God only did one counseling session with Cain
[September 5, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
The Bible does not show that Christians ought to spend a long time working with abusers calling them to account and educating them on how they should think and behave.
God only did a single short counseling session with Cain. He did not take a therapeutic approach by gently inviting Cain to explore his emotions, thoughts and life story. He was not sucked in by the hang-dog look on Cain’s face. He just asked Cain a couple of confronting questions and then issued a blunt warning and a stern directive. “Do what is right!” He didn’t spend lots of time spelling out what right and wrong behaviour looked like. He did not spoon feed Cain or give him a list. He assumed that Cain knew right from wrong.
The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:6-7 HCSB)
That was it. There was no second session. And no pulling Abel in for a joint counseling session.
The Bible says:
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. (Titus 3:10 NIV)
Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning, (Titus 3:10 HCSB)
When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus with my spirit and with the power of our Lord Jesus, turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord….you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people…..Put away the evil person from among yourselves. (1 Cor 5:4-5, 11, 13b HCSB, NLT, HCSB)
But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people! (2 Tim 3:1-5 HCSB) [Emphasis added.]
And in the New Testament the instructions to born-again husbands are pretty blunt too. They hit husbands of deficient character right between the eyes:
….love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (ESV)
….love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them. (HCSB)
(Col 3:19) [Emphasis added.]
Side note: The knee-jerk reaction in Christian circles is to suspect unhappy wives of bitterness; but the Bible explicitly points to the sin of bitterness in husbands, not wives!
….do not exasperate your children…. (NIV)
….do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them…. (NLT)
….don’t stir up anger in your children…. (HCSB) [That’s exactly what abusers do: they teach the kids to disrespect and hate their mother.]
….don’t make your children bitter about life…. (GW, NOG)
And the clincher, 1 Peter 3:7 —
….be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (NIV)
….give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered. (NLT)
….live with your wives in an understanding manner, as with a most delicate partner. Honor them as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing may interfere with your prayers. (ISV)
….treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers. (NET) [Emphasis added.]
Since these instructions and examples are so blunt, we must be careful to think biblically regarding how Christians ought to “work with” men who abuse their families.
When pastors or authors or Christians in general “work with” abusers, we need to ask ourselves: are they actually enabling the abuser and causing more suffering for the victim?
How could they be doing this? Because this work may be communicating to everyone that there is hope for the abuser —and that if we can just get him to see some things, we can fix him. That in fact, the fellow may even be a Christian. And when these things are driving a “ministry,” victims can be guilted. If only they stay with the abuser longer. If only they pray harder for him. If only they can see the good that lurks in him someplace as Luke insisted it did in Darth Vader.
I am not saying that there is no hope for the abuser. Any abuser can change if he is genuinely born again — which is an initiative of God, not a an act of self-will:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9 ESV)
Any abuser can change if he becomes genuinely born again and wills to change his character and cooperates with the Holy Spirit to work on his character development, steadily, for a long time, with no expectation of earning chips for good behaviour that he can cash in for the jackpot of reconciliation with his victim. If he nurses any lingering sense of entitlement, he is not changed. He is likely to be still unregenerate, just parroting the talk but not walking the walk, without the Spirit of God. And the longer he continues that way, the more likely he will be reprobate.
Even an abuser who is not born again may — IF he so chooses— work on his character to become a man who shows respect and gives honour to his wife and children, who affectionately considers their needs and preferences, though it will be more difficult for him to effect deep and abiding character improvement since he does not have the indwelling Spirit. The payoff for continuing in his abusive ways is very great, and he usually perceives reformation as having far fewer benefits, so the self-reforming abuser generally falls back into his old ways and often become more canny, more deceptive, more hard-hearted.
I believe the right way to deal with an abuser who has been in the church and who hides behind a Christian façade and uses the name of Christ to justify his evil is to tell him “Depart from our midst. Go! God does not permit you to be among us.” And then focus on helping the victim.
Addit (added 14 Nov 2014)
The disastrous fodder given by ministries like Focus On the Family has helped numerous Cains to remain ensconced happily in churches. While behind closed doors these Cains are pushing borderline / perverted sexual practices onto their wives with the ‘endorsement’ of the “Highly Respected Ministry”.
FOF materials often tell husbands and wives that ‘they are to please’ each other. Recommended reading material often suggests that the woman experiment with different enticements, etc. This has fed a breed of “C”hristians, men and women who are no different than the world; however, when there is one spouse who doesn’t want to experiment, that pure-minded spouse is labeled as being frigid, cold, etc.. Promise Keepers was another organization that did much damage.
[September 5, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to September 5, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to September 5, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to September 5, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (September 5, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]