Loving an Abusive Person
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’. They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.” (Psalm 14:1)
In my counseling practice, people would often come into the office asking me how to deal with a person – friend, husband, co-worker, etc… Relationships are complicated. As believers, many of us are taught loving a person means forgiveness and reconciliation. Though forgiveness is always required of us, how do you move forward in a difficult relationship? Do you stay or do you leave?
Thankfully there are parameters to guide our relationships. One of the best books I read is Bold Love by Dan Allender. In the book he categorizes people into three groups: evil person, a fool, and a normal sinner. He also encourages us to respond to people’s behaviors with gifts of love. These gifts do not always mean reconciliation. Let me explain.
First, evil people are the most deceiving people because they do not come across evil on the outside. Evil people are cold. They are always the victim and they see others only as service to themselves. They have no shame, carrying the ability to harm others without guilt or fear.
Secondly, evil people are hard. They use arrogance and mockery to escape being shamed. Lastly, evil is destructive. If one is in a relationship with an evil person for long, the signs of death will begin to show: (1) anemia – loss of self, vitality, and strength, (2) despair – loss of purpose and desire and (3) disorientation – loss of direction. Lastly, evil people strip hope. A person’s hope is deadened when nothing he or she does is good enough.
The way one should respond to an evil people is give them the gift of defeat. In order to do this, the victim must be willing to lose the person, willing to face shame and hatred and willing to set and enforce clear parameters. Evil people must be confronted with their behaviors and be threatened, for example, to have the elder board of the church know their evil doings if they do not change.
Why is this a gift? It shakes them out of their cold-heartedness and gives them an opportunity to experience brokenness and repentance. If the evil person does not repent and change then you give him the last gift: gift of excommunication. Excommunication is a kind gift because it removes the immediate opportunity for sin and opens the door to shame and loneliness.
Secondly, a fool is an evil person to a lesser degree. Fools are not completely devoid of emotions. They experience some level of shame. A strong characteristic of fools is anger. Their anger is disproportionate to the situation (Prov. 12:23, 14:16), impulsive (Prov. 29:20) and repetitive (Prov. 26:11).
Fools are also self-centered. When the fool says “There is no God” (Prov. 14:1) he is not saying God does not exist but God does not matter. Fools are easily satisfied with the world and morally and pragmatically stupid. For example, a fool may be brilliant in his chosen field or academic pursuit but a complete pain in life. Fools hate discipline and wisdom. Discipline and wisdom are often gained through pain and fools hate pain.
The way one should respond to foolish people is expose their folly. Victims confront them and prepare for their assault by getting out of the way. Getting out of the way takes preparation, clear boundaries and courageous consequences.
An example of this would be saying, “Honey, I feel scared (emotion) because your voice is loud and violent (behavior). I would like for us to work through this but I need you to stop yelling (behavior). If you cannot stop yelling (behavior) then I will have to leave until you can calm down (exit plan). If the foolish person still does not change, consequences must be enforced.
In the case of physical abuse, a violent fool needs to be held accountable before legal authorities for the crime. There should never be a warning of a ‘next time’. Physical abuse must be prosecuted and the sentence should include joining a therapy group for violent offenders and letting the leaders of the church know about it.
In the case of adultery, any form of sexual immorality should be viewed as a serious breaking of the covenant of marriage. An adulterer should be under the careful and passionate eyes of a mature group of believers and involved with a therapist who is keenly aware of the situation. This is the same of an alcoholic, a sexual abuser or a criminal.
Rarely do perpetrators truly face their sins unless the victim is willing to seriously consider separation and divorce. This does not mean I easily advocate for separation and divorce. That is another topic to discuss later. But the perpetrators can be so hard in their sin they must be willing to face serious consequences.
Lastly, the simpleton, or normal sinner, struggles with envy. Grass is greener on the other side. Envy leads to absurd convictions and actions and foolish decisions. It also leads to conflict and disorder in relationships (James 3:16; 4:1-3) The simpletons fulfill their desires of life with empty pleasures and demand satisfaction now. They live in denial of their issues and exhibit poor judgment, especially in relationships. The simpletons never remain simple for a lifetime. They either move toward deeper foolishness or evil, or toward wisdom.
The way to respond to simpletons is to give them the gift of covering over sin. It involves the choice consciously and purposely to turn our eyes away from transgression without ignoring or denying the damage (I Peter 4:8). This does not mean that we excuse sin. We wait prayerfully for the right moment to deal with an observable pattern of sin.
We also expose our heart to God and look at our own character (does my friend know I love her), content (what do I need to say and what is best for another time), methodology (what approach will be most receptive) and follow up (once I have spoken can I help my friend though it). Lastly, we must help simpletons take a good look at their lives and see where they are living out the gospel or denying it by the choices they make in life.
As I write this, I hope I am writing it with the utmost humility knowing if I am not a fool it is by the grace of God and the incredible love of my community who has loved me enough to call me out of my foolishness. Do you have this community in your life?