A Cry For Justice

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

Conscience, emotions, and how they inter-relate

Jeff S said in a recent comment in another post:

I believe that that the root of my poor decisions was trusting the church. And that leaves me in a tough place — I have to be more intelligent about what I trust my church FOR now, and that is a scary thing. It was much easier to say “tell me what to believe and how to behave and I’ll do it”, squashing down any misgivings I had. Now I DO listen to my conscience, and that feels wrong. Like I’m being a wishy-washy Christian blown by the wind. (emphasis added)

I think this points to a whole swag of difficulties that victim-survivors often face. Please take this post as my tentative attempt to put my somewhat cloudy thoughts into solid form. In all that follows, I’m not including abusers, sociopaths, psychopaths, those who conscience is so seared that it is pretty much non-existent. I’m talking about  the common and garden decent folk who by and large submit to the requirements and obligations of living in a civilized society.

Our conscience is by no means identical to our feelings, but conscience and feelings do overlap to some degree and they are inter-related. When my conscience pricks me I feel bad. This feeling of badness may have a mixed palette of emotions including feelings of concern, guilt, shame, worry, fear, sadness, grief, despondency, etc.

For a person to have an active conscience they must, I think, be in touch to a reasonable degree with their emotions.  I’m talking here about not just the emotion of anger, but the whole palette of emotions. (Anger can sometimes be a reactive cover up, a way of denying all the other much more vulnerable emotions that are part of the consciously identified emotions in an emotionally healthy person.)

Here’s what I think:

(1) The more a person blocks, stifles or sidelines their emotions from their conscious mind, the less they will be able to have a healthy, well-functioning individual conscience, and the more primed they will be to adopt the formulaic rules for conscience set by their church, their social sub-group, or the broader culture.

(2) When subjected to the coercive control of an abuser, made worse by the shoddy Christian teaching  about how to handle a troubled marriage, victims doubt the wisdom and guidance (~ red flags) of their emotions. Their emotions are ignored, denied, invalidated and criticized by the abuser (and the church). And this has a correlative effect upon the conscience of the victim, because if you disable a person’s emotions you tend to disable their conscience as well.

The meaning and significance of the victim’s emotions are inverted by the abuser. The abuser strives to make his target believe that her emotions are crazy and sinful — unreliable as touchstones to guide her on the path of health and godly common sense.  He commandeers her emotions and uses them as just more one more weapon in his arsenal of abusive tactics. The correlation of this is that the victim doubts her own emotions and her conscience.  Victims can end up profoundly doubting what their conscience may be telling them. When their conscience feels bad, they wonder, “Have I made a wrong judgement? Have I taken something too personally? Have I over-reacted? Have I got this wrong? I don’t know what is right or wrong any more.  Or what is normal or abnormal.  I can’t trust myself. I got into this dreadful relationship and stayed in it;  and I don’t really know how that happened, so how can I trust myself to make ANY wise decisions! My conscience is kaput. My feelings are untrustworthy. I’m a walking basket case.”

A reader of this blog wrote to me in an email recently (used with her permission):

I question myself about whether the abuse was “severe” enough to warrant my leaving. Then I think back over everything and definitely know that it was “severe” enough, but I think that somehow I still associate abuse as merely tremendous physical abuse and that him making us crazy, living in constant fear of him and then throwing my very soul away was not THAT bad. Do you know what I mean?

I think that paragraph illustrates some of what I’m trying to convey.

And I’ll leave this post here, handing it over to your thoughts, musings and clarification.

49 Comments

  1. MeganC

    I understand, gutturally, what Jeff S and the writer of that paragraph are saying. Sometimes, I wonder if it was as bad as I think it was. And then, God brings to mind how I felt like I wanted to die . . . how I was dying on the inside . . . how I probably would have taken my life if it weren’t for the children. When I thought I might have to go back, I knew that I would become an automaton. I knew that I would suffer for the rest of my life and never ever live down the fact that I had left. I think that God, in His mercy, can remind each one of us (if we ask Him) in our own ways. For me, it was a clear, unmistakeable darkness that hovered over me when I thought about going back. A feeling of death in every area. I have never had it since then. Regardless of how messy our consciences are . . . surely, each survivor can remember the slavery . . . surely the Israelites (if they thought really hard) remembered all the death and misery of Egypt. As humans, we have this phenomena where we want to remember only the leeks and the onions and the “good stuff” of something as terrible as national slavery. I believe it is our a coping mechanism. Some things are just too terrible to wants to remember . . . but it is important not to forget.

    • this is interesting, my worst doubts about the divorce are always closely tied to dealing with my ex and his new wife. I think I continue to struggle with the fact that he is so evil, so selfish, so manipulative — and yet he immediately found a woman who seems to have more than 2 synapses firing. She’s a functional person who treats my kids kindly. And i wonder.. it must have been me.
      But I only see her once a year so I can’t know what’s going on in their relationship. I have to trust my own memories of the things he did to me. I have to periodically go back re-live it, to reassure myself. It’s awful but necessary. I wish I could just be free from him forever. 😦

      • Healinginprocess

        Katy I had many of the same feeling as you did after my first husband left me for another woman who was smarter, more successful, more beautiful to him than me. I felt all those things he told me, not being smart or successful, etc. Eventually I divorced him and he married her. I struggled with me being the problem. God over time opened my eyes to the fact he had created me and I was ok. I also realized it was not me because after several years into his second marriage he got physically abusive with his second wife. (The abuse had escalated with her.) They are now divorced. After 2 failed marriages ,both he was abusive in, he has looked at himself and is trying to be a better ex-husband, not abusive and more supportive with the children. My point is, it is not you and in time his abusive nature will show again and you will know it was not you.

      • LorenHaas

        My best friend ended his marriage (second for both) after struggling from the beginning and trying to hold it together for five years. His wife’s practiced form of abuse was “crazy making”, centered around her children. Her outward appearance was that of a model, Godly woman, but if she did not get her way, out came the crazy dysfunction of her family of origin. Most people only saw the “church lady”. I witnessed the “crazy making” a few times, and it was ugly, but I did not live through the repeated pattern. When they separated, she moved on to a very conservative evangelical church in town. They offered to use their nouthetic counseling “skills” to “admonish” her husband into ending the separation and return to co-habitating. That failed to achieve their goal.
        Seven months after the divorce was final, she was married in that church to someone she had met only 3-4 months before. (Marriage number three) When my friend happened upon the pastor in the hardware store a few months later, he was told that since he ended the marriage and was a “non-believer” that she was free to remarry. Clunk!
        Flash forward 18 months, and I bump into husband number three at the local blood bank. He told me that he was soon to be EX-husband number three. Same story as husband’s one and two. Crazy making that overwhelms any chance of maintaining relationship. He asked me to put him in touch with ex number two because he was doubting whether it was really so bad. He could not understand how this all could happen.
        The point is that abusers cannot hide who they are indefinitely. They can fool some of the people some of the time, but their true colors will appear again. In the second and third marriage there was a very short, intense courtship that allowed the abusive behavior to be concealed and that led to disaster. I wish that there had been a way that
        their pastors could have been insightful enough to have slowed down the process.
        Perhaps Jeff C. could address this point?

      • Jeff Crippen

        Loren- it is difficult to teach wisdom to fools. Proverbs has a lot to say about that! And that is what those pastors are who behave in such a manner. On the one hand they expound a “high” view of marriage and condemned this man who was victimized, running with Bible in hand to “nouthetize” people. On the other, they condemn the victim and turn right around and do the wedding for the black widow. Its all insanity and it is evil.

        I have found that for the most part such pastors and professing Christians willfully choose to remain blissfully ignorant of evil. And that is exactly what this is – evil.

        Recently I was accused of failing to preach the gospel. Why? Because I preached my sermon series on abuse for 21 Sundays. The series title was “The Psychology of Sin.” That is what this subject of abuse really is – the exposure and study of sin and evil and the devil. So since when does the gospel not include pronouncement and exposure of sin? “Woe to you…hypocrites!” The first 3 chapters of Romans are the beginning of the gospel which shows that all mankind is estranged from God by sin, and the Apostle names those sins. Chapter 3:10 and following especially describes the abuser.

        How to prevent the scenario you described from occurring? Put godly, wise, genuine Christians in leadership – people who know what a wolf looks like and how to protect sheep.

        What a radical idea!

    • Anonymous

      I get that Meg. Without the children, who knows what would have happened. Definitely thought I was dying. I agree, we must not forget. Israel was commanded by God not to forget the slavery and bondage from which He delivered them, even having them make remembrances of it. Maybe we just need to do the same. A small notebook or journal. Not to dwell or remain unforgiving or make ourselves miserable, but to remind ourselves of “truth” as it happened. I am certain this was God’s idea when He had Israel do it – so when they started to think it wasn’t so bad, they would be reminded of just how really, very bad it actually was.

      I think living in abuse just tends to cause us to have a hard time differentiating the truth in situations. We tend to doubt ourselves. I was told that my conscience was overactive. How do I know that the person telling me that even had a conscience?

      “Have I made a wrong judgement? Have I taken something too personally? Have I over-reacted? Have I got this wrong? I don’t know what is right or wrong any more. Or what is normal or abnormal. I can’t trust myself. I got into this dreadful relationship and stayed in it; and I don’t really know how that happened, so how can I trust myself to make ANY wise decisions! My conscience is kaput. My feelings are untrustworthy. I’m a walking basket case.”

      I can so related to this paragraph above, that at times it makes me feel entirely hopeless and in deep despair. When will, or will I ever, get out of this roller coaster that leaves me feeling so useless? I don’t think my conscience is kaput, but I wonder if there is any sense of normalcy in me at all. I struggle with normal vs. abnormal and when do I act and when do I just trust God. Maybe this just comes with breaking away from all the abuse, and eventually gets better on its own, the more one heals – I don’t know.

  2. Brenda R

    Thank you. Seriously, I was just asking myself those very questions. Just a few weeks away from divorce and asking myself “was it really that bad”. Since I have begun to distance myself the feelings of being insecure and afraid in my own home seem to go away. But then I remember it was only 2 days ago that I was being verbally attacked and threatened with jail time for contempt of court if I did not comply with his wishes. The answer is yes, it was that bad and in some ways worse as I try to get free. I am walking on egg shells and being cautious at what I say until the papers are signed. We have come to agreement for a financial settlement, but the judge is out until mid August. I can’t risk him changing his mind and prolonging the agony. He never stops with a number of tactics to try and weasel himself into my new life. No work and change on his part–norelationship. I have to keep reminding myself. It is hard when others tell me that he is so sad, he didn’t want us to split up. Well he didn’t want to stop his verbal and emotional assaults either. But they don’t see that part.

    • Anonymous

      You said it all, Brenda, in that last grand summarizing sentence. I think it does not matter what happens in the future, as none of us know it nor can any of us predict it. All we know, is that we lived in the abuse and that was what it was when we were there. That does not mean that at some point the abuser won’t change. It doesn’t mean that at some point, they will remarry and never abuse the next spouse (although I don’t really believe that will happen unless they come to true repentance, which we know is rarer than rare) or that our children won’t come home from a visit and think our abuser is just great. It just means that we lived it in that period of time – that it was what it was, “abuse”. I don’t believe that anyone on this blog left their marriages lightly or without earnestly praying and seeking out God and asking for His will and direction; or without trying to fix things and wait for change and repentance, getting counseling and even praying for years upon years for either change or for the strength to continue to live with the abuse. When you pray and pray for change and strength to endure and it never comes, at some point, you have to realize and accept that God’s answer was “No”.

      • Barnabasintraining

        When you pray and pray for change and strength to endure and it never comes, at some point, you have to realize and accept that God’s answer was “No”.

        ^This.

      • Anne

        When you pray and pray for change and strength to endure and it never comes, at some point, you have to realize and accept that God’s answer was “No”.

        Never thought of it like that before.

  3. AJ

    “but I think that somehow I still associate abuse as merely tremendous physical abuse and that him making us crazy, living in constant fear of him and then throwing my very soul away was not THAT bad. Do you know what I mean?”

    Oh do I know what you mean! I could have written this. I recently responded in a group bible study to someone who was ranting about false allegations of emotional abuse, I told her I would rather have been shot in the head than have dealt with what I’ve lived through. I don’t think she understood that I was serious, that it was so torturous to die a soul and spirit death that I would have preferred physical death. I see that as the same choice the martyrs were required to make and we commend them but send abuse survivors back for more soul death.

    • Brenda R

      Over a number of years my prayers changed. Death was the main one, being with the Lord–no brainer, would be so much better. I did include to spare him so that he might repent and find salvation. I prayed continually for me to be used as he saw fit and marriage until death is the ultimate goal. Initially that helped I could ramain calm during the temper tantrums, throwing of things and verbal assaults. I was always excusing his behaior and moving on. Oh, I was dying a slow and agonizing death. After just a few weeks after moving out I feel more alive than I have in years.

  4. Wendell G

    I have seen some of this in my daughter. Looking back, I see how repressed her emotions were during her time with her abuser. I can see now how it was building and she was increasingly hiding the parts of herself that made her, her. The vibrant, assertive, intelligent little girl I remembered growing up was becoming increasingly withdrawn and numb, except for the occasional lapses into anger when we touched a sensitive area. I had no idea how close to suicide she probably was!

    Now that she is remarried to a wonderful man who builds her up, encourages her, protects her from the flaming darts of her ex and simply loves on her, I am seeing her true personality and emotions emerge. She is now happy for the first time in years and actively pursuing her own goals and ideas. She seems to be trusting herself again.

    I told her recently, “Welcome back, hon!”

    She told me, “It is good to be back!”

    • Anonymous

      Wendell,
      Thank you for sharing these observations of your daughter.
      May I ask, how much time passed before the withdrawn and timid daughter came back? And was she able to escape her withdrawn and timid prison just because of the passing of time and the fact that she was out of the abusive relationship and now in a healthy relationship or did she also have to make a conscience and purposeful effort to find her true self again?

      • Wendell G

        Anon,

        I can give you my perceptions and interpretations, but they would be subject to my daughter’s correction….

        She is a bit over 2 years out from the divorce if I am calculating things correctly. It all happened so fast!

        I think the road to her healing, which is still ongoing has been a combination of things. Certainly, time away from her abuser has helped, but she can never be completely out of his sphere of influence because of the custody arrangement with the children. During that time, she has made a concerted effort to educate herself about abuse and the tactics of an abuser. She has read many books about the subject and has interacted with other abuse victims in support. She also actively recruited the rest of the family in helping her heal. We have had to learn to back off from making a lot of suggestions about what she “should” do, and let her find herself again, even if that doesn’t always agree with what we may feel is right at the time. We learned early on that she needs freedom and for us to be there if she slips.

        I know she has tried professional therapy, but it has been hard for her to find a therapist that really understands how to treat the trauma of an abusive relationship. I am not sure where she is now in that.

        Another thing that has helped in her healing is her new husband, who is a trained therapist. Though he cannot help her on a professional level, per se, he does know enough to help her through the PTSD that has followed. He is very supportive of her, giving her every opportunity to pursue creative outlets that allow her to share her feelings. He encourages her to face her pain as she is able and is there to simply hold her as she encounters triggers in her life.

        Has time helped? Maybe, but I think that what is more important than the time is what she has done with it. She has filled her life with positive things, replacing the negative as she can. She has researched, studied and used her knowledge to help others. She has analyzed and probed and determined that she would not sit in pity for the rest of her life. Her life is now her kids and new husband, as well as the rest of the family. Less and less is she looking back from the plough, and looking forward.

        I know there is an old saying that time heals all wounds, but if one does not make use of the time to actively try to heal (in whatever way that means for the individual), then to me, time can wound all heals!

        Finally, please don’t take anything I am saying as a condemnation to anyone who may be stuck at a stage in their recovery. I am relating only my perceptions of how my daughter has progressed on her journey. Each and every one has a different story and a different path toward healing, taking varying amounts of time. I think the most important take away is to not let yourself get stuck and if you do, seek out the help you need. Slow progress is better than no progress at all!

      • Anonymous

        Thank you, Wendell, for sharing. I am glad your daughter is moving forward. No doubt, your support has been instrumental in that process.

    • MeganC

      Wendell, I have experienced this, as well. But, I can honestly say that Meg began coming back even before I was re-married. Almost immediately upon leaving, I began to see sparks of who I was and should be. That grew as I pursued healing.

      • Wendell G

        I can certainly understand that, Meg. I think that one can see it in themselves before it is visible to others. I liken it to a seed germinating. Some of that growth happens below the ground before it shows itself to the world.

        I am sure that by the time I saw changes, my daughter was well on her way internally!

    • Just Me

      Wow Wendell, This really hits close to home. Just curious, do you feel like your daughter’s ex-husband watched his behavior around you so you wouldn’t catch on to the abuse? Your daughter is blessed to have such a great Dad. I think my Dad is pretty great too, but sometimes I wish he would have made more of an effort to protect me. A few years ago, he invited me out to dinner. He happened to mention to my sister that he was worried about me–that I seemed withdrawn and had lost interest in a lot of things that I used to be interested in. She called me to give me a heads up. So we got to the restaurant and he spent the entire night making comments about me having gained weight. I was mortified! I thought he had realized that I needed help and he was going to offer to help me! But he just wanted to talk about my weight?! And seriously, I hadn’t gained that much weight. He made several comments and I just pretended like I had no idea what he was talking about. He would say “you know your uncle has health problems because of his weight.” And I would say “speaking of uncle, how is aunt doing?” He would say “She’s great, but your uncle has diabetes.” I would say “I guess I heard that. Are they planning any visits anytime soon?” Then the server came over with the dessert tray and asked if we wanted anything. I contemplated asking for one of each just for spite, but I decided to politely decline instead. What an awkward dinner!

      Eventually I did break down to my Dad about all the awful things my husband was doing. He was very compassionate but in the end, didn’t offer to help at all. I think if I came out and asked, he would help. But he seems to really like my husband, so I don’t know. And my husband does put on the whole fake dream husband/dream father routine when he’s around my Dad. He even admitted it once that he watches his behavior in front of my Dad. I remember thinking “So he does realize his actions are wrong?”

      • Wendell G

        Just Me, yes, her ex definitely was a chameleon! He tried to make everything look great while we were there, hugging my daughter, joking with us, etc. We had no clue until things started to fall apart in her life, and did not really know of abuse until the divorce was filed. It was then that we began to see why my girl was so withdrawn and unhappy all the time. As my daughter was moving out, I confronted her ex about one of the incidents where he screamed all sorts of horrible names at her in their car in front of their kids and he did the typical abuser thing and tried to place blame on her. You know, the “if she had not made me so mad, I would not have lost control. She just kept pushing and pushing…”.

        Until recently, he still has tried to put up a facade, but I think that he has finally figured out that it isn’t working and was very aloof around me the last time I saw him.

        I can’t say I was a perfect Dad. Early on, we made a lot of mistakes and I said some things about her living arrangements that I am ashamed of. It certainly did not help, but over time I learned some things and made a concerted effort to be supportive and not be negative. Sometimes us parents can forget when our kids are adults and they need to make their own decisions, even if we may disagree with them.

        So, I try real hard not to put my foot so far in my mouth that I can tickle my tummy with my toes (from the inside, of course)!

        Do you think that your father just didn’t know how to help?

  5. I’m learning gradually how and when to trust myself to actually listen to my conscience. My church has been wonderful in this regard, as they’ve really followed through on allowing me to ask questions and make statements I’ve never felt free to before. Being able to just feel free to ask questions when my conscience is pricked is something I’ve never had before.

    My default mode is just to distrust anything at all the comes from me as tainted and sinful. Amazing how Luther’s appeal was to his conscience when he would not recant, and yet for years I wouldn’t even listen to mine.

  6. This is a tweet by Tim Keller (who I really like) this afternoon . I agree with it, but it’s the sort of thing that really causes me to question myself.

    “If you only obey God’s word when it seems reasonable or profitable to you – well, that isn’t really obedience at all.”

    The problem is, we don’t always agree on what the Bible says. I feel like if I knew without a shadow of a doubt, then no problem. But interpretation is hard. What does it look like to obey God’s word when it doesn’t seem “reasonable”? When have I ever done that in my life? The only chance I had, I blew it. Because ultimately I decide that the “unreasonable” interpretation wasn’t correct. Trying to follow this kind of teaching led me to deny my conscience, because I couldn’t trust what I thought was right and good (or “reasonable”).

    I really struggle with this.

    • Wendell G

      You know, Jeff. I think this is really where grace comes into play. God knows our struggles to understand. I think He knows how subjective interpretation can be. At the risk of sounding too loose theologically, I believe that He knows that sometimes we will blow it, but He also told us that we are not under condemnation. With conflicting views on certain points, we do the best we can do. We listen for what we feel is the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we get it wrong, but He will take care of us, even in that. If God condemned me for every mistake or misinterpretation I have made in my Christian walk, I would be a man with no hope.

      Note: I am not espousing a cheap grace, but we still see through a glass darkly and sometimes we will make mistakes. I think He covers that.

      • Still Scared( but getting angry)

        Well said Wendell. Not cheap grace but also not condemning oneself when you get it wrong. And I am wrestling with what you quoted Jeff S. I think if the ONLY time you obey, that may be true but we often obey when it seems reasonable. I have a “no dating until you are 18 rule with my kids” Three of them not only obey it but think it is reasonable and have defended it to counselors and friends with reasons I never thought of. So I think we may often obey when it seems reasonable. Sometimes though we need to obey when we don’t think it is reasonable. Right now I am wrestling with head covering for women..does it seem reasonable to me, not sure. Can I put away the verse in Corinthians? Still don’t know. Am I acting on it right now, no, do I think God condemns me for this, no. I am walking in faith, listening to things He is prompting me with and bringing up.

    • Brenda R

      I had issues with that when processing my need to leave my husband and I Corinthians saying that we are to stay together. I just couldn’t grasp why God would want me to stay with the man who was abusing me the way he was. Many people are not going to agree with my decision or even believe there is any other kind of abuse but physical. “You don’t have to let it affect you.” After much prayer, study, and counsel I finally determined that we are suppose to use all of the information we are given in the Bible. For a long time I didn’t feel that I should go, it just wasn’t right I needed to try harder, study and pray more. Until a time when I didn’t feel that way any more. Very quickly things fell into place and I was gone. I just can’t believe God’s hand wasn’t on my rescue.

      It wasn’t easy by any means and still isn’t, but I knew that if I was not suppose to leave, I would still be there. God has his timing. My husband is still manipulative and verbally abusive, but now I can put my phone on vibrate and I don’t have to respond to my email. My biggest problem is with him calling at work or has been. The past 3 days he amazingly has agreed to a speedy settlement and divorce. He is speaking much kinder and his emails are not as whiny or belligerent . Of course, he would have received the date for hearing for a PPO. If I back down and put off the hearing, I have to wonder how quickly he will go back to his normal self.

      You know, my husband says that God is telling him that we are suppose to be together and he will mend my broken heart and I will go back to him. The thing is, my heart feels less broken now than it did all of the years I was with him. During the times when he isn’t harassing me I feel calm and at rest. I still have moments when I say wow I Corinthians says that I am not suppose to leave, BUT if I do I should reconcile with my own husband. If he didn’t want to give us an opportunity to make a common sense decision when our spouse is not treating us with love, why would he have given Paul that message. But you know it also says that if a nonbelieving spouse wants to go, let him (really paraphrased). If your spouse is abusing you, isn’t he really saying that he doesn’t really want to be with you as you are, but instead is deciding to stick around and persecute one of God’s children. I believe my loving Father would want me sheltered from that.

      God gave us a free will and a brain to analyze our circumstance. If a car is coming, you don’t walk in the road. If you’re spouse is slowly or quickly killing your spirit, soul or body you need to get off that road, as well. Of course, this is my opinion, theology and how I feel the Lord was leading. Above all he is forgiving and will be with me anyways.

    • I am not sure that Tim’s soundbite is totally accurate. It seems to me that obeying God’s guidance in your life even when you are unsure and it requires faith – is different from “obeying His law”. I can say – sure, I need to obey the 10 commandments even if it would cause me to lose money – but since when does God’s law not make sense? (“unreasonable”?) This is how the church has kept people in bondage in abusive marriages.
      Obeying God’s Law (Word) seems a little different from stepping out in faith and following God’s leading in our lives…
      One of the biggest things I learned through my divorce (and God’s true word on the subject)- is that God makes sense. He is NOT confusing.

      • Yeah- I’ve been dwelling on that word “unreasonable” for several hours now. If something seems unreasonable, either our hearts are wrong or our understanding good scripture is wrong. But God’s word is never unreasonable.

        I think the thing is, I’ve always assumed my heart was wrong, but now I’m willing to question. It’s a tough line. That’s why I’m grateful for grace, as Wendell pointed out. There is NO condemnation for me, as I am in Christ.

      • Brenda R

        Thank you for commenting Katy. You saying that God makes sense touched my heart and gave me insight that I believe He was relaying. He does make sense it is us humans that make it complicated. Instead of meditating on His love and what he wants for us, we put too much emphasis on what a man with his own thoughts puts on social networking. We need to listen to our leaders for guidance, but we should be following God.

    • Barnabasintraining

      I can’t speak for what Keller meant but I can tell you how I would take that idea myself. For the reasonable part, I would think of that like Jonah who knew perfectly well what God wanted and rejected it whole hog because he was staunchly opposed to it because it was “unreasonable” for God to show grace to the Ninevites. But there was no question the command came from God. He was not at all unclear on what God wanted just because it seemed unreasonable to him. Sometimes when something seems unreasonable it is good to question it before acting on it. When I was a child I read those verses about getting rid of body parts that cause you to sin and figured there must be something more to it than that. I also read the verses in the OT about animal sacrifices and figured there must be something more to that too because no one does that anymore. Those things I did not do because they were unreasonable and I was right not to do them.

      As for the profitable part, I think that would also be a plain understanding that God wants something and a refusal to do it because you don’t want to pay the price.

      In short, I would take Keller’s words to require an underlying element of rebellion in order to be wrong, rather than a cause of rebellion if you have questions, if you see what I mean.

    • Annie

      Ditto, Jeff. I think preachers/teachers have to be so careful when they make statements like that.

      What I am beginning to see is that they don’t make any distinctions between the types of people in their audience. That statement by Tim Keller really should be directed to disturbed characters or those in that spectrum that haven’t completely seared their consciences yet. DISTURBED characters need to be warned that God’s Word cannot be “peddled” that way, twisted to their advantage, as they do with everything else in their life. People who are decent and reasonable, on the other hand, don’t need false guilt heaped upon them. They tend to be super-conscientious when it comes to obeying God’s Word and need to be assured that as long as they are interpreting it to the best of their ability and knowledge, they should not feel guilty about “missing” it in some way that they haven’t even thought about!

    • Jeff Crippen

      JeffS – It’s just too short of a statement devoid of context to be turned into a universal principle. Does it seem reasonable for Namaan to go wash in the Jordan, or for the widow to give the prophet her last food? No, but they obeyed and were blessed. But they had clear direction from God, very specifically. To extrapolate that and apply it to other situations such as “but it does not seem reasonable for me to stay in this abusive relationship” – and then to deny our reason is dangerous. Perhaps that is why the struggle with what Keller said.

      • Barnabasintraining

        It’s just too short of a statement devoid of context to be turned into a universal principle.

        I was thinking something like that too. That’s a problem with twitter for this kind of thing. God took over 1200 years and 66 books to reveal everything He wants us to know. Kinda tough to cram that into 140 characters or less without misrepresenting something! 😉

    • Anne

      “Beliefs are something you hold, a conviction is something that holds you.”

      That’s a quote I heard in my childhood and it keeps haunting me. I feel like I have two options – go with my conviction or decide it’s unreasonable and ditch it.

      If I decide it’s unreasonable then what do I have left. Who am I? What do I do with everything else I called a conviction in the past? What do I do with God.

      And maybe the bigger question is, what will God do with me?

    • Keller’s tweet is a good example of how Twitter is not a good place to expound theology. Trying to compress biblical principles into the word limit of twitter is a recipe for poor theology, in my opinion. And it often ends up sounding like the twitterer is just shoulding and guilting on people. . . . Y’oughta, y’oughta, y’oughta. . .

      • Barnabasintraining

        Well, you can just call me Redundant BIT! 😀

        On the other hand, I was thinking the same thing as Barbara so I’ll preen a bit. *PREEN*

    • Anonymous

      Well let’s ask Tim Keller if he has ever only obeyed God’s word when it seemed reasonable and profitable to him, because if he is honest, he will most likely have to say that he struggles with interpretation and this statement himself.

      “What does it look like to obey God’s word when it doesn’t seem “reasonable”? When have I ever done that in my life?” A: You did that Jeff S. when you strove to maintain a civil tongue during and after your marriage, because God’s word says to control your tongue, just for one example.

      The problem is that when someone big like Mr. Keller writes a well meaning statement like this one, it causes problems for everyone who has ever struggled with what something in God’s Word really means. We don’t willfully disobey God, there are just times that we do not know what is the right thing to do or what God would really have us to do. We walk by faith, not sight. Does it seem reasonable that no unkind word should ever slip off our tongue? Yet, we still strive to obey that command, even if it seems unreasonable to us. Love your enemies is another one. We strive to obey when it is not easy, but even in our lowliness, God knows our frailties. He was perfect in obedience for us, standing in our place, because He knew we could never be. Our faith, hope and trust is in that obedience, not our own.

    • K

      I completely agree, Jeff S. I grew up Christian, and hearing things about not only following God when it seems “reasonable or profitable,” absolutely threw off my inner compass. When a Christian mentor or pastor said something that didn’t sit well in my heart, my head would start insisting that I couldn’t only obey God when I liked it, I had to “deny myself,” etc. I was constantly confused.

      I remember once, as a kid, I wanted to buy a pretty bookmark that said “follow your heart.” My Mom wouldn’t let me buy it, because she said that we should follow God, not our hearts. The heart is wicked and deceitful above all things. Only now am I finally starting to trust my own judgement.

    • Just Me

      I struggle with statements like this too. When the disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath or Jesus was healing on the Sabbath and the Pharisees were condemning him, Jesus said “I desire mercy more than sacrifice.” I am very good at seeing things in black and white and following the letter of the law rather than the spirit of it. It’s the biggest reason why I haven’t left my marriage yet. And I’ve prayed to God and said “please just tell me what to do and I’ll do it, even if it’s hard and not what I want to hear.” So I’m trying to embrace “I desire mercy more than sacrifice” on a heart level. It was lawful for the disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath even though it was “unlawful” to do so.

      I wonder how people who counsel abuse victims to remain married and living with their abusers feel when they read that verse. Is their conscience pricked? To me, I can’t think of a better example of the need to show mercy rather than sacrifice than when a victim flees from an abuser.

      Doesn’t Paul address differences in opinions by saying do what is right in your conscience and I’ll do what’s right in mine? Something like that….I don’t have my Bible in front of me at the moment. But for someone who has a strong belief that drinking any alcohol is sin, that person shouldn’t drink it, because for him it would be sin. For someone who doesn’t have that belief, it would not be sin to have an occasional drink.

      Where I get confused, is that if we are in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit. Yet we have these doctrinal differences. Why is that? Why aren’t we all led to have the same doctrines? Not to start a debate, but a perfect example is infant baptism vs believers baptism. There are churches and leaders falling on both sides of the debate. I assume God intended it to be one way or the other, and yet when the Bible was written, He didn’t make it any more clear. He didn’t say “you should only baptize people 16 years or older.” Or “abused wives should stay living with their husbands no matter what” or “abused wives can only separate if there is physical violence.”

      This has been a really encouraging post to read, the comments especially. Jeff S, you have a gift for being able to put words to what you are feeling. It has been a great benefit to me because a lot of times I’ve had the same feelings, yet haven’t been able to describe them. Thank you for that.

      • Thank you JM. I appreciate your kind words.

        What I have typically heard about the activities of Jesus on the Sabbath is that he never violated God’s law, but rather man’s law that was put around God’s law.

        So folks will saw that no divorce ever is God’s law, unlike the Sabbath laws that Jesus defied. They will not see a correlation between the two.

  7. Annie

    Thanks for this post, Barb. On a parallel note, the ability to listen to one’s gut is also something that is extinguished by abusive experiences. Victims forget that they have a gut and that they can listen to their gut instinct (as put so well in “The Gift of Fear”).

    Recovery in PTSD often hones in on paying attention to God-given bodily sensations. If we are aware of our internal signals, we are so much more able to make decisions that are in our best interest. Fortunately, with practice and time, that skill can be developed at any age. Unfortunately, we are not often encouraged to do it, and instead made to feel guilty if we do, as if it was totally unrealiable and would lead us astray. Preachers often refer to the analogy of flying a plane and going by instrument and not your feeling. What they forget is the other side of the coin: sometimes it is more accurate going by your internal sensations, eg. feeling when to change gears when driving a manual car.

  8. From a reader who sent this comment to me by email:

    “I get so confused with feelings, just what are fleeting thoughts, fears and conscience (Holy Spirit) that I just want to give up. It leaves me almost feeling like there is no true sanity in the world!
    “My struggle is with knowing when to act and when to trust God. Here is a good example. My lawyer still has not filed the suit. Do I just trust God and do nothing, or do I push them and risk making them angry and hate working with me? Or, I am going to Court for child support. How do I know it is God’s will for me to not get stuck with paying the marital debt? When do I act and when do I just wait on God?”

    • Barnabasintraining

      Oh my goodness. I’m dealing with different issues but you sound just like me right now.

  9. Bingo! This is a fabulous description of what this is like. It’s like you’ve been reading my mind. I am 12 years out of my abusive relationship, and still struggle with trusting my emotions, judgment and certainly Christian teachings. Very well done. May I re-blog? Thank you for posting!! Diane

    • You may always reblog our posts if you cite the source.

  10. Reblogged this on Ran The Gauntlet and commented:
    I have nothing to add to this. I commented to Barbara Roberts that she had been reading my mind. This is a very, very good website – much to be learned and much understanding to be gained there. I am currently reading Barbara’s book, Not Under Bondage – Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion, which I will comment on later. Blessings! Diane

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