Abuse is a topic I have too long avoided writing about. But something as pernicious and pervasive as abuse cries out for a righteous response.
God is love. He embodies everything that abuse is not.
Domestic abuse. Child abuse. Sexual abuse. Spiritual abuse. Abusive language. Abusive relationships. We use the word abuse in so many different ways that what it really means becomes obscured. By what standard do we judge that something or someone is being mis-used?
To understand what abuse is, I want to go back to a clear picture of what it is not.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. … God made two great lights–the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. … And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.”… God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
Genesis 1:2, 16, 20, 22
Not aloof. Not destructive. Not demeaning. In the beginning, God came personally near to the world. His Spirit hovered over the place where He would create beauty out of chaos, meaning out of darkness, life out of emptiness, love out of void. He took great delight in calling forth the moon and the stars, the sea creatures and the sky creatures, the plants and the animals, instilling them each with the dignity of a role and a purpose. To the lights in the sky He delegated the powerful, illustrious role of ruling over time and seasons. To the plants and various living creatures He entrusted the task of finishing the work He had started, empowering them to reproduce and fill the earth with more of themselves.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”… God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:27-28, 31
Not restrictive. Not degrading. Not isolating. He raised a man up out of the dust, carefully crafting him to look, think, feel, and function like Himself. He did not attempt to keep the man alone to Himself, but instead designed the loveliest of companions to fulfill his social needs. Together He exalted them to His own position as rulers over the earth, endowing them with the right to govern His abundant resources. Reveling in their radiance, delighting in their goodness, God equipped them, blessed them, and set them free to carry on His creative work in the world.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate– bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart. … These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
… who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. … As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
Psalm 104:13-15, 27-28; 103:2-4, 13-14
Not threatened. Not stingy. Not hard-hearted. Even after their rejection of His authority and insistence on their own autonomy, God did not retaliate with whole-scale physical deprivation or emotional abandonment. He continues to direct the sun and send the rain to nurture life on the earth, to open His hand and feed its many creatures. Like a loving Father, He facilitates the accomplishments of His people and satisfies their desires with good things. And when they come back to Him broken and needy, He does not lord it over them with a smug, “I told you so” or make them grovel with a “Do you know how much you wronged me?” He throws open His arms to welcome them, compassionately healing their wounds and joyfully celebrating their restored relationship.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Not distancing. Not penalizing. Not cruel. In response to shortcomings in His bride, Jesus chose self-sacrifice instead of her punishment, violence against His own body rather than against hers. He lovingly labors for her, tending her like a cherished garden which needs constant weeding and faithful feeding. He washes away her impurities and enhances her beauty so that He can show her off for all in heaven and on earth to admire. He delights in her glory.
God is love. He embodies everything that abuse is not. In the next several posts, I intend to examine abuse within human relationships from several angles. But for now, I want to bask in the beauty of how God relates to us. This relationship is not only our reference point for all others, it is the one right relationship that heals us from the wrongs of abusive ones.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8