NOTE: Today’s post is by blogger and author, Cindy Burrell. She is an advocate for women and children affected by abusive relationships. She is the author of Why Is He So Mean To Me?, God is My Witness: Making a Case for Biblical Divorce, and Everything My Heart Seeks (a devotional). I believe Cindy’s observations are particularly important these days where in many corners of Christendom there seems to be a rush to “forgive and forget” certain crimes against women and children (and men, although they are in the minority) in order to “reconcile” relationships without proper discernment and safety measures put in place to protect the abused. Sometimes, “safety” (physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual) means to get away from the abuser. Jesus came to set the captives free.
“The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…” I John 2:4
I had the pleasure of hearing Hal Lindsey speak recently on the subject of reconciliation. He defined the New Testament term for “reconciliation” as the restoration between two or more parties, which is only made possible when the barriers to relationship have been removed.
Mr. Lindsey’s discourse centered beautifully on the redemptive work of Jesus who, through His sacrifice, broke the bond of sin and judgment that separates us from God. It was Jesus who made reconciliation possible, yet it is conditioned upon our willingness to allow Him to remove the barriers that keep us apart and consent to His lordship, at which point the old things that hold us bound are put behind us, and we are made new and alive in genuine relationship with Him.
What Mr. Lindsey shared reveals a powerful truth that merits a closer look, particularly where abuse is involved, for the truth about reconciliation can also be applied in our person-to-person relationships, since the barriers to relationship must be removed if reconciliation is going to be possible. And the abusive relationship is one where those barriers are usually quite substantial.
As far as the abusive relationship is concerned, its essence is one of inherent danger. Dishonesty, cruelty and oppression run counter to the qualities of respect, honor and affection that we would expect to see in a healthy relationship. Nevertheless, there is an almost universal willingness – and even eagerness – on the part of abuse victims to reconcile with their abusers even when these flagrant barriers to relationship remain. Somehow there is a tendency to believe that reuniting under the premise of reconciliation will mysteriously bring it about.
Unfortunately, from my experience it rarely happens that way. When dealing with an abuser, the scenario may play out more like this:
A wear-worn victim leaves her abuser, at which point he suddenly – even miraculously – seems to come to his senses. He may apologize profusely, offer up a hefty batch of promises and become all things kind and helpful. It is against this backdrop that he will then beg his victim to “reconcile.” She may be tempted to believe that the two of them are perched at the very precipice of wondrous restoration and marital harmony, and she may indeed leap at the opportunity to reunite. Although she may have doubts, the conditions seem to be right, and she may choose to trust her perceptions rather than her instincts. She is confident that the wall of separation is coming down. Not wanting to discourage him or fearing that others may see her as cold and insensitive should she refuse to buy in, she probably will.
What she should do is pay heed to her wary instincts and wait. In too many instances, the abuser’s newfound devotion and commitment to change quickly wane and weaken. It may not be long before the promise-maker asks why he is the only one expected to do all the changing and returns to his fearsome, hurtful habits. That arrogant temper and those selfish tendencies may quickly re-emerge, reinforcing the wall that has divided them and killing any prospects for true intimacy.
Failing to recognize the dynamic essence of the word, a victim may also receive additional pressure to “reconcile” from pastors, lay counselors and friends. In this context, reconciliation is loosely translated as an agreement to reside in the same household with the abuser, whether or not the offenses and core issues have been addressed. Just get back together and try to work things out later. The perception of reconciliation is of greater importance than the truth, which would acknowledge that a colossal wall has been constructed that prevents authentic reconciliation from taking place.
Ultimately, returning to a relationship with someone who has not demonstrated genuine repentance does not constitute reconciliation, as the undeniable barriers to relationship are high and broad and deep. Unless those barriers are removed, until that wall is torn down so that mutuality is the priority and love and respect and care form the centerpiece of the bond, the notion of living in harmony and enjoying true intimacy is nothing but a fallacy.
Some may call it reconciliation, but you have not been reconciled. You have only returned to your abuser.
“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” James 3:16
June 24, 2015
Very good article. We are all so often mislead and pressured into reconciliation with others when we KNOW it’s not true or right.
Hi, “hoot” 🙂
Cindy writes with such insight and compassion. I am glad this struck a note with you, too.
Too many do not realize that there comes a point when enough is enough…even Jesus could do little in certain villages. God alone knows when that time comes, but when the time comes, He is still strong to deliver.
How sadly liberating. I have read very few that state so clearly the necessity of looking past superficial fixes and holding the door of hope open for those who need to leave the abuser with no condemnation. Thank you for this post.
And thanks to Cindy, once again, too. Hoping more are set free.