what emotional abuse does to your body, mind, and spirit, and He sees the seriousness of what you’re going through. I don’t believe God views this as “no big deal.”
Unlike those who refuse to believe you or understand what it is like to live in an abusive environment every day, Jesus understands perfectly and takes what is happening to you seriously. Here’s just a taste of the kind of emotional abuse Jesus endured on our behalf, and I hope this helps you realize how much compassion Jesus has for you:
1. Pious Jews and Pharisees accused Jesus of working for the devil.
“The Jews answered him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’” (John 8:48)
“But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,’” (Luke 11:15)
2. They mocked Jesus when He told the Pharisees they couldn’t serve two masters.
“The Pharisees, who were lovers of money…ridiculed him.” (Luke 16:14)
3. They tried to provoke Jesus and trip Him up.
“As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.” (Luke 11:53-54)
4. They denied their abuse and shifted the blame.
Jesus said “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” The crowd answered, ‘You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?’” (John 7:19-20)
Valerie Jacobsen writes:
“Our lives here on earth depend on a mysterious union between our fallen souls and our fallen bodies. The old Gnostics did not see us as fallen, body and soul. They believed that we have souls, which are glorious and cannot be harmed, and bodies that are damaged, unworthy, and easily broken. Many teachers still reproduce those ideas when they teach that only physical abuse is real abuse, that only physical abuse should be escaped.
But God’s heart is always for us, whenever we are being harmed, whether spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, mentally, or physically. He sees us and knows that it is impossible for us to gauge the severity and the effects of abuse but looking over the surface of our bodies, by looking for bruises to count, or by using x-rays to check for broken bones. He sees that our souls ache from pain. He sees that emotional abuse and psychological torture do measurable harm to our brains and endocrine systems. He knows that PTSD is more painful and harder to treat than some bruises or a broken nose. He sees true suffering wherever it is, and when He sees it in us, He views it with compassion.
Whatever his weapons, an abuser attacks the image of God and wars against the creator. An abuser cannot image what God sees—that we were never created chiefly to please them, to bear children and keep houses for them, or to work for their provision. God has declared that our central purpose is to be His, to be faithful to Him, and to worship Him. When an abuser attacks the believing child of the living God, he seeks to divide us from our Savior, to cause us (as Job’s wife said) to curse God, give up hope, and die. In this, an abuser is ignoring that we are beloved by God, that we have been redeemed at great cost, and he openly wars against God, shaking his fist in God’s face, demanding to have us, use us, consume us, and destroy us.
As an abuser attacks, insults, and controls, God sees and knows that he is stealing our liberty and our peace. God sees that his sacred commitment to love, to honor, and protect us are being violated. God sees as the abuser willfully defies God as Lawgiver, seeking to become a Law unto himself.
And God sees us, His precious ones, when we suffer. God sees our abuse as it is, when our lives have become battlegrounds with real suffering and the risk of real casualties. He stands with us, and He walks with us while persecution takes its secret, underhanded forms in the most hidden places of our homes. Make no mistake. God sees His friends who love Him and trust in Him, repenting of our sins. And He also sees our abusers (especially our religious abusers) as His enemies, as enemies of the truth, and as enemies of the Gospel. He sees the heart of malevolence that craves an innocent victim and intends to cause injury.
He knows that evil gives very little advance warning, but He taught us to identify the one who is deceitful, destructive, malicious, and malevolent, and He taught us to protect ourselves and others from harm and danger. It is He who is calling us to see our condition, even when our hearts are aching with desire that what is true might not be true. It is He who is opening our eyes and calling us to reflect His image by speaking and living in the truth. It is He who gives us the courage to say, “Thy will be done” in the unexpected and unwanted, when we must flee from indignity and cruelty, when we must undertake an honest and biblical mission where we can find our liberty and safe place to stand firm before Him.
As the ones who will live with the consequences for ourselves and our children, we are the ones who are given wisdom and strength and called to action. Our pain and distress in abuse also causes us to work with God as He cleanses families, churches, and communities from evil and creates places of real peace and safety for us. It is He who has taught us that no wolf in sheep’s clothing must ever be tolerated or enabled, that each must be removed from any place where he is determined to cause harm. And it is He who taught us to report criminal wolves to the police, without hesitation or pity, and to speak the whole truth about them to investigators and in court. (Leviticus 5:1)
As victims of abuse, it is easy to become entangled in a hopeless quest of trying to fix an abuser, help him, and cure him–but we could as easily raise the dead! There is only one Savior. We cannot save ourselves by our own good works, and we will never be wise or righteous enough to save our abusers. We must submit to God who is Almighty—who is more than able both to protect us from evil and to do whatever He pleases with evildoers. We must come to Him as our good father who always has another chapter for our stories and who gives us the courage and strength to close and bar the door against evil.
While it’s true that abuse is an opportunity to love an enemy, biblical love does not collude with an evildoer or keep him comfortable while he is on a quest to harm us, to harm others, or to destroy his own soul. Biblical love for an enemy provides what enemies require most, including accountability and justice. Biblical love avoids vengeance, seeks justice, and trusts God with every outcome, whether we are taking flight or appealing to courts for justice.
As we stand firm against evil, we can pray that God will enable us to grow in grace, to see our weaknesses and errors, and to learn what it means to love others well and truly. With abuse, it is often many years that we spend trying to support the dysfunction, hoping that we can make it better or at least make it tolerable. Our awakening is often very gradual as God teaches us to see clearly and weans us from our initial expectation, that we made our wedding vows as the beginning of healthy love and biblical marriage. In our awakening, we can continually remind ourselves that God is faithful to teach us that what we see is real, what we hear is being said, what we remember really happened, and that what we know is true.”
This article is a small section taken from my book, Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage.