Does John MacArthur Teach that Suffering Abuse is Meritorious Before God?
Ok, here I go again getting into trouble, and I’m not even really trying. But I am learning that there are certain names that many professing Christians have sanctified, and John MacArthur is one of them. I have had much respect for MacArthur and still do in many ways. His book Ashamed of the Gospel is wonderful, as is The Gospel According to Jesus. Good stuff. But when Pastor MacArthur begins to teach in the realm of marriage, divorce, and abuse – he is just plain wrong. I have quoted him before in another article, but let me just refresh your memory here in this quote taken from the Grace to You website:
“If a violence-prone husband becomes agitated and abusive, the wife should remove herself from danger, by leaving the home if necessary. God has promised that He will not test us beyond our ability to endure, but will always make a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Sometimes escape is the only way. If you have children and they are in danger, take them someplace where you will be secure until you feel you may safely come back.
If you are not truly in any physical danger, but are merely a weary wife who is fed up with a cantankerous or disagreeable husband–even if he is an unbeliever who is hostile to the things of God–God’s desire is that you stay and pray and sanctify that husband by your presence as a beloved child of God (1 Corinthians 7:10-16). The Lord will protect you and teach you in the midst of the difficult time.
Of course, pray for your husband, submit to him in every way you can, encourage him to seek advice and counsel from other biblically-knowledgeable men–and do everything you can to heal the problems that cause him to be angry or abusive.”
And again – Dialogue on Divorce –
“You know, I can’t counsel a mother who says, “What am I going to do? This man has committed incest with my child and he beats me up and etc. or beats up the children and so forth and so on. Do I just sit there and take it? And the chairs on my head, and the stuff he throws at me, and the cigarette burns on my arm, and battered wives and all this stuff? What do I do?” Well, certainly there is nothing in the Bible that says you just stand around until you are just beaten to a pulp. You know, God has built into the human being a certain sense of self-preservation. Right? And it’s normal to separate yourself in that kind of situation. And maybe that’s what Paul is thinking about. There may come circumstances where divorce occurs, but if it isn’t on biblical grounds, that’s it. I mean, you can remain unmarried or be reunited.”
“But I would say that’s only a possibility in that text. I really feel that if we are obedient to the word of God in that kind of a situation, God would give us the grace to endure a lot more severe things than we think. So, what we do is this; we counsel people this way: if you’re in an abusive situation, there’s not adultery involved, it’s just abusive, cruelty, or something like that–I don’t think alcoholism is necessarily in the same category. But where there’s beatings, where it affects you or the children, there’s nothing to say that you shouldn’t step away, get away to preserve your own health, and your own safety, and your own security. You don’t need to stay there and just be beaten to a pulp. God’s given us a self-defense mechanism. But I don’t think that’s grounds for divorce biblically. I think you have to hang in there and that’s what makes great prayer warriors People who can turn that kind of a thing into a draw nigh unto God kind of relationship. You know, when all your family has forsaken you the Lord will be your family.”
Now, here is a question I would like to put to our readers – Is it fair to say that John MacArthur is teaching a kind of meritorious suffering doctrine here? I know that he would not intentionally teach such a thing. But my question is, do his conclusions here and his advice to victims of abuse amount to a doctrine that says the Christian pleases God by remaining in an abusive situation and suffering? After all, MacArthur is indeed telling us that a victim of abuse should not divorce from her abuser. She might need to separate for her own safety, but she is to pray and work for reconciliation with the abuser and not divorce him. In this context, MacArthur promises her that God will sanctify her into Christlikeness, making her a “great prayer warrior” and being enabled by the suffering to “draw night unto God.”
What do you think? I hope that even our critics will admit that this is a fair question, particularly in light of the fact that feminists who criticize and blame Christianity as one of the main causes of domestic violence, point to this very kind of teaching that says that because Christians are to suffer for Christ, abuse victims must remain in their abusive environment.