“If wives were submissive like God intended them to be, there wouldn’t be any domestic violence” is a statement that I have heard over and over again during my years as a counselor. These comments have not all come from the lips of battering husbands, but from many Christian workers and members of the clergy as well. Is domestic violence a modern phenomena associated with the feminist movement? Is it the result of non-submissive wives? Is it a phenomena associated with the inner cities, slums or urban blight? Or, is domestic violence just a sign of the times that we live in?
Consider these statistics. Between two and four million American women are beaten each year by their husbands or boyfriends; domestic violence is the second leading cause of injury to women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four! Domestic violence threatens the stability and survival of the family and negatively impacts every member of the family—especially the children, who learn that violence is an acceptable way to deal with stress or conflict. Boys who grow up in abusive homes are more likely to become batterers, and girls who grow up in these circumstances are more likely to become abused wives.
This transgenerational pattern of violence is a clear example of the warning contained in Numbers 14:18-19. “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet, he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
The secular world has developed an answer for this problem: Break up the family and you break up the cycle. In these and other words, the world declares that the only way to bring violence within a family to an end is to end the marital relationship. This concept does not sit well with Christians, however, who have been instilled with the words from Malachi 2:16, “I hate divorce says the Lord God of Israel,” and the sacred marriage vow we took “to love, honor and cherish until death do us part.” But how can a mother adhere to biblical teaching and still protect herself and her children from the effects of domestic violence? Is divorce the only way to insure protection from her abuser? Does divorce “work”? Will God forgive?
These are questions every Christian wife who has been battered has asked. Each one is important, but perhaps the most imperative question is “Does it work?”. Does divorce always stop the pattern of spousal abuse and end the negative impact on the children? NO! Current research has demonstrated that single parent homes have more reported incidents of child abuse than two parent homes, and separation and divorce often result in an escalation of the spousal abuse unless other legal intervention is employed. Husbands who batter go on to batter new girlfriends and wives, and battered wives enter new abusive relationships to repeat the pattern again.
Domestic violence against women is nothing new. That oft quoted scripture regarding God hating divorce really says: “I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel, and I hate a man covering himself with violence as well as with his garment11 (Mal 2:16). Does this mean that the husband is at fault? God’s answer is found in the same chapter:
Another thing you do: you flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because He no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask ‘Why?’ It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant (Mal 2:13-14).
But what about the wife’s submission? Look again at Ephesians 5, where the Apostle Paul is continuing his dialogue about children of light that began in Ephesians 4:17. Only, this time begin with 5:21 instead of 5:12. Paul says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And then, parenthetically, Paul gives specific instruction to both spouses: first to wives (verses 22 through 24), and then to husbands (verses 25 through 29). Unquestionably, wives are cautioned to submit (or yield) to their husbands. At the same time, however, husbands are directed to love their wives in the same manner as Christ loved the church (which presumes a willingness to die for their wives)!
Most men whom I’ve counseled through domestic violence issues are keenly aware of their wife’s faults—usually much more so than they are of their own. Rarely, however, have I met a man who is struggling in his marriage who has begun to grasp the significance of his personal responsibility in submission and service to his wife. But undeniably, Paul commands,
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself in radiance, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself (Eph 5:25-28).
Furthermore, the man who loves his wife will also love his children. Paul continues his discussion of marriage in Ephesians 5, by stating that “...a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh (verse 31), which echoes Genesis 2:24. These are the same words found in Malachi, where the prophet says, “Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are one. And why one? Because He was seeking godly off-spring” (Mal 2:15).
Ask a mother how she feels about her children—the “fruit of her womb”. She will suffer abuse and even die to protect her children. Consider the metaphor of God’s love as a mother’s love contained in Psalm 91:3-4: “Surely he will save you from the fowl’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Perhaps you have witnessed a mother hen calling her chicks and protecting them under her wings, even to her death.
When a man embraces the profound submission required of a husband, and sees his wife as part of his own flesh, he will love “her” children (even though they may not be his biologically) as she does—as a part of himself. And, when this happens a miraculous change will take place in our families, in our communities and in the world.
I think it fitting to conclude with the closing verse of the closing book of the Old Testament: “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Mai 4:6).
From my point of view, I ask:
Whom shall we blame, or find at fault, for the curse of violence in our land?
And could the sobering answer be:
Not society, nor school, nor church, but the lack of love from daddy’s hand?