This question comes up a lot. It is no secret that I have taught frequently that abuse is grounds for divorce. I believe that even ONE time of physical violence or expression of hatred is a breaking of the vows (or the covenant, if you prefer) of marriage. The innocent party has every right to get whatever legal assistance she (or he) needs, up to and including divorce.
I also believe that the one who has been harmed is able to judge their safety far better than I can, and I will support whatever they decide to do.
But when I say that, it is almost certain the someone will quote 1 Peter 3 to me.
3 Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. (1 Pet. 3:1–2.)
But understanding the context of a passage is crucial to understanding the passage. Peter is speaking of women newly converted, learning about their freedom in Christ, and asking what to do about their husbands who do not believe.
It isn’t about abusive husbands in the 21st century. If a man (or a woman) breaks their vows, and divorce is possible, that is another subject.
In this passage, Peter is addressing newly converted wives. Just as with male converts, the greatest witness one can have is to shine the meekness and restfulness in heart to a restless and proud world.
But maybe that would be another blog.
For now, I would like to answer the question, “But can’t God convert my abusive husband?”
Or the pastor tells you to stick in your marriage, even if you are in danger, because God can change a man’s heart.
Abusers know that this is the hope of the believer, because they use it to keep their victims in bondage. “I know I’ve been a bad husband, but I am changing. God is working in me. I am going to be better. I know I’ve hurt you but I’m really going to try to stop.”
So let’s look at that question.
Can God change an abuser. Of course he can.
But now let’s talk about wisdom. We know, first of all, that the change of a man’s heart (or a woman’s heart) takes the almighty power of God, the same power that created the world and raised Jesus from the dead. Apart from God’s almighty, supernatural power, there is no redemption or salvation. It is nothing less than a re-creation from the shambles of the ruined one.
In other words, regeneration is a miracle of God’s power. It is not natural. It is not a part of the order of creation. It is God reaching into history and breaking the power of sin and death by the death and resurrection of his begotten son, and the indwelling of the Spirit of Life.
Jesus changing water to wine was also a miracle by the almighty power of the Creator. So was his walking on the water.
Jesus enabled Peter to walk on water. He gave the apostles the power to cast out demons and heal the sick.
But that is not in the ordinary order of creation. WE, as humans, do not have an audience in the throne room of God, and are not privy to the roll sealed inside and out. We don’t know what God is going to do. But we CAN act according to wisdom.
Knowledge of God’s power teaches us that Jesus can enable us to walk on water. Wisdom teaches us to build bridges. This also is honoring to God and his creative power.
Knowledge of God’s power teaches us that Jesus can turn water into wine. Wisdom teaches us to get a job and find a good wine vendor.
Knowledge of God’s power teaches us that Jesus can heal the sick. Wisdom teaches us to get vaccinated and go to a doctor.
And here is the pertinent one. Knowledge of God’s power teaches us that God can take the vilest sinner, even an abusive man, and make him a servant, giving him a new heart and a new spirit.
But wisdom teaches us that as a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly (Proverbs 26:11).
We are not to tempt God, placing our lives in danger in the hopes that he will work a miracle. We are to live in wisdom, according to the natural order of creation.
A fool remains a fool.
Wisdom teaches us that a man who abuses an animal will also abuse his wife.
Wisdom teaches us that a man who strangles his lover has an extremely high probability of killing her eventually.
Wisdom teaches us that an angry man with a gun will eventually shoot someone in rage.
Wisdom teaches us that a man with no control over his anger will continue to have no control over his anger.
Wisdom teaches us that a woman who enjoys manipulation and control will continue to enjoy manipulation and control.
And wisdom teaches us that a man who enjoys manipulation, power, control, and inflicting pain and terror will continue to enjoy manipulation, power, control and inflicting pain and terror.
Let these words sink into your head. Your love won’t change him. Your pleas won’t change him. Your begging won’t change him.
You can’t convince him to live as a decent human being because he doesn’t want to and you can’t shame him into it.
The only hope for him is if God changes his heart.
And the wind blows where it will; God has mercy on whom he will have mercy and whom he will he hardens.
Hard truths, but that is how we are called to live.
Walk in love, live in kindness, expect the gospel to work in the hearts of men and women. But live in wisdom. Let God be God. The softening of the proud heart is too hard for you.
It is OK for you to free yourself of that burden.
One final note – wisdom lives according to the order of the created universe. Faith lives according to the promises. If you are a believer and love the Lord Jesus, he has promised you that he will complete that work in you. It IS a supernatural work and therefore not according to the order of the universe, but it is a promise of our almighty father. He WILL complete that work, because he has promised. So you can certainly rest in him.