Love believes all things
Love believes all things. That comes from verse three of 1 Corinthians 13.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Often victims of domestic abuse are instructed in the following way: “The Bible says love believes all things so you need to believe that your spouse can change and your marriage will be healed. If you are not holding onto that belief in faith, you are not trusting God enough.” The hidden implication in this message is: if your spouse fails to change, it must be because your belief was weak.
This teaching is erroneous. It dumps responsibility on the victim when the responsibility belongs to the abuser. It also ignores the reality that many abusers don’t change and and those who do change usually only do so when they are made fully accountable and given tough-love-education and firm boundaries by all the various people who have influence in their lives: their spouse, police, courts, church leaders, counselors, etc. The teaching is also wrong because it encourages the victim to stay and suffer indefinitely, which can be very dangerous indeed.
“If your spouse fails to change, it must be because your belief was weak,” is typical of Word-Faith teaching. Word-Faith theology was imported into Christianity by a man named E. W. Kenyon who got it from Christian Science, the cult started by Mary Baker Eddy. It has been recycled around the pentecostal and charismatic scene for many decades since then. By the way, I’m not against Pentecostalism per se – some of my own Christian practice includes some of what the Penties practice – but to the extent that they embrace Word-Faith teaching, their theology has problems in my opinion.
I’d like to show you another way love believes all things can apply to victims of domestic abuse.
When we were being abused, many of us, I think, learned to receive actions that were not loving, and in our heads turn them into loving. We learned to “read into” words and action that hurt, and make them not hurt. This was not necessarily a completely conscious process. It may have been the default that many of us grew up with, if we had parents or teachers who told us “I love and care about you” but in fact said or did hurtful things to us. We were trained to ignore the “ouch, that hurts!” feeling, and go instead with the “this is love” message that powerful others were giving us to define reality.
Here’s a quote from an email a survivor sent me recently (Jeff S).
I’ve always kind of considered the “well that doesn’t feel right, but I’ll believe it because the scripture says it” moments to be what faith is all about. And I think there’s a lot of truth to that. We can’t see scripture clearly for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the Fall. However, at some point we just cannot let “oppression” and “love” be redefined for us to something totally antithetical to what those words mean. In a lot of ways I feel that’s what I did.
I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book 1984, but it’s the whole idea behind how the dystopian government in that book controls people. They manipulate them and break them down until they can accept two opposite things as true, with the book culminating in a character “loving” the government even as he is executed. This very much can feel like how scripture is presented to us by the church: “God loves you and so do we, so when He/we demand your suffering it must be loving”.
My struggle is to find balance, knowing that my conscience can lead me astray and the Word is the ultimate authority, but I cannot ignore stuff that doesn’t sit right. When something doesn’t sit right, it demands more thought and speculation.
When we ignore stuff that doesn’t sit right, we think things like “God is loving and the Bible doesn’t condone abuse, therefore what I’m experiencing in following God’s precepts for marriage must not really be abuse.” By denying our actual pain and being unaware of our disconnection from our real feelings, by re-interpreting the abuse as ‘not abuse’ and seeing our emotions as our own weakness and sin, we can live in denial. This superficial life is bearable because we mostly don’t know we are doing it. We are so accustomed to it that it feels normal and right. And it’s congruent with what we’ve been taught by church authorities, therefore, while we are living from that place, we have fellowship with others who are living at that place. We can smile and nod and be friendly and chat with them over coffee.
And we can be happy and loving with our spouses because we don’t see what they are doing as abuse. We read everything they do to us as ‘loving’. And if we can’t interpret their conduct as ‘loving’, we make endless excuses for them. We don’t have to rack our brains thinking up compassionate excuses because our spouses have offered plenty of plausible excuses for themselves already. It’s like walking into an exclusive clothing store where the tailored garments are on the racks, every size available, and the sales assistants hovering around ready to assist in every way. “This garment (this excuse) is a perfect fit for my darling spouse. The color, the cut, the fabric: it’s all just right.”
So where does love believes all things fit into this? When the abuser’s pattern of coercive control pushes us into some kind of crisis, when our pain becomes so strong that it leaks through the superficial veneer, when the light-bulbs begin to ignite and we think “I am being abused here,” we come face to face with reality: My spouse does not love me; my spouse does not care about me; my spouse does not even see me; my spouse is entirely self-focused; my spouse hates me. (there can be variations of wording here, but the essence of it is the same for each survivor)
And then we have to wrap our minds around the reality that evil of this kind exists and has actually been applying its blow torch directly to our souls. This is where love believes all things acquires a new meaning. God never requires us to believe in lies. He only wants us to believe things that are true. This is the truth: my spouse has not loved me. My spouse has hated me. My spouse has tried to destroy me and unpick my personality bit by bit. My spouse has lied to me and slandered me and undermined me and intentionally been selfish and disrespectful towards me and …. [finish the sentence yourself]. God know this; he knew it all along. And God, our loving dear God, can help us bear and believe this truth.