How should a Christian wife respond to an abusive husband? Does “turning the other cheek” mean that a disciple should quietly accept abusive situations? For those who seek to do God’s will, questions like these deserve a reliable compass from scripture.
The Right Starting Point – God’s Compass
As with other questions about living, the greatest and second greatest commandments chart a reliable path to God’s answer. Regardless of the situation, the most important directive for any human being is to love God which includes obeying how God wants us to treat others. The second most important obligation for God’s people involves loving others in the same way they love themselves. Matthew 22:37-38
Love – Understanding Where the Needle Points
The New Testament’s exhortation to love our spouses, neighbors, ourselves and even our enemies entails actively seeking someone’s well-being. While it will not always be easy to seek someone’s well-being, the decision to act with such a love can even operate in the most hostile of environments where other forms of love, such as friendship or passion, will have evaporated.
The Two Basic Responses – True North or Something Else
A victim of abuse has two choices: either respond with love or with something that is not love. An unloving response can lead in many different directions.
One response common to humanity is to seek revenge. The bitter resolve, whether yelled or quietly sworn, “I’ll get you back for this” is never an option for those seeking to do God’s will. Dishing out personal retribution violates obeying how God wants us to respond to others since God declared, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19). Similarly, Jesus banished any form of personal retaliation when he taught to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39).
Turning the other cheek obviously rules out revenge. But is this also an insistence that we passively accept all of the abuse others might enjoy dishing out? No.
In response to the principle of seeking just retribution (Matthew 5:38), Jesus’ teaching replaced enforcing one’s own justice and revenge with a loving response. To respond with love eliminates striking back. As Jesus demonstrated through several examples, a loving response does something good for the perpetrator (Matthew 5:39-42)! The principle of love involves “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21, 17).
Jesus did not teach passivity toward evil. Being passive is incompatible with the goal of love since there is a final day of judgment coming. In view of God’s judgment upon all evil, to passively accept abuse fails to seek an abuser’s well-being.
Putting Love Into Practice – Knowing How To Walk North
In some situations, knowing how to love in an effective manner requires wisdom. Paul prayed that the love of the Philippians would be guided by knowledge and depth of insight. Philippians 1:9
What tools might God use in a victim’s hands to seek the well-being of an abuser? Will the abusive individual be open to spiritual counseling? Will acts of kindness be understood as showing a better way or will they mistakenly be interpreted in a manner to reinforce sinful behavior? Will the person fail to be transformed short of physical separation or civil action?
Knowing how to help an abusive person can be challenging. What is clear is that God’s people are to love even their enemies and love is not passive.