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  • Larry Payne

How to Offer Hope in Domestic Abuse

Womanwith head in hands
Domestic Abuse brings trauma and suffering. Photo by Ulrike Mai on

She came into my office and removed her sunglasses to reveal a swollen eye, purple with bruises. Her words seemed flat. “I need help. He hurt me pretty bad.”

Have you heard the sobering statistics? Domestic abuse is a monumental problem. The hotlines receive more than 20,000 calls every day seeking help. More than 10 million people will report physical abuse this year. If you see four typical American women walking on a sidewalk, one of them has been the victim of physical abuse by a man.

Domestic abuse scars American society, hidden in trailer homes and mansions. But hope can be offered that might change the life of someone you know.


The Old Testament story of Abraham and Hagar is a story of domestic abuse. In the patriarchal culture of 4,000 years ago polygamy and slavery were accepted. Hagar was a servant girl in Abraham’s household. When his wife, Sarai, could not conceive, he turned to Hagar. She conceived, bore a son, then experienced unremitting jealous conflict with Sarai. In an act of vengeance, Sarai demanded Hagar and her son be driven into the desert to die. Abraham complied, inflicting the ultimate abuse of rejection, abandonment, and a desert death sentence.

Those of us who have never experienced abuse cannot fully understand the fear that darkens the soul of many victims. Over the years she has been forced to guard her words and actions for fear of provoking abuse. She has endured countless verbal and perhaps physical assaults. The result is trauma that erodes her reasoning power. Escape is desired but the power to do it has been drained. The manipulative abuser has her body and mind chained to his twisted soul. Life with this state of fearful anxiety is the invisible trauma that scars millions of women in our country. (Effects)

Okay, guys, listen up. The time is long overdue for change. The issue of spouse and child abuse is 95% about men. I don’t want to sugarcoat this at all. Anger, demeaning attitudes, jealousy, manipulation, and physical aggression are usually male problems. A change in our emotional control is desperately needed. The foundation of controlling anger is awareness of the how and why of anger occurs in the relationship. With this awareness a man can learn to respond in different ways physically and cognitively. (ABCT) If you know of some man who is not coping with his partner, be a friend and encourage him to get help.

We must be honest that abuse is a moral crime. Jesus and the apostles lived in a patriarchal culture, where women were regarded as property, often mistreated, having no legal status of their own. But the Apostles present a higher way of selfless love that builds up the good of the wife. The Apostle Peter was married and wrote, “Husbands, consider the needs of your wives. They are weaker than you. So treat them with respect. Honor them as those who will share with you the gracious gift of life.” (1 Peter 3:7) Paul said, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) Men, this is the 21st century! We must be leading our families to implement this in practical reality.

The Christian battered woman should know that the Bible does not teach that she must stay in a marriage which is abusive. In Exodus 21:10-11 we find the teaching that a marriage must provide food, clothing, and sex, and, in the absence of these, divorce is permitted. In today’s terms this describes neglect of providing material support, emotional support, or sexual fidelity as being grounds for divorce. This standard was in use by every culture in the Mediterranean world of ancient times. (I-B 37) In 1 Corinthians 7:32 this is affirmed by Paul when he writes that each spouse must “please” their spouse, a word that was used by the rabbis of that day to refer to the teaching of Exodus. Here’s the bottom line: an abusive marriage is a violation of the basic standards of marriage understood for centuries in Jewish and Christian culture. Divorce is permissible and wise for these tragic situations. Bringing this guidance to our modern times, it’s apparent that we should support the victim as she struggles to break these chains. As a first step, help the abused spouse get away from the situation to a safe place immediately. Help her escape so she can find help, regain some sense of emotional balance, and develop plans to have a safe and sane life again.

Let’s turn our attention to the hope we have.

What happened to Hagar? She was rescued by God, who heard her pitiful cries as she waited for death in the desert and led her to sustaining nutrition and a new community. Amazingly, this woman is the only person who gave God a name, El Roi, the God Who Sees Me. Her son became the father of an entire nation, claimed by the faith of Islam as their patriarch.

We have hope knowing the God of love does see a victimized woman today. This is a tenet of Relational Theism, that God enters into our experiences, suffering with us, and being changed with the relationship. Further, God acts to aid the hurt and broken. God cannot control the actions of any person yet works to influence every person toward good. (Oord 99) The victim can find the courage to leave the abusive relationship and recover from the trauma. A messed-up husband can change and restore broken trust. Caring people can be the hand of God to confront, support, and release a victim to new chapters of life.   

A move of God has awakened society to the ideal of marriage equality. The emphasis of mutual respect and egalitarian roles is the standard for all professional counseling organizations. Abuse is no longer tolerated as it was even 60 years ago, swept under a rug of silence. It is a crime that may bring court-ordered counseling or even harsh jail time. We bless God for this advance of justice and dignity against the darkness of evil.

All of us can be agents of change. We can seek to embody the best in marriage and parenting. We can advocate for the needy. We can support the church that understands and cares for those who suffer abuse. All of this is the path to join El Roi, the God who sees, to a future of healthy families.



De Benedictus, T., and Jaelline Jaffe. "Domestic violence and abuse: Types, signs, symptoms, causes, and effects." Helpguide: Mental Health Issues (2004).

David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church. InterVarsity Press, 2003

Thomas Jay  Oord, Open and Relational Theology. SacraSage Press, 2021

Photo by Ulrike Mai on

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