A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Abuse and Decision-Making: Are Our Traditional Methods of Discovering God’s Will Really Biblical?

One of our readers wrote the following, and it is excellent stuff! She questions whether or not the traditions we have been taught in our Christian circles about discerning God’s will for our lives just might be pretty seriously flawed:

How was the enemy able to deceive me into marrying a violent, sociopathic abuser? I was a Christian, from a Christian family and I understood that I could not marry– or make any sort of big decision like that– without prayer and finding God’s will on the matter. I was 18 when I got engaged with no support from parents or other strong believers and I’m sure that played a part. But the fact is, I did pray— a lot. Not just once or twice. I understood the principle of seeking continually until God answered.And I did wait until I was certain I’d heard from the Lord. So what happened?

One thing that came to me recently is this. I remember being taught that you pray until you have peace. That peace on a subject was the hallmark of God’s blessing. His fingerprint, so to speak. That in ourselves, we may be anxious or in turmoil but the Holy Spirit would give us peace. So I prayed until I found peace.

I’m seeing a serious issue with this peace business right now. I came from a family in crisis. Chaos was normal. My mother was nuts (manipulative, controlling, selfish, etc. She controlled through anger, shame and fear), my father passive. So for me, normal equalled peace. My abuser was therefore, “normal.”  All of  my brothers and myself  married some version of my mom. My oldest brother married her three times!

Living in the same general location all these years, I’ve been able to see how some of the young men I knew grew up. There were some nice young men from my church that wanted to go out, but I always broke things off. They now appear to be stable, loving husbands. Not perfect, but their wives and family seem loved and cared for. But, when I dated them, it just felt ‘wrong’– I went out seriously with 2 other versions of my future “husband” before settling down to three decades of hell on earth with him. I wonder if others have been taught this? To pray until you have peace?

How on earth can you know discern God’s will this way if you have no idea what peace really looks like?

Whoa!  These questions should really make us sit up and take notice.  Perhaps, just perhaps, we have been acting pretty doggone foolishly in this entire matter of discerning God’s will — and paying the price for it.  Let me suggest two books that might be of help.

First, Decision-Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen is excellent.  I remember being a student in Friesen’s class about the time this book came out and it really ticked a lot of people off.  Friesen rejects our traditional views of seeking God’s will and people don’t like having their traditions messed with!  The following review is taken from Amazon:

You’ve heard it all before. You want to ask a girl out, but you don’t know whether God wants you to ask that girl out. A friend wants to spend his summer on a mission trip, but after praying to know God’s will in the situation he has received no clear response, so he lets the deadline for application pass. Another friend doesn’t know whether God would have him go to university or Bible college. Conventional Christian wisdom says that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life; the secret to the victorious Christian life, you think, is discovering what God’s ideal is for you and following it.

Think again.

At least, that is the message of Garry Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God. This wonderf ul book is a critique of what Friesen calls the “traditional” view of decision making: that God has an “individual will” for each life, a sort of agenda. To be within the will of God is to discover (through, prayer, inner peace, seeking mature counsel, laying out “fleeces,” and so forth) what that agenda is, and stick to it. Missing out on God’s agenda isn’t necessarily living in sin, but it is settling for God’s second best.

Friesen points out many of the serious deficiencies in this model. First, it is not to be found in the Bible. The proof-texts given by traditional-view proponents to defend God’s individual will are often better interpreted as referring to God’s moral will – that is, right and wrong. While the traditional view is stressed for the “biggie” decisions, such as marriage or vocation, it is ignored for the regular decisions we make every day, such as what to eat or wear. When faced with otherwise equal choices, the traditional view insists only one of them is God’s will, causing indecision. Since subjective impressions are self-justifying, there is no basis for disputing an immature believer’s impression of God’s will for his life, even if that decision seems foolhardy. And subjective impressions are just that, subjective – the traditional view cannot allow for conflicting impressions amongst equally sincere believers.

Instead, Friesen provides an alternative model for decision making that he calls “the way of wisdom.” Truly, however, this is only an “alternative” because the “traditional” view is taken for granted. The way of wisdom goes like this: Apart from the circumstances of any individual decisions, all the tools needed to make those decisions are to be found in the Scriptures, which reflect the moral will of God. The Bible encourages believers to pursue certain values and attitudes, and to avoid others. Beyond these regulations, choices may be freely made. God does not micro-manage the life-paths of each believer, but like our earthly fathers do, he expects his children to mature and to learn to make wise decisions for themselves. The Bible admonishes its readers to seek not God’s individual will, but the wisdom to make good decisions. Consequently the apostles rarely made any decision based on supernatural revelation or subjective “leading”; rather, they decided based on the good, wisdom, expediency, or available opportunities.

Bruce Waltke, in Finding the Will of God?: A Pagan Notion?, proposes that much of what we call biblical discerning is actually nothing more than pagan superstition.  Here is a review also taken from Amazon:

When one starts to read this book one will be shocked to find out that many professing Christians today practice the same type of paganistic rituals that they condemn. Waltke shows the reader in this book that “tapping” into God’s will through various silly routines and rituals to find out what career to launch into, who to marry, what school to attend, etc. is no different from a pagan offering a gift to his god to look for divine knowledge. The book is divided into two main parts. The first part investigates the idea of “finding God’s will.” Waltke nicely summarizes the various ways Christians seek God’s will and concludes that the methods often employed are nothing but paganistic (e.g., blindly opening up the Bible and pointing to a particular passage as God’s word for you today). The second part deals with how Christians can TRULY know what God wills. Waltke’s main contention is that God’s Holy Word (Scripture) and the Holy Spirit that lives within us (who gives us holy desires) offer believers guidance in pointing to what God wills from believers. It is refreshing to read a well-respected scholar bringing us back to the Bible when it comes to discerning God’s will.

Too many Christians these days do silly rituals or look for “divine signs” to know God’s will. However, as Waltke points out, God does not give his revelatory light if we are searching for it. Other key points Waltke makes is that we must seek wise counsel from mature Christians when we are at a fork on the road in our lives, that God’s providence provides us with information (even though we may not understand at the beginning why God allows, sometimes difficult, events to occur), and that Christians must use their common sense (which is part of common grace) when making a decision. In all of these points, Waltke’s main point is that we cannot allow circumstances, “signs”, other people, etc. to usurp the authority of Scripture and the Spirit’s illumination when reading it in finding God’s guidance for our lives. Though God did employ supernatural methods to speak to the saints during biblical times, Waltke states that this is not the norm.

Even if God can employ supernatural methods to speak to his children he has given us ample information in Scripture. Therefore, God does not need to come down and appear as a light to reveal what he requires and wills. Too many modern evangelical churches (especially of the radical charismatic sorts) have allowed Scripture to be buried underneath the fantastic and spectacular. Waltke, however, rightly points us back to Scripture and rightly points out that what God wills for ALL Christians is that they be faithful and holy during their Christian pilgrimage. I highly recommend this book to all Christians. It will help Christians realize what to sift out of their so-called Christian practices and how to employ biblical methods in discerning what God wills for our lives – which is to be a holy priesthood in a world ravaged by sin.

So let’s take care.  Praying for “peace” in order to discern the will of God may very well lead us to claim “peace, peace” when there is no peace.

16 Comments

  1. Laurie

    I used to use some of these tactics, and after enough times around the (rhymes with Bothard) seminars, I began to see that a certain teacher was trying to manipulate God through a use of the Scriptures…”God is obligated to answer.” WE don’t force God’s hand and shouldn’t seek out ways to do it. Lately I have been seeing so much more of what has been described in this article as being the truth. God lives in us and wants to live through us but FEAR commands us to stay put and do nothing until we absolutely know the absolute will of God absolutely. We keep thinking that He is going to hit us with a spiritual stick if we step one toe off the line, and when circumstances are unfavorable, then we think that we are justified in this thought of our God.

    But: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    (Rom 8:35-39 ESV) [Note: did you see a single positive circumstance here? No, because we can all believe God is with us in positive times, its the negative where we start the doubting and that is death to the believer.]

    Its not whether we will see bad times that tells us if we are in God’s will, that is pragmatism. It is how we LIVE through the bad times, how we allow God to live THROUGH us in the bad times, that is God’s will. When I buried my son, William (13 years ago Oct 6, extreme preemie lived 4 hours) God used 2Thes. to prove to me that, no matter what others see on the outside, the inside is golden, that trials were not God’s rejection of me but His confirmation that He had chosen me out of the world… and if the world hated HIM, could I expect better?

    But you have to watch out for the counselors. They have to be proven, and we tend to look for nice, neat homes as proof. You can hire someone to do that for you, it proves nothing. Counselors can dress up the scriptures into a beautiful noose to hang you with, and you barely notice. My ex-husband seeks the counselors of his home fellowship, and if they advise him differently than what I ask or say, he sides with them. (i.e.; I asked him, and our psychological counselor agreed with my request, not to say “I love you” to me for awhile because I cannot receive it. He talked with his “brothers” and they told him to disregard the counselor because he was a remarried man, and my ex started with the “i love you’s” again, disregarding and disrespecting me…and all my troubles in life are used as a weapon to show that God has rejected me, or that I am sinning.) But God wants to see me be faithful THROUGH them. And I sometimes think that the depth of troubles I go through now are to break me of the thought that I am out of God’s will, because I have to constantly make the decision to trust the truth God has told me, that I am His and my life is hidden in Christ Jesus Who said I am WORTH dying for.

    So, yeah, I can agree with this article. And Jeff, THANK YOU for putting this on your pages here. May God’s grace be your sufficiency this day and always.

  2. Just Me

    Thank you for posting this. This is something that has been on my mind lately. I was wondering what everyone’s thoughts are on dreams. For 3 years, I’ve been pondering whether to leave my husband. I still haven’t made a decision. He’s emotionally abusive and occasionally physically intimidating, although he’s never hit or pushed me. I do feel afraid of him sometimes, but not often. I was afraid of him yesterday and plan to discuss it with my counselor at my next appointment.

    Last year, I had a dream that I was in heaven. And I asked God why He kept me in this marriage and didn’t save me. He responded that He didn’t require me to stay–that I took that burden upon myself. I haven’t known what to do with that dream. Was that God speaking to me? Was it Satan trying to split my children’s parents up? Was it purely a figment of my imagination? I wish I wasn’t so confused. My counselor suggested that perhaps the reason for the dream was to show me that I have choices and am not the trapped person that I see myself to be.

    I’m so confused because he’s doing better. He’s trying to change, but I don’t know if it’s genuine or just an act. He’s not as bad as most of the men that I read about on here. I don’t know……

    • Jeff Crippen

      JM- well, here is my opinion. I think you can take what you know from Scripture- that marriage is based on a covenant that was made in the presence of God and witnesses. If those vows have been habitually, unrepentantly, broken over time then the marriage has been destroyed. Not by you but by him. I cant imagine living in fear of my spouse. Ever. Knowing all this you are free then to do what you desire. You have the right before God to reject unsafe, unhealthy relationships that harm rather than nurture. We all do.

    • Dear J M, I agree with your counselor’s comment on that dream.
      Why?
      Not because I know it was God speaking to you in that dream (though I believe it probably was God) but because the principles of scripture about divorce for domestic abuse are in alignment with the dream.
      Let’s put aside your own marriage, for a moment, and just consider the principles in general. As Jeff C said, and as I demonstrate in my book and in articles, the Bible DOES allow divorce for domestic abuse. Scripture (and therefore God) gives the victim permission to leave an abusive spouse. There is no commandment that you must leave, but there is permission to leave if you so wish.
      That’s exactly what your dream said: it isn’t God who is keeping you in that marriage and not saving you from the misery, confusion, bewilderment, fear, walking on eggshells, etc. Don’t blame God. The blame for the suffering should be sheeted to your husband and to the false teachings that you’ve been taught from Christians who don’t get it regarding abuse. And the secular society’s stigmatization of victims is partly to blame, too.

      [The original Not Under Bondage article The Bible DOES allow divorce for domestic abuse is no longer available, but Barb wrote a similarly titled article found here on the ACFJ blog. Editors.]

      You wrote that you were feeling confused “because he’s doing better. He’s trying to change, but I don’t know if it’s genuine or just an act. He’s not as bad as most of the men that I read about on here.” Have you looked at my Checklist For Repentance? It may help you sort out reality from appearances; it may help you be less ambivalent and more sure of yourself and your ability to judge things correctly.
      It might also be helpful to bear in mind that this very confusion you have been feeling is one of the hallmarks that you are (still) being abused. Abusers create confusion deliberately: they thrive on creating confusion because confused people are easier to control. They like to keep their victims ‘on the back foot’ as that gives them the upper hand in any situation.

      [The Checklist for Repentance was changed to reflect the new URL. Editors.]

      • Just Me

        Barbara and Jeff, Thank you for responding. I have read the checklist for evaluating change and Lundy Bancroft’s list. He does some of those things. Especially using any positive actions as chips to cash in when he does something abusive.

        I plan to discuss the incident that happened the other day where I was afraid at my next counseling appointment. He didn’t do anything overly scary, but I was still afraid to discuss what I needed to say to him because I was afraid of inviting his anger. I’m trying to decide if that’s a me problem or a him problem.

      • Dear Just Me,
        “He didn’t do anything overly scary, but I was still afraid to discuss what I needed to say to him because I was afraid of inviting his anger.”

        You would not be inviting his anger. To say “you would be inviting” makes it sound like you would be the initiator and the cause of his anger. It puts the blame on you. That’s the way abusers train us to think: they always deny responsibility for their bad behavior and shift the blame to the victim, so that we think “It must be me, I must have done something wrong.”

        You have probably been living under this for so long that you are not seeing it. It creeps up on you very subtly: abusers KNOW how to incrementally amplify their pernicious tactics so slowly that we don’t see what they are doing.

        In a normal relationship when one partner has behaved discourteously, the other partner feels free to bring it up and discuss it later without feeling afraid that the other person will get angry. In normal relationships we can discuss things and talk them over, without fear of the other person’s reactions. Your husband’s behavior is not normal behavior. I would guess that most times when you have raised a complaint, no matter how courteously you have done so, I bet he got angry or became abusive in some other ways(s). That is what an abuser does. Lundy Bancroft writes about this (pp 124 ff of Why Does He DO That?). Under the heading “Is the way he is treating me abuse?” Lundy writes:

        He retaliates against you for complaining about his behavior.
        He tells you that your objections to his mistreatment are your own problem.
        He gives apologies that sound insincere or angry, and he demands that you accept them.
        He blames you for the impact of his behavior.
        It’s never the right time, or the right way, to bring things up.
        He undermines your progress in life.
        He denies what he did.
        He justifies his hurtful or frightening acts or says that you “made him do it.”
        He touches you in anger or puts you in fear in other ways.
        He coerces you into sex our sexually assaults you.
        His controlling, disrespectful, or degrading behavior is a pattern.

        Lundy gives detailed examples of each of those things.

        Eds. IMPORTANT NOTE: While we endorse Lundy’s writings about the dynamics of domestic abuse, we do not recommend anyone attend the ‘healing retreats’ Lundy Bancroft offers or become involved in his ‘Peak Living Network.’ See our post, ACFJ Does Not Recommend Lundy Bancroft’s Retreats or His New Peak Living Network for more about our concerns.

      • Just Me

        Oops. My post should have read “inciting” rather than “inviting.”. My phone autocorrected. Regardless, Barbara, I think your response would have been the same. Intellectually I know these things. It’s just hard to get to a point where I believe them in a heart level. But I’m making progress. This blog is helping me a lot.

    • Anonymous

      “He’s not as bad as most of the men that I read about on here.”

      JM, I would like to caution you not to compare your husband’s behavior (tactics) with others that you read about on this blog and then use that comparsion as a deciding factor of whether you should stay or leave. I use to feel the same way, that my ex’s behavior was not as bad as what others have mentioned, and I would use that comparsion as a gauge to determine how “bad” my ex was. What I have come to realize is that the combination of tactics used, the frequency of their use, and the level or degree of use, in other words the abusive environment, will differ between victims, but the effects of the abuse are the same! And those effects are NEVER good!

    • Laurie

      JustMe: “I’m so confused because he’s doing better. He’s trying to change, but I don’t know if it’s genuine or just an act. He’s not as bad as most of the men that I read about on here.”

      Honeymoon….

      God has been teaching me this last year…look real close and you will see the chinks in his armor of good appearance. Little things, little foxes that spoil the grapes. Little ways in which you are disrespected (God treats EVERY woman like a lady, fyi), little hurdles of hubby’s controls that you may be jumping that are actually God’s way of trying to get your attention.

      I am reminded of John Bunyan’s “A Pilgrim’s Progress” and the little stile (or foot bridge) over the fence that took them off the rough and rocky path of righteousness and onto an easier path that seemed to run parallel to “The Way.” Do you have a little stile in front of you? In the end, Christian and Faithful ended up in the dungeons of the Giant Despair, tortured and goaded to commit suicide to relieve themselves of this present pain. Its a place that no one ever escapes, except those who have the Key.

      Look for the chinks, because they are probably there or you wouldn’t have your doubts. Taking the steps to leave or remaining separated is tougher than you think, emotionally, but well worth the effort. My life is pretty crummy right now, but I am not being snapped at, judged (except by proxy) and I don’t live in fear of the next explosion from nowhere.

      No matter what your eyes may see or what mankind may say, be still and know that Jesus loves you. And this is your joy, and this is your strength.

  3. Spent most of my life trying to do everything just right, trying to please God, please my parents, please my husband and felt like a big failure on all three counts. I’m just now learning that God has no intention of micro-managing my life. My parents tried. My husband succeeded.

    But God bought me with a price to live in freedom. He respects me enough to believe that when I follow the best commandment (love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength) then I can freely chose and those things I chose *will* be pleasing to Him. Because of love.

    Didn’t always feel this way but now, I believe our life is a gift to Him and He delights in us, loves seeing the things we chose, the choices we make, the paths we pick. Just like children who adore their parents will create beautiful finger paintings for the fridge and lovely macaroni necklaces, *we* create a life that we lay at His feet.

    I lean on the Lord for wisdom and guidance. That is totally different from believing that God has only one right path laid out before us and all else is failure.

    • Laurie

      Ida Mae, thank you for those wonderful words from your heart. They make my heart sing! As far as I can see, the only path that God has laid before us that we must walk is to be conformed to the image of His dear Son, Jesus. That plays out differently for each of us. And as I heard teacher Zac Poonen say, “God has no ‘second best’ plan for you. Any mistakes you make are delays, and He will even use them in your life.”

      • Agreed, Laurie. Shame it took half a century to learn. Ah well– no telling what the next half century holds, God willing 🙂

  4. Song

    Wow! I mean, Wow! Great, thought provoking post! Thank you, Jeff. Another piece of the puzzle towards understanding fell into place for me after reading this. And, it was very timely. Thank you, also to the reader who wrote the first part. The questions she posed are good questions to ask. I’m so sorry for what she had to go through.

  5. joepote01

    Great post, Jeff!

    You’ve articulated something that I have sensed for some time now. Thanks for putting it in words.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thanks Joe. Yes, it is a big problem area for Christians. And it can cause lots of damage.

  6. Finding Answers

    (Light airbrushing…)

    I encountered some of this kind of thinking in recent years…

    Like the reader quoted in the beginning of the original post, the concept of feeling a physical peace wasn’t / isn’t a happenin’ thing for me. Over time, my nervous system has become calmer, but that has come from practical (non-medicinal) sources.

    The only time I remember feeling the much-touted peace was when reaching a decision that resolved a number of life issues. I will say the inspiration came from the Holy Spirit – I had not considered the option. And the situation resolved faster than is the norm.

    I cannot speak for randomly opening the Bible finding the answer to a specific question. I know many are led to a particular Scripture, to read just what is needed. I believe them. Perhaps the difference is “randomly”, versus Spirit-led.

    People are unique, with different styles of communication. The exact methodology varies from person to person. With that in mind, the manner in which someone communicates with God will take into account their personal style.

    If one reads through the ACFJ website, there are many examples of these different styles, just as there are those who feel nothing. There are differences in the manner in which something does / does not resolve. There are too many variables for a one-size-fits-all approach.

    In the end, the final decision is still ours to make….

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