Tag Archives: abuse

What about Divorce? – a resource

It’s Narcissist Friday!   


Every pastor has to deal with divorce and remarriage. It comes with the job. Some simply adopt the position of their church. Some try not to think about it too much. Many, like me, struggle with the issue almost every time it confronts us.

Beginning my ministry in the mainline church, where divorce was widespread and no longer a real issue, I did my share of second and third weddings. Yet, as I counseled people in the midst of their marriage struggles, I found that the ready acceptance and easy access to divorce weakened their commitment and they usually didn’t want to try to work things out in their marriages. Too often, by the time they saw me, another person was already in the picture and decisions were already made. Divorce was the way to legitimize a new and more exciting relationship.

Many of the pastors I have known truly struggled with this. I knew one man who left the ministry to become an attorney because he would be able to counsel conflicted couples earlier. We saw the pain divorce caused, but we also saw the pain people suffered within the marriage. We took marriage counseling classes, developed pre-marital counseling, and taught on the stresses and expectations of marriage—all to help people avoid the problem of divorce.

You see, one of the problems that we faced was that the Scriptures were just not as firm as some would have us believe. While we wanted to hold marriage as holy and permanent, we found “loopholes” and examples of divorce in the Scriptures. We saw, in Malachi, where God said that He hated divorce; but we also saw where He told His people to send away their foreign wives and that divorce was permitted in the case of adultery.

As I left the mainline church to enter the evangelical culture, things were not better. On one hand the answer was simpler, I suppose. Divorce was not allowed except for certain situations (ones with approved “grounds”) and sometimes not even in those situations. On the other hand, the Scripture still didn’t exactly say what the more conservative culture said. And people trapped in certain marriages because of the prohibition against divorce sometimes suffered greatly.

So, over the years, I came to the position that this was something I didn’t fully understand. My part was to teach what I could understand. I believe that marriage is a gift from the Lord and should be treated as something very special, something worth fighting for. I know many couples who have worked through very difficult circumstances and events and have restored their love and their families. In other words, I believe we are right to hold marriage in high regard and to warn people about the distractions and compromises that could destroy it.

At the same time, I could not hold people in marriages where they suffered. I would often say that I believe God wants people to stay married and I believe that marriage should be happy and good. When marriage was not good, when there was abuse or adultery, then I would tell people to seek the Lord. He would lead them if they went to Him with open hearts. I didn’t front-load their prayers with the “right answer.” I just helped them seek and follow the Lord. And several of them divorced.

I came to the place where I disconnected divorce from sin, not because I no longer thought it was sin, but because sin is also part of the struggle in marriage. Sin is the cause of our suffering. If divorce is sin, then it is only the end result of a long process of sin. And if God hates divorce, we should also be aware that God hates many things—all sin, in fact—because sin hurts the people He loves. Divorce is just one more broken thing in a broken world.

Do we uphold the sanctity of marriage when we force someone to remain in an abusive situation? Do we bless our culture and our children when we promote a façade of love and companionship in the church while hatred rules at home? I don’t think so. So I no longer counsel people to stay married; nor do I counsel anyone to get a divorce. They have to take that to the Lord and listen to His heart.

But even there we find a problem. How do they listen to Him? Most have been taught that they should go to Scripture. Then they are told what the Scripture says. So most Christians think that listening to the Lord is listening to the traditional perspective of the church, especially in the conservative church. Then they are burdened with the admonitions and guilt surrounding divorce. Have they really heard the Lord’s voice?

And what if the Scripture doesn’t say what the evangelical culture says? The mainline churches, in my experience, have simply stopped looking to the Scriptures. Yet, the evangelical culture has stopped as well, simply because the Scripture is so often viewed as a collection of proof-texts which support the ideas of the culture. We read Scripture through the grid of what we have been taught and try not to think about the nagging questions and inconsistencies when we see differences between our cultural interpretations and what the Bible actually says.

Then along comes Barbara Roberts and her book, “Not Under Bondage.” I can honestly say that I have never read a more careful or scholarly book on this subject. I have read many books written to teach the “party line,” but few actually look at each Scripture passage in the context of culture, grammar, and principles of interpretation. With pedantic logic and critical thinking, Roberts shows that the Scripture does teach a very high regard for marriage and a practical perspective on the effect of sin in the marriage relationship. This book has been needed for a long time.

Yes, Roberts has a personal background of divorce and a perspective which opens her to question the conservative positions. That certainly does not disqualify her writing, no more than the perspective of others who write to support their position. She holds marriage very high and never tells people what they ought to do. Her job is simply to examine the passages that are used to teach about divorce. In fact, I would love to read a conservative rebuttal to Roberts’ book. It would be interesting to see how the “indissolublists” would counter her Scriptural arguments.

Personally, I was impressed. I agree with the way Roberts views Scripture and find it very consistent with the way Jesus viewed the writings of the Old Testament. For example, she teaches that the general rule does not negate the specific exception when the rule is stated by itself. In other words, when Jesus says in Matthew that adultery is a possible reason to divorce and then omits that exception in Luke, the exception does not disappear. This is very consistent with the way we should see Scripture. We are told not to kill in the commandments, yet the people of Israel were sent to war and used capital punishment. There are exceptions to the general rules.

She also rightly extrapolates from one teaching to another, as Jesus did. In spite of the idea that Scripture does not overtly address physical or emotional abuse in marriage, Roberts claims that the principles taught about marriage do include these things. If the Scripture says that a man must not beat his animals, can we not rightly assume that he should not beat his children or his wife? If a man is to love his wife, does that not mean he is not to torture her emotionally? And, if he does these things, has he not broken the marriage covenant? Jesus said that a man who looks on a woman with lust has committed adultery with her. When a man looks on his wife with hatred and acts on this hatred through his abuse, has he not abandoned the marriage relationship? This extrapolation is not only reasonable, but instructive.

Obviously, we have to be careful. Most of us in the evangelical tradition have been taught that you can twist Scripture to say almost anything (then we sometimes proceed to do just that!) I would submit that Roberts has not done that. There may be some jumps of logic that feel uncomfortable and you will want to look at them carefully, but I think you will be surprised at how often you agree with her assessments. I would not pretend that I agree with everything Roberts writes, but I also would not hesitate to recommend it to others.

Two things struck me as particularly powerful in this book. First, the revealing of the cultural challenges brought by the Pharisees to Jesus, and how those challenges led to what Jesus taught on divorce. Do you know the difference between the schools of Hillel and Shammai and the importance of the phrase, “for any reason”? Yes, it matters—and it explains why Jesus said what He said.

Also, the section on the statement “God hates divorce,” which people pull out of Malachi, is worth the price of the book. Roberts’ teaching on the difference between disciplinary and treacherous divorce and how it ties into this passage is important.

The bottom line is that the traditional evangelical teaching that all divorce is wrong unless there has been intimacy with someone outside the marriage simply does not stand up to careful Scriptural interpretation. There are other reasons marriages can end without damaging the status of marriage among believers. And those evangelical churches that have chosen to look the other way, to accept divorce as long as the divorced person feels appropriately guilty, have helped no one. No, the decision to divorce is intensely personal and the one who struggles should be directed to the Lord—with the understanding that there are things other than adultery that signal the death and dissolution of the marriage covenant.

This is one of my longest posts and I need to summarize. If you are struggling with the guilt of divorce—if you are wondering what you ought to do in an abusive marriage—if you are counseling or teaching on the subject of divorce among believers—you should read this book. It is not an easy read, but it will pull you forward. I have only touched on what I thought were key points for me. I think your eyes will be opened to many things; and you may see the Scripture’s perspective on divorce more consistently.

Here’s a link to Roberts’ website and a link to the book on Amazon:





Filed under Narcissism

Anger is your friend

. . . but it can wear out its welcome!

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

Let’s just admit that the Bible seems to send a conflicting message about anger.  On one hand, we are told to avoid anger and get it out of our lives.  On the other, we are told about the anger of God.  I know that some people say only God has the right to be angry, but I think that misses the point.  Anger might be a generally negative emotion, but I think our emotions reflect the way God made us.

There are many passages that speak of the anger of God against the cruelty of people.  When Jesus saw the unkind hearts of the people around Him, He got angry (Mark 3:5).  When God gets angry, something happens.  The status quo is changed.  And, if God can get angry, then good people can get angry.  There is something good in anger.

Anger is a natural response against injustice and abuse.  We might go so far as to say that it is a right response.  It moves us to action.  We used to refer to “righteous indignation.”  Anger has moved some people to get up and rescue those who are being abused.  Anger has moved some to work hard on changing laws and practices.  Anger has moved some to make serious changes in themselves.  Anger gets things moving.

Think of anger as a large and vicious dog that you keep in your house to protect your family.  You know that the dog is powerful and ruthless and deserves respect.  Yet, you keep it around anyway.  Why?  Because there is danger in your neighborhood and you need something strong and ferocious in your house.

Now, you can’t just let a dog like that run around the neighborhood terrorizing people.  Nor should you let go of your caution when it is around your kids.  The dog could get out of hand and become dangerous.  But when the burglars or those who would harm your family come to your house, that dog could save their lives.  He would be more alert, more aggressive, and a lot more formidable than you would be.  You want the bad guys to be afraid.

Some people would say that they would never risk having a dog like that.  I understand.  There are risks, but sometimes the risk is worth taking.

There are times in life when anger is your friend.  In dealing with narcissism, anger is natural, perhaps even right.  Narcissists can be so cruel.  Without anger, some people would not have the strength to separate themselves from a narcissist.  Without anger, the narcissist may continue his/her abuse unhindered.  Without anger, no one else may ever hear of the manipulations and lies.

Anger may be the one tool in your chest that gives you the strength to get out or to say no.  I remember reading, very early in my study of narcissism, Vaknin’s comment that the most common response felt by those who realize they have been victims of narcissism is rage.  Rage that stirs them to speaking loudly and acting harshly.  Rage that makes a fist.  Rage that finally moves the victim to pack up and move out.

But listen: you can’t live there.  Rage drains your spirit and body of energy.  Anger may be useful, but it cannot be sustained without great cost.  Nor is it necessary.  You don’t want your anger to become a dangerous part of your life.  Like the big dog, anger can hurt your relationships and can hurt you.  And anger can move you to do stupid things.  Use wisdom and caution when you allow yourself to be angry.

So the Bible says that anger should be put away, not be allowed to stay for long.  Even God’s anger lasts only a moment (Psalm 30:5).  We must learn to control our anger, to be slow to anger.  Otherwise, it is dangerous for us and others.

I know that most of us have been taught to hold in our anger or to deny it and call it wrong.  The truth is that the big dog already lives with you.  You can ignore it until it gets loose and causes problems, or you can accept its presence and understand its purpose.

My point in this post is not so much to change your thinking about anger, but to give you permission to use anger to move forward with your life.  If you are the victim of a narcissist, you know that something has to change.  Even if you stay in the relationship, you must establish boundaries and find ways to regain your health.  The initial strength may come out as anger.  Don’t be afraid of it.

And, I know that narcissists are usually angry people and would read this as a way to excuse their anger.  The truth is that narcissists are what they are because of fear and anger.  They like using the big dog to scare others.  They think it makes them look strong and it moves others to do what they want.  They don’t care about relationships.

But you are not like them.  Your anger has a purpose and a place.  Your anger does not control you.  It is simply a tool for you to use and then set aside.  You control it.  Let it come out when you need it, then take it to the back yard when you don’t.

There is a risk for me to write this.  I really don’t want readers to misunderstand.  Anger is not bad, but anger is dangerous.  It will consume you if you do not control it.  Once your anger has done its work then you can choose not to live there.  You do not have to use anger to maintain your boundaries or distance.  Anger can be unpredictable and can flare out of control.  We can hurt a lot of people with our anger.  So be careful.  But don’t abandon something God gave you for strength.

What about trusting the Lord and prayer?  These are still most important, of course.  Give all things over to the Lord and trust Him to lead you.  Maybe you won’t need anger.  Maybe you will do the right thing with peace of heart and ease.  Maybe you will look at your narcissistic relationship and act in wisdom and freedom in the right way.  But, if you have become confused or intimidated in the relationship, the Lord might just allow you to get angry enough to do something.


Filed under Narcissism, Relationship

I Can Forgive

Words of Grace  


“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”  C. S. Lewis

Forgiveness is hard.  Oh, sure, there are times when we can forgive quickly and easily; but there are other times when someone has done something that is very hard to forgive.

We make lots of mistakes when it comes to forgiveness.  We think we have to forget, but that isn’t true.  We think we have to welcome the person back into relationship, but that isn’t true either.  We think forgiveness is for the benefit of the other person, and that certainly isn’t true.

The truth is that forgiveness is for us.  Not being able to forgive binds us both to the event and to the person who hurt us.  Forgiveness is letting go and moving on.  Forgiving frees us from reliving the event.  So, there is good reason to forgive.

I think of forgiveness as a door to an unknown room.  That room holds many fears.  What would it be like to go through that door?  Would I have to change somehow?  Would I find that person on the other side?  Maybe it would be better not to try.

Yet, Jesus calls us to forgive—for our good.  He wants us to be free.

And here’s my suggestion.  Don’t be the first one through the door.  Let Jesus go first.  Forgiveness is His work, let Him do it.  Then all you have to do is accept what He has done.

It has always struck me that my forgiveness means very little in the life of another person.  The person who hurt me doesn’t need my forgiveness.  He or she needs the forgiveness of the Lord.  All sin is against the Lord.  So the only real part for me is to yield to Jesus.

Instead of looking at that door with fear and wanting to run away from it, let Jesus open it.  You have no responsibility to open that door.  He will open it at the time and in the way He wants.  Then, He will walk through it with you.  All you have to do is walk with Him—and you are already doing that.

You see, forgiveness is His business.  All sin is against Him.  We get caught in the crossfire sometimes, but those who hurt us are really sinning against Him.  I suspect that’s why we find it so hard to forgive sometimes.  We think we are somehow letting the person escape the judgment he or she deserves.  But we are not the Judge.  Forgiveness belongs to Jesus.

I can forgive.

Forgiveness belongs to Jesus.

My part is simply to walk with Him through my life.

When He forgives, I can forgive.

He is my life and strength.

I can forgive.


Filed under Words of Grace

Close to my heart?


The topic of friendship is filled with emotion for most of us.  On one hand we think of people we almost couldn’t live without.  On the other we remember betrayals and pain.  Some friends are there when we really need them.  Others are there when we don’t want them.  Friendships are about hearts and hearts are complicated.

In spite of the fact that we rarely include the heart in the list of things that make up a person (spirit-soul-body), the Bible talks a lot about the heart.  In fact, the Bible speaks of it so often and so simply that it seems to assume everyone just knows what the heart is.  And maybe we do.  The philosophers and scholars can do or say what they want, but we understand that the heart is the center.  The heart is who we are. 

The heart – the core – the center.  If you take away everything on the outside from a person, what do you have left?  Change his location, his companions, his appearance, and you still have the same person because of his heart.  The heart is different from the mind, but certainly connected to it.  The heart is different from that thing in your chest that pumps blood through your system; but, just like that, removing the heart from a person takes away life. 

So, if you wanted to drain life from another person, you would want to deal with his or her heart.  If you need to control, you would want to control the heart.  And, if you wanted to destroy, you would have to destroy the heart. 

No wonder so many forces want your heart!  No wonder we are cautioned to protect our hearts!  No wonder we hide our hearts in response to betrayal or deception. 

Family has special access to our hearts.  Friends are closer to our hearts than others.  But narcissists, legalists, exploiters, and others want access to your heart.  They know that they don’t really have you unless they have your heart.  So they learn how to get in.

This week, I want to write about our hearts.  Do these thoughts prompt any questions?


Filed under heart, Legalism, Narcissism, Relationship

What I Learned

Grace and giggles asked: I wonder Dave……what did you learn and /or take away from that experience? Was there some grand lesson in it for your life?

What a great question!  Here are some things I learned:

  1. This pastor was a jerk.  Yes, I believe that is a true statement.  He was so intimidated by the job I had done that he could only respond with accusations and attacks.  He lifted up himself by tearing me down.  I learned that this wasn’t really about me—it was about him.
  2. Jerks can neither run nor ruin my life.  I confess that I have had to learn this over and over.  Jerks have a way of pulling us to a place that is uncomfortable for us, a place where they seem to have power.  They have learned, through the circumstances of their lives, how to manipulate and most of them are pretty good at it.  But that doesn’t mean that I have to do what they say or think what they want me to think.
  3. In the middle of the process, I learned nothing.  I was numb.  I remember some of the things he said (even now 35 years later!), but nothing in his words impacted my ministry performance.  In other words, I made no changes because of what he said.  This is important.  When we are cornered, we have two choices: counter or cower.  If we have the strength, we may counter-attack.  Most jerks are too smart to put strong people into that position.  Instead, they attack subordinates or people they believe are weaker.  That’s why we usually cower, waiting for the next blow.  The words mean nothing as arguments.  Their only meaning is as weapons.  So we learn nothing.
  4. Not only was the pastor an abusive jerk, he was wrong.  I had done well there, so well that he heard about it and was compared to me.  In some ways, I think this was a beginning of being able to separate feedback from real evaluation in my life.  What I mean is that I began to understand that I could not judge the quality of my effort by the responses or criticisms I received.  That’s a challenging thing for most of us to learn.  I have to be reminded of it from time to time. 

So those are the things that come to mind quickly.  It was a tough experience, one of the worst of my life.  Yes, I value it as part of what the Lord used to bring me to grace, but I would never have chosen it and I wouldn’t want to go into another situation like that. 

One of the things I have tried to learn, perhaps partly based on the feelings I had in this experience, is not to do this to others.  Kay mentioned this in her comment.  When I think that I have, I have returned to the person and I have admitted being a jerk and apologized.  To try to motivate someone using shame and condemnation is more than ineffective, it is cruel.  Grace teaches me to value the other person.  Motivating others through love may be difficult for most of us, because it is foreign to the way we were trained, but it is the right way and the best way.

Watch for a post on jerks tomorrow!



Filed under Church, grace, heart, Narcissism