What They Don’t Teach You in Seminary

Simply awesome explanation of how to minister the gospel to the most hardened criminals possible.


The Non-Using Alcoholic Or Addict


Today I came across an article in my files on, “The Dry Drunk”, the alcoholic who has stopped drinking for the moment. The non-using alcoholic (or addict) tends to retain a set of habits, attitudes and behaviors that persist even when not using the drug of choice. It’s noted that these habits often precede a relapse into using again.

Here is the list:

  • Exaggerated self importance: alternating between “having all the answers” and playing “poor me.”
  • Harsh judgments of both the addict and of others.
  • Impatience.
  • Pursuing whims and impulses rather than clear, ethical, sensible and attainable goals.
  • Fantasizing, daydreaming, wishful thinking, self delusions.
  • Blame-shifting and projection: blaming others for one’s own shortcomings, either real or suspected.
  • Dishonesty in little things proceeding to dishonesty in big things.
  • Impulsive behavior which ignores what is genuinely good for the addict and especially for others.
  • Inability to make decisions.
  • Mood swings.
  • Trouble recognizing and expressing emotions, good or bad.
  • Detachment, self absorption, boredom, distraction, disorganization.
  • Nostalgia for the life under the influence.

Here’s what this means for pastoral ministry: these behaviors, characteristic of early adolescence as well, will most likely remain even in those whom God has granted deliverance from the addictive substance (alcohol or drugs) or behavior (anger, power). For some this may mean being a part of a Christ centered recovery group, such as Recovery in Christ – and I would encourage any pastor to be willing to lead such a group confidentially and to be familiar with a book like Jeff VanVonderen’s on addiction and recovery from a scriptural perspective.  Moreover, these kinds of habits of thought, word and action often creep into the lives of the family and friends of the addict – the ‘dysfunctional behaviors’ of the ‘dysfunctional family.’ I don’t find any New Testament authority that coming to Christ will automatically free anyone from all of these at once. Rather, these are the kinds of attitudes, habits and behaviors which are purified from a believer in the process of sanctification and discipleship – the lifetime of faith in Christ as Lord and Savior and following him as Lord and experiencing him as Savior through the power of the Holy Spirit – the process of “putting off the Old Man”, “being renewed in the spirit of your mind,” and “putting on the New Man” (Ephesians 4:17-24). For pastoral ministry, this will mean praise and thanking God for his deliverance from the substance or behavior, and guiding people into the path of sanctification to spiritual maturity.

Even more, in some ways these kinds of behaviors can creep into the lives of those who are not addicts or who have not come from what could be a ‘severely dysfunctional’ family.* Jesus said, “That which comes out of a man or woman defiles a man or woman; for from inside out of the hearts of men and women come evil thoughts, all sorts of sexual immorality, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, malic, wickedness, deceit, depravity, the envious and begrudging disposition, slanders against God and man, pride and foolishness. All these things come from inside and defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). There is nothing in an addict or a person who has grown up in a dysfunctional family which does not already exist in the heart and fallen human nature of the finest Christian or the most esteemed and godly Christian from the finest Christian family in the world, since ultimately, apart from the salvation of Jesus Christ, we all are from the same dysfunctional family – the human race descended from Adam (Romans 5:12-14). Ultimately, the reality that “. . . we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . .” (Romans 3:23) and that “. . . all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags . . .” (Isaiah 64:6) means that we all are ‘damaged goods’ as far as having any righteousness of our own, any ability to save ourselves from our sins and to live a life or righteousness, and any ability to bear fruit in Christian ministry and service apart from Christ.

But it certainly must be strongly asserted that there is nothing about one’s past as an addict or background in a dysfunctional family which ultimately means that a person is ‘damaged goods’ as far as serving Christ, being in a church fellowship or even serving in pastoral ministry or missionary service, since we can “ . . . have such a confidence through Christ toward God – not that we are considered to be sufficient in anything fro ourselves – but our sufficiency is from God, and he has made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit – for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (II Corinthians 3:4-6).

So, these kinds of questions need to be asked of anyone who would try to bring up someone else’s past as an addict or as being from a dysfunctional family as being ‘damaged goods’ and precluded from any kind of Christian service.

  • How do you know this? Is this personal knowledge of the person in depth and over a long period of time or it is something which you have heard from someone else? If it’s something you’ve heard from someone else, why isn’t that person taking responsibility for sharing it openly and forthrightly?
  • Are you breaking any confidences in sharing this? My plan is to ask this person directly if you have permission to share this with me, and to bring up your name directly; would you wish to withdraw or retract anything you are now saying or about to say on that basis?
  • Are you willing for this person to know that you are sharing this about him or her? If so, would you have any hesitation for me to contact him or her right now and bring him or her into the discussion with you present?
  • Are you giving due credit to God’s ability to cleanse someone else’s life through the power of his Word and through his Spirit? If these things that you are saying are things that happened in the past, what gives you the right to say that this person has not or is not being saved from them by Christ through the power of his Word and through his Spirit?

I cannot say what a tragedy and deep injustice it would be if anyone were ever blackballed from Christian ministry and an honored position in a church as a brother or sister in Christ because of whisperings about problems which God may have resolved or is resolving. Some years ago I heard a denominational leader who made a public pronouncement about people from dysfunctional families not being ready for preparation for pastoral ministry – and he himself was from a home broken from divorce. In all of this there must be extreme care to give God his due credit and glory for what he can do through anyone’s life through his saving grace in Jesus Christ.

* Some years ago I took the quiz in a book on dysfunctional families on determining whether you are from a dysfunctional family. It was part of my pastoral ministry after I found myself in a long term problem church where 2/3 of the Governing Board members admitted to having grown up in homes where at least one parent was an alcoholic. My family counted as ‘mildly dysfunctional’ on that scale that was in that book. As it turned out, the scale was weighted too heavily on the side of dysfunctionality, and pretty much 60% of those who took it would find that they were from a ‘dysfunctional family’. I don’t doubt that many, many of those from fine Christian families would be surprised to find themselves in that category if they took the same test, since I noticed that the scale would categorize a family as ‘dysfunctional’ if the family had someone who had been the proverbial ‘prodigal’ in the past four generations. The scale was later revised, according to a magazine article I came across several years later, to concentrate on those who came up in the scale as ‘moderately’ to ‘severely’ dysfunctional. A good part of the reason for this was that the scale was resulting in a number of people seeking or being encouraged to seek treatment who didn’t really need it nearly as much as those whose scores came up in the ‘moderately’ to ‘severely’ dysfunctional’ range. I shared this with maybe three or four people, and primarily in a context where I would be trying to encourage someone else not to let his or her background stand in the way of seeking to be as useful as possible to Christ. I definitely would have avoided sharing this in a context or situation to avoid an unnecessary besmirching of my own family’s reputation. But I’ve had some indication that this went through someone else’s malicious editing to where it became a creepy rumor that ‘Poor Dale is from a dysfunctional family.’ So this is the whole story, and not the edited version.

The Social Behavior of the Abuser


Over and over I have seen documented several behavioral patterns in the abusive person. The truth is that these kinds of obsessively controlling and vindictive people act in some common ways, and yet others cooperate with them a lot because they do not recognize the kind of wicked web in which they are participating. These kinds of abusers can be men or women, and their targets can be men or women. They may be family members or not. These patterns of behavior can take place when the targets are marital partners, family members, or people with whom there is some kind of workplace or social contact or interaction. The target may be well aware of the abuser’s malicious and aggressive intentions, and be avoiding them as much as possible, even to such actions as changing jobs, changing churches, changing contact information such as telephone numbers or email addresses, moving away. It’s also entirely possible that the abuser is so well practiced and so devious and downright sneaky that the target may not have seen any of the red flags which others have seen, so that the target may be unaware of the other person’s malicious and destructive agenda and may not have discerned these intentions yet.

Here are the patterns I’ve seen documented in the literature and in real life:

RED FLAG # 1: The abusive person talks about his or her targets behind their backs a lot.

The amount of talking about someone who is not there is one of the easiest markers to discern. It’s no exaggeration that one of the abusive person’s favorite topics of conversation is the target, when the target is not there or within earshot. The abusive person may have no visible closeness to the target – perhaps no ongoing relationship at all — and yet claim good and wonderful intentions and a special closeness and relationship with the targets. Moreover, the abusive person mixes a grain of truth with a gallon of falsehood and exaggeration about the targets, and, when these are exposed as lies, tries to justify it by loudly drawing attention to ‘the grain of truth.’ And what goes for the grain of truth may simply have been offhand remarks, small talk twisted to vicious and belittling extremes, and isolated incidents of things said and done far in the past.

This kind of backbiting and backstabbing is often tolerated because the abuser puts on his or her charm, and tries to make it entertaining by mixing it with mockery, ridicule and counterfeit compassion. The purpose is to isolate the target socially and to make the target a recipient of ridicule and contempt.

It only takes several reminders from scripture to show the wickedness of this subtle but pernicious behavior:

  • “Whoever conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool.” (Proverbs 10:18).
  • When words are many, sin is not absent . . . “ (Proverbs 10:19)
  • “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends . . .” (Proverbs 16:28).
  • “A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.” (Proverbs 17:4).
  • “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” (Proverbs 20:19)

Several extremely reasonable questions can usually bring this to a stop. I’ve adapted these from Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander, Setting Your Church Free: A Biblical Plan to Help Your Church.

  1. What is your reason for telling anyone/ me this?
  2. Where did I / you get your information?
  3. Have you gone directly to the source?
  4. Have you personally checked out all the facts?
  5. Will you allow yourself to be quoted on this?

It’s also reasonable to ask, on any past incidents or statements asserted as having come from the target, about when and where it happened. Information about other people has an extremely short shelf life, and it may be found to have long past the ‘expiration date’ of having any reasonable validity.

RED FLAG # 2: The abusive person recruits others to spy on his or her targets.

It’s amazing how naive and gullible people can be when the abuser seeks to get information on his or her targets. The abuser seduces them into being his spies and informants. This often accelerates when the targets start to distance themselves from the abuser. The spies, which become known as the dupes and henchmen of the abuser, apparently do not make the connection that the reason the targets distance themselves from the abusers is because they find the abusers to be dishonest, untrustworthy, envious, and cruel.

It’s noteworthy that no one in scripture who is wearing a ‘white hat’ – Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, Paul, and especially Jesus – ever did anything like this. Rather, it is the ones with ‘black hats’ – Saul (I Samuel 22:8) and Tobiah (Nehemiah 6:19) especially – who do this. Moreover, one of the common complaints against the unrighteous in the Psalms is that they engage in this kind of spying and gossiping on others. This kind of behavior therefore cannot be justified as having any scriptural basis in either precept or example.

RED FLAG # 3: The abuser stalks the target from place to place and sometimes for years.

This is a particularly strong red flag, and it can in fact be a felony in many US states. Here is the Ohio definition of ‘Menacing by Stalking’ (Ohio Revised Code 2901.211):

No person by engaging in a pattern of conduct shall knowingly cause another person to believe that the offender will cause physical harm to the other person or cause mental distress to the other person . . . .

The pattern of conduct includes . . . a threat of physical harm to or against the victim . . . and thus would include repeated attempts of deliberate physical intimidation.

“Mental distress” means any of the following:

Any mental illness or condition that involves some temporary substantial incapacity;

Any mental illness or condition that would normally require psychiatric treatment, psychological treatment, or other mental health services, whether or not any person requested or received psychiatric treatment, psychological treatment, or other mental health services.

There is much more to the statute, of course. This kind of behavior is often is characteristic of the obsessive controller or person who will not let go of a grudge. This kind of person will often continue to try to ‘get at’ the target even if the target tries to put some distance between himself and herself and the abuser. Any believer should therefore beware of anyone that tries to get  a group in a church fellowship or in any kind of ministry situation to play tormenting games against someone else as  kind of vicious entertainment, to ‘mess with his or her mind’, and understand that the other person may well be trying to incite others to conduct which is not only unChristlike and unscriptural, but also probably illegal and may potentially rise to the level of  felonious conduct.

RED FLAG # 4: The abuser makes insinuations against the mental stability of the targets.

False accusations of mental illness and instability by abusers are one of the most common markers that the abuser is pursuing some malicious and vindictive agenda. It’s amazing how so few note how eminently unqualified the abusers are to make any such allegations and amateur diagnoses. They often throw out labels in a pretense of a sophisticated understanding of mental illness. This works for a little while because they know that others may not understand and will not take the trouble to verify what the abuser is actually saying.

There are two possible bases for the insinuations that may be evident. The first is that the target may actually be going through some life crisis, and may actually be suffering in some way. Or the abuser has heard of a previous life crisis of the target, and is presenting to others the past suffering of the target as an ongoing and present reality. It’s actually normal, though, for a person to be sad and hurt over a lost relationship, sudden unemployment, the death of a relative or some other life crisis for a period of time. It’s extremely cruel and callous for anyone to insinuate this kind of normal reaction is any kind of mental illness or evidence of any kind of mental instability. Rather, it fits into the abuser’s campaign to isolate and torment the target, to exploit their times of suffering to deepen the misery that they want to inflict on the target.

The second possible justification is that the alleged mental illness and instability of the target is actually the sadness, hurt and avoidance from the prolonged suffering caused by the abuser. Over the past few years some psychiatrists have come to the conclusion that some sufferers of depression, for example, are simply in prolonged abusive relationships, and that medicating them for depression amounts to anesthetizing the victim of abuse to the effects of the abuse – which is exactly what the abuser wants. The person who actually is demonstrating mental instability is the abuser. One of the signs that this is true is that after a period of separation from the abuser the target starts to show less evidence of sadness and hurt and starts to get back to getting closer to others. This time of separation, when the target is visibly more ‘normal,’ sometimes alerts others, then, that the behavior of the abuser is the real problem.

It’s logical to inquire very pointedly about the qualifications and reasoning of anyone who makes any insinuations about the mental stability of any adult who has not been professionally diagnosed and is not under professional care. Upon honest examination many times these will be found to be slander. Moreover, it is reasonable for anyone who hears any gossip about anyone who actually is undergoing any kind of professional care to put a stop to it, since such gossip and insinuations are practically never the business of the recipients of the gossip. Moreover, this kind of slander often seems to be an effort to undermine legitimate efforts by the targets to overcome past difficulties and suffering, to put and keep them having to deal with isolated incidents far in the past, and to grow and go deeper in the Lord. And again, this kind of behavior can have severe legal consequences for the abuser, with consequences spelled out in slander, libel and stalking statutes.

RED FLAG # 5: The abuser exercises assumed and legitimate authority in a Satanic, not a Christ like, manner.

The abuser often assumes authority over others that he or she has not earned, or may seek some legitimate authority. The abuser’s exercise of authority is most definitely not in a Christ like way. Moreover, it is indicated in scripture and throughout the experience of Christians around the world and throughout history, that these kinds of leaders are often under demonic deception. At times they become troubled over their behavior, but the deep and stubborn pride that goes along with the deception often precludes facing the truth and coming the depth of repentance needed to escape the net of deception.

  • The abuser sees authority as authority over other people for self aggrandizement. For him or her, authority is not a place of responsibility before God to glorify God and a place to serve others in a Christ like fashion (Luke 24:24-27, I Peter 5:2, II Corinthians 1:24).
  • The abuser does not serve as an example of his or her own expectations, but demonstrates incredible hypocrisy in the conduct of his or her office (I Peter 5:3).
  • The abuser is incredibly dishonest, vindictive and cruel in the exercise of authority. The abuser uses a lie at every opportunity to cover his or her mistakes and misconduct and to make life miserable for his or her targets. This demonstrates his affinity to ‘the father of lies.’ Sometimes this issues in false prophecy as well (cf. the false prophet Shemaiah and the prophetess Noadiah in Nehemiah 6:10,14).
  • The abuser believes and demonstrates that he or she can and will use any means, malicious and wicked as it may prove to be, to get others to follow his or her wishes, even when these wishes are clearly unscriptural and malicious. Sometimes the abuser, under demonic deception, even believes and says that God has given him or her special permission to inflict hardship, difficulty, suffering and ‘discipline’ upon the target. Legitimate scriptural authority is authority to build up, not to tear down (II Corinthians 10:8).
  • The abuser attempts to conduct and pursues virtual murder against his targets from the position of authority. This is not an attempt to extinguish the physical life of the target but rather to extinguish the God given individuality of the target where it differs from the abuser’s likes and dislikes. Often it seems to be an incredibly arrogant attempt by the abuser to remake the target in his or her image. Those in abusive relationships often attest to the torment of this attempted slow, insidious personality murder. The goal of scriptural authority, rather, is the Christlikeness of the person who has been made in the image of God, and sanctifies the God given individuality of the person that he has created (Romans 8:28-30).

The leaders and members of the body of Christ must understand their responsibility before God to recognize, to refuse to assist, to rebuke, and to place these abusers under church discipline if there is no repentance (Matthew 18:15-17, Galatians 6:1, Ephesians 5:11). They must recognize that these actions cannot be whitewashed with claims of love or good intentions. These red flags mentioned above are not intended to serve as license for either undue suspicion or intrusiveness, but for discernment of problems which are often camouflaged underneath counterfeit spirituality.

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Controlling Others As Counterfeit Love

Some years ago I heard Barbara Cook share the following material. I copied much of it down on the spot, since I was then the pastor of a congregation where most had come from an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. Much of the following material is  also contained in her book, Love and Its Counterfeits.

Other than a number of the sermons of Erwin Lutzer, I cannot remember ever hearing any pastor call trying to control another person and its attendant deception and emotional, verbal, physical and often spiritual abuse, as sin. Yet Christ is the actual Lord of any believer, and each believer is actually responsible to him completely and eternally (Romans 14:4-12, Ephesians 1:21-23). Pastor Lutzer additionally called it a sign of demonic influence, and I would agree. It’s a sign of someone listening to a deceiving voice telling that person, ‘ . . . you will be like God . . .’ (Genesis 3:5). The unbelievably low cunning and determination which a controlling person can manifest beyond all reason can definitely point to the malicious and deceptive instigation of spiritual wickedness behind the controller. I would challenge all pastors to point out these sins in their preaching in the future.

Obsessions of the Controller

Biblical, Christlike love is servanthood, not control:. . . serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:14). It is seeking the highest good of another person according to the standards of the Word of God. Attempts to control others pollute love, sabotage their God given responsibility for their own lives, and may eventually destroy the relationship. Here are some of the self deceptions of the person who attempts to control others in their lives.

1. Self Deception: “I believe that a person who changes to my specifications will be a better person.”

Reality: This is a dangerous arrogance of personal authority and presumption of personal knowledge of what is best for another person. Only God can be the real judge of what is best for another person.

2. Self Deception: “I am responsible to make another adult do what he should do.”

Reality: Each adult has his own responsibility before God to follow his will, and will answer personally to God for how he has fulfilled that responsibility.

3. Self Deception: “God has given me special insight and capability to help this person make necessary changes in his or her life.”

Reality: This is mistaking the voice of obsession for the voice of the Holy Spirit, and is a rationalization of attempts to play the Hoy Spirit in another person’s life. The real agenda of the Holy Spirit is different than that of another human being, and he does not originate nor stand behind obsessions.

4. Self Deception: “I would be happier if this other person changed.”

Reality: Happiness is dependent upon your personal choice of the will of God.

5. Self Deception: “I meet my emotional needs by exerting power over others.”

Reality: God wants you to find satisfaction in a humble walk with himself.

6. Self Deception: “I am overprotective of those whom I love.”

Reality: God alone is sufficient to protect and defend his people.

Biblical Truths for Rescuers

1. “Results in another person’s life are not my responsibility.”

2. “My preconceived notions of what the end result of my helping may be far from God’s actual intentions for another person.”

3. “I cannot change another person, no matter how much I care and want to help.”

4. “No strings of control are to be attached to my gift of love.”

5. “I am not needed in the role of Messiah.”

6. “I must never underestimate my own human vulnerability.”

7. “I must never overestimate my ability to know what is best for another adult.”

8. “I am not superior. I am just a friend, a person who has chosen to love.

9.”Only eternity will reveal the fruit of love I have sown in other’s lives.”

10. “When I love another person, I offer it as a gift to Christ.”

Counterfeit Love

1. You have given another person power over your emotions.

2. You have given away control of your identity to another person.

3. You have violated your moral standards and beliefs.

4. You have assisted another person in the continuance of a destructive behavior by allowing that person to escape the destructive consequences of that behavior.

5. You have been victimized, manipulated or used.

6. You have submitted to treatment that makes you feel worthless, treatment tht ignores your Godgiven human value and right to respect.

7. You have been refusing to take a serious look at reality.

8. You have repeatedly endangered your physical health and safety and endangered your life.

Guidelines for the Chronic Victim

1. Do something about your safety.

If you are suffering physical abuse or harassment, inform the authorities, and physically separate yourself from the situation.

2. If you are suffering physical abuse, insist that the abuser get help immediately.

Do not return to live with him until he has demonstrated radically changed character and actions through moral responsibility for his behavior. Accept no apologies or promises of change as sufficient without concrete steps to change and demonstrations of change.

3. Let others help you out of your situation.

Form a support system of concerned, trustworthy friends and relatives, especially among brothers and sisters in Christ.

4. Examine your attitudes about love and trust in regard to the scriptures.

5. Go through a life pattern inventory of how your situation has affected you.


“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18.

  • Recognize Christ alone can be the Savior from sin for both yourself and the abuser.

A sinful life pattern which often emerges is a compulsion to try to “help” the abuser out of his pattern. This pattern becomes more pronounced often if the abuser is also an addict to drugs or alcohol or sexually promiscuous. This pattern of compulsive attempts to “help” likewise is a sinful reaction to the abuse, that of presumption. No human being has either the capacity or responsibility to “help” another person out of his sinful life patterns in an unscriptural fashion.

  • Receive his forgiveness and power to overcome sinful emotional reactions to abuse.

An abused person is a victim, of course, but still remains a human being under the power of fallen human nature. A perfect victim would not react to suffering by falling into sinful reactions; unfortunately, victims who themselves have the tendencies of fallen human nature often do.

The Apostle Peter wrote the description of Jesus’s example of the proper reaction to suffering for those who suffer:

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

He committed no sin,

and no deceit was found in his mouth.

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we, having died to sins, should live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like seep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”(I Peter 2:21-25).

Peter’s description of the Christlike reaction to suffering originally was meant for Christian slaves who were undergoing abuse by cruel masters. It is, though, applicable to anyone who has undergone physical and verbal abuse.

The essence of the reaction of Jesus was that the sin of his abusers did not mean for him to react with sin.

  • First, he refused the aggressive reaction to verbal and physical abuse; he did not retaliate with insults to the verbal abuse offered to him, nor did he react with threats of violence to the violence inflicted upon him.
  • Next, he refused the passive reaction of fear to the verbal and physical abuse inflicted upon himself, by the strength of his trust in the justice of God the Father. His suffering of the cross was by no means because of any personal weakness and helplessness. Jesus was not a “wimp”; in fact, he could have avoided the cross entirely and could have left the cross at any time if he were not totally surrendered to the will of the Father to suffer and die for the sins of the world.

The suffering of Jesus was, moreover, a constructive, purposeful suffering. The whole purpose of the crucifixion was, from the intention of Satan, to destroy him. In the purpose of God, though, he turned it into good for those that he loved by making it the sacrifice for the sins of the world and the payment for eternal life for his followers. His suffering then meant freedom for his followers from the power of sin, so that they could live in the power of righteousness in eternal life. Even more, his suffering provided healing for his people; reading this passage, Christian slaves might think of their healing from the marks of their beatings by his being beaten and whipped for them.

Apart from a scriptural understanding of and Christlike reaction to suffering, an abused person can generally fall into one of two sinful life patterns in reaction to his or her abuse.

1. The reaction of fear: This can become a life-dominating fear of others that will mean further sins of unbelief and disobedience:

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare (a stumblingblock to many sins),

but whoever trusts in the Lord will be kept safe”

(Proverbs 29:25).

2. The reaction of anger: This can lead to an aggressive life pattern in which the abused becomes the abuser, through having seen and imitated his relations to others:

“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man,

do not associate with one easily angered,

or you may learn his ways,

and get yourself ensnared”

(Proverbs 22:24-25).

  • Receive the comfort of Jesus for the pain and anguish of your suffering.

The comfort of Jesus means his promise and offer of healing for a broken heart: II Corinthians 1:3-5; comfort for those who have suffered; the abused can be comforters to those who suffer, sympathetic and the avenues of the comfort of Christ to others, avoid becoming abusive, because you know how it feels

  • Allow Jesus to mold a new respect in dealing with earthly authority.

Sometimes the abused have problems with trust and dealing with earthly authorities. They may reject earthly authority and become fiercely independent. But this means becoming like sheep going astray, each one turning to his own way. Jesus is the authority who understands and who cares above all others. Trusting Jesus and his will is the first step back to a right relationship with earthly authorities.

  • Allow Jesus to guide, strengthen and fill you for a new life of loving others as he has loved you.

The abused often have problems with love and vulnerability. But caring for others will mean learning to become vulnerable to others again. This means coming close enough and trusting enough to be hurt again. Note that Jesus puts his heart on the line every moment in his relationship with us!

  • Learn how valuable you and others are to God as human beings as the basis of a proper self respect and respect for others.

Learning your personal value to God means learning also the value of others as well. This means unlearning any habits of denigration of others: James 3:9: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.”

  • Live in the new reality of who you are in Christ and the power of his Holy Spirit.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.


“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus understands suffering. The course of his trial and crucifixion shows that he knows by personal experience the depths of physical and verbal abuse by other human beings. Though he is the almighty Son of God, the reality of his human nature means that it was not any less painful for him. His pain and suffering not only paid the price for the sin of the world, though; his suffering also provides perfect insight into the nature, endurance and purpose of suffering.

Death by crucifixion was especially feared and disdained because death came only at the end of an extended process that was not only physically painful but also the ultimate violation of a person’s humanity and identity. This is why the crucifixion could be called the ultimate abuse. Because he endured all that without a single sinful thought or word, Jesus demonstrates to the believer the godly way to understand, accept and transcend his own suffering, since he is the ultimate example of a totally innocent person who suffered.

Those who have undergone abuse in some way — physical, verbal and emotional, even sexual — often have a hard time facing, understanding and transcending their experience of abuse. The believer in Christ, though, has someone who understands and has experienced the ultimate abuse himself, and can stand beside and help the believer to understand his or her experience, through his own experience on the cross. Moreover, the Lord Jesus can give more than the understanding of that experience; he can give perfect sympathy, comfort, a new life and meaning to that suffering which will mean good for others out of what may have seemed pointless pain.

Considering one’s suffering may be extremely difficult. Sometimes the memories can be very deeply buried, and even when the memories can more easily come to mind, they may provoke reactions such as denial which hinder the process of proper understanding and conquest. Sometimes well meaning fellow believers influenced by teachings on “healing of memories” or “healing of emotions” will take one through semi mystical or magical sessions of visualization or prayer aimed at emotional relief, and indeed there is some temporary relief, but the deep underlying patterns are not altered. Consideration of one’s suffering in the light of the suffering of Jesus, though, may enable one to face honestly and openly what one has suffered from others. It also would provide something more than mere emottional relief, but definite answers on the proper reactions to suffering as well as the sympathy of someone who has also suffered.

Scripture definitely enjoins consideration of one’s suffering alongside that of Jesus: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). Indeed, this may be one more reason why the gospels go into the account of Jesus’s suffering in more detail than any other period of his earthly life, so that suffering believers can find his sympathy and understanding of their suffering. This consideration of the suffering of Jesus with one’s own suffering, though, is not unwarranted psychologizing of scripture; it is an application of the scriptural pattern of the comparison of the sufferings of Jesus with those of his people.

The Lord Jesus has given the believer the promise of his spiritual companionship: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21). Before you begin the process of understanding your suffering by understanding his suffering first, reaffirm to the Lord your love for him and your commitment to demonstrate this through obedience to him. Ask him, as your best and closest friend, to be with you in this time, to speak to you through his Word, to guide, strengthen and comfort you as you share together in this time of special trust and spiritual intimacy. Jesus knows your experience, not just because he knows all things (John 20:17), but through his personal human experience in the time of his betrayal, trial, and crucifixion.

  • The suffering of Jesus came through the betrayal of a trusted friend:

The betrayal of the trust Jesus had placed in a friend led to his suffering. See Matthew 26:47-50, Mark 14:43-46, Luke 22:47-48, John 18:2-9. Judas Iscariot had lived with Jesus for three years as one of the trusted Twelve. Even during the Last Supper, when Jesus offered him a special morsel, it was an offer of lasting friendship and a silent appeal for him not to betray him. But when the betrayal came it was even through an act of false friendship — a kiss. Jesus thus knows what it is like to have been betrayed.

One of the characteristics of much abuse is that it comes often through those whom we had felt some reason to trust — a family member, a spouse, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or some other friend or neighbor. Write down the names of those whom you trusted who brought suffering upon you.Ask the Lord to give you his strength to forgive each one completely, for the breach of trust first of all, and then each aspect of your suffering.

Note also that Judas acted under direct Satanic instigation (Luke 22:3, John 13:2, 27). What Judas’s real motive was in the betrayal of Jesus was is not revealed, but the fact that he accepted a bribe for the betrayal suggests that it was at least partially greed. As the treasurer of the group, Judas pilfered from their funds, and this secret sin of stealing seems to have been how Satan gained access to his heart. Often the abusive and instigators of abuse share this same characteristic, that their actions come through demonic instigation, especially if their attacks are directed against believers in Christ. Jesus knows what it means for us to face the fiercest attacks of the enemy through human agents.

Satan does not seem to gain access to the hearts of abusers through greed, though. He finds his foothold in the desires and emotions of the fallen human nature which scripture calls the flesh. There are two specific ways that this seems to come about:

1. Through anger: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). The abusive many times are holding in a great store of resentment. This seething anger may erupt in violence against the innocent or in response to mere annoyance and irritation.

2. Through a desire for power over another person: ” . . . if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts . . . Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, carnal, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14-16). Abusers often have such a desire to control their circumstances that they will resort to extremes of deceit and violence even in their own families. Moreover, this explains why an abusive person can seem almost supernaturally cunning: his human nature furnishes the footholds for demonic influence. Like Judas, an abusive person can suffer severe pangs of conscience after the suffering of their victims becomes clear (Matthew 27:3-4). In the case of Judas, the remorse was so great as to drive him to suicide (Matthew 27:5). Abusers can go through suicidal depressions as well, but they may also seek to escape their consciences through drugs, alcohol, or sexual immorality. This is why an abuser can go through tremendous psychological and physical degeneration, and can become a confirmed addict, if he or she is not one already.

Another way an abuser may try to deal with his conscience is by attempting a reconciliation with his victims. The apologies and attempts to make it up can sometimes give their victims that they really are going to change, and arouse their compassion in a desire to “help” a person with such remorse. Unfortunately these change rarely last longer than the emotions which spawned the apologies. Genuine change shows itself in a deep repentance.

  • His closest friends abandoned Jesus during his time of suffering:

See Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50. All the disciples fled, although Peter and John later came to trail the mob who had apprehended Jesus. This then led to Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus when he was confronted with the fact. All those who had said they would not abandon him and even that they would die for him failed when put to the test.

Often in situations of abuse there are those with genuine affection but no courage or strength to stand alongside the abused. Many times those who fail us are also believers in Christ as well. Jesus’s friends failed him, too. He forgave them and later restored them to useful places of ministry. Write down the names of those friends who failed you. Tell Jesus that you want to forgive them as he forgave the apostles for their abandonment, and ask him for his strength to do so. Ask him also to work it out that the relationship can be restored to stronger, more affectionate and more mutually helpful than it was before.

  • Jesus’s suffering came through injustice from the authorities:

See John 18:13-24, where Jesus, in his preliminary hearing before Annas, the “retired” but probably de facto, high priest, was struck illegally for an allegedly disrespecful answer to a question probably meant to induce him to incriminate himself. Jesus then pointed out the injustice of this treatment.

In his actual trial before the Jewish ruling authorities, Jesus faced:

  • beatings and mockings before the trial and afterwards from the Jewish Temple guards
  • an trial held at an illegal time (before dawn)
  • the acceptance of false testimony by the authorities without any cross examination
  • condemnation to death upon a direct question from the high priest, who was to remain neutral as he presided

From his trial before the Jewish ruling council Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, for the confirmation of the death sentence. Here he faced:

  • further beating and mocking from Roman guards
  • further false accusations
  • the preference of a murderer to himself
  • three separate acquittals by the governor before the death sentence was imposed

Many times an abusive situation includes injustice from the civil and religious authorities, either in failure to enforce civil and spiritual sanctions or actual collusion with the abuser. Those who were to uphold the civil law and the Word of God do not always do so. This means that the victim of abuse often can have great difficulties in trust and cooperation with legitimate spiritual and civil authorities, even those who are genuinely trustworthy and ready to help, because the others have shown themselves untrustworthy, uncooperative or even hostile; in short, unjust.

Write down the times of injustice that you have experienced, and the names of those who were responsible. Tell Jesus that you forgive them, as you trust him for the strength to do so and to make it stick. Ask him also to enable you to have a scriptural view on the civil, spiritual and family authorities that God has established in this world, so that you will not be brought into sinful rebellion against the just and conscientious in reaction to the unjust, uncooperative and hostile. (Family authorities need to be included also, because sometimes abuse comes from them also, and general infiltration of an underlying attitude of rejection of authority can disrupt family life also.)

  • Jesus’s suffering meant intense physical pain and physical helplessness:

By the time Jesus had been sentenced to crucifixion, he had already endured beatings from the Jewish Temple guards, the guards of Herod Antipas, and the Roman guards of Pilate. There was normally also a preliminary whipping with a cat o’ nine tails (Matthew 27:26, John 19:1), after which Pilate still tried to have Jesus released. The purpose of the whipping was to weaken the condemned sufficiently that death would come more quickly on the cross.

After the whipping the actual crucifixion began (Matthew 27:33-35, Mark 15:22-24, Luke 23:33 John 19:17-18). Jesus was then fixed to the cross, in a place of utter physical helplessness, by large iron nails, as big and thick as a railroad spike, through his hands and his feet. His reaction was the prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”(Luke 23:34).

Those who have endured physical abuse not only have the painful awareness of the violence upon them but often a sense of shame at their physical powerlessness to retaliate. Jesus also knows what it means to have violent blows assail his body. He knows the sense of physical helplessness before those who are inflicting such pain upon him. His reaction was not retaliation, though, but forgiveness from the heart.

  • Jesus’s suffering included sexual shame:

Jesus was forcibly stripped of all his clothes and nailed to the cross entirely naked before the crowds of onlookers (Matthew 27:35, Mark 16:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24). The depictions of the crucifixion have usually left this out by portraying him with a loincloth, and the gospels respectfully do not dwell on this, because it was a well known part of crucifixion. This would have been a tremendous violation of Jesus’s modesty: a Jewish man would have felt an unspeakable shame at this exposure before the crowds.

Many times abuse also includes the violation of sexual modesty and sexual consent. Jesus has a sense of what you have felt in his own human experience, if you have been abused in this manner. Often this violation can lead to unscriptural and dysfunctional attitudes toward sex and marriage itself, as a reaction to the shame and revulsion of this experience. The sexually abused can become either unscripturally immoral or unscripturally inhibited. The solution will then be found in careful understanding and acceptance of the scriptural teaching on romantic love, sex and marriage as the path to sexual sanity.

  • Jesus’ suffering included intense verbal abuse:

Verbal abuse was a constant part of the suffering of Jesus. All that he knew to be true of himself was constantly held up to derision (See Matthew 27:38-43, Mark 15:27-32, Luke 23:35-38, for the verbal abuse that occure while he was on the cross itself). His emotional reaction to all the verbal abuse that he suffered is not recorded, but it is clear that he did not return one hostile or derisive word to all that was offered to him. Jesus knows how it feels to be treated with such disdain, ridicule, and scorn.

In modern America there is a children’s saying that is manifestly untrue:

“Stick and stones may break my bones,
But words will never hurt me!”

Sometimes those who suffer verbal abuse are heaped with an additional shame and derision for the pain that they suffer, as if it means that they are somehow weak people. There is such a thing as oversensitivity, but it often is more on the part of the verbally abusive than the victim. The verbally abusive often blame their victims in this way for the pain that they inflict, as part of the whole pattern of disdain for another human being that underlies their form of abuse.

The Scriptures recognize the real pain that scorn, mocking, and insults inflict upon a person. In the Psalms the effects are often described:

1. Emotionally: shame, heartbreak, loneliness and discouragement:

“You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.”
(Psalm 69:19-20, a Messianic Psalm)

2. Physically: loss of energy, loss of appetite, loss of weight, insomnia: Psalm 31:10, 102:4-9

3. Shyness:

“I said, ‘ . . . I will put a muzzle on my mouth
as long as the wicked are in my presence'”
But when I was silent and still,
not even saying anything good,
my anguish increased.
(Psalm 39:1).

Shyness has been called a reactive sin; it is a pattern of learned silence and lack of assertion in response to the stifling verbal abuse of others. It can be termed a sin inasmuch as it masks resentment and hinders Christlike love and assertive righteousness.

Chronically shy people are often those who have been in an atmosphere of constant ridicule and verbal hostility. Shyness is neither a lasting nor uncommon characteristic; almost everyone is shy at some point in their adolescent or adult lives, and most do grow out of it, though it may be suspected that the most severely verbally and emotionally abused remain the most shy througout their adult lives. Unfortunately, some of the shy become verbally abusive themselves because they have never learned to express themselves courteously and respectfully to others

Often the chronically shy have been treated in such a way that they have little experience in receiving and giving positive, upbuilding communication such as in Ephesians 4:15 ( “. . . speaking the truth in love . . . “) and 4:29. There is a real ministry of the body of Christian modelling and encouraging Christlike assertion and loving communication from the shy.

One of the reasons why the verbal abuse could not have affected Jesus deeply was that it was contrary to the truth about himself that he knew from the Word of God. Likewise you can find strength against verbal abuse in what the Word of God says about you. Write down some of the ways in which you have been verbally abused. Contrast what God’s Word says to be true of you in Christ to the denigration you have received from others. Read through the book of Ephesians and write down what God says that you are in Christ.

  • Jesus had to make arrangements for the care of his family members because of his suffering:

During his suffering Jesus took care to entrust his family responsibility as the eldest son to someone else when he assigned the care of his mother to the apostle John (John 19: 26-27). He knew that he would no longer be able to carry out his human family responsibilities any longer; first, because of his suffering and imminent death, but later because of his resurrection and ascension. He knows what that physical separation from family feels like.

Sometimes an abusive situation requires separation from family members for one reason or another. Write down those from whom you have been separated. Commit each one to the care of God first of all. Write down what measures you can take to ask others in the body of Christ to care for them.

  • Jesus experienced the ultimate loneliness during his suffering:

Jesus faced the abandonment or helplessness of all his friends in the course of his trial and crucifixion, and finally even God the Father seemed far away: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). Thus Jesus knows how it feels not to have a sense of the presence of God in the moment of deepest suffering.

Jesus’s sense of separation from God the Father was due to his bearing the wrath of God for the sins of the world, but even so he knew that he was not truly abandoned by the Father. As he anticipated his suffering the next day, he told the apostles, “You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32). In his last breaths, in his expression of trust in the Father despite this sense of separation, he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). This demonstrates that the feelings of separation or abandonment may not reflect a true breach of fellowship with God.

Many believers have testified to an unusual sense of the presence of God during suffering; others have also said that they have felt abandoned by God during that time. Sometimes believers develop a bitterness against God because of this sense of emotional abandonment. The truth is that God is there and that he cares regardless of the emotional sense of his presence during that time of suffering. ” . . . God has said,

‘Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

(Hebrews 13:5)

The reality of God’s presence and care cannot be restricted to a human emotional phenomenon nor to the vicissitudes of human circumstances, but comes from the declaration of his Word of his care and presence regardless of human emotion or circumstances. Realize that God was there during the time of your deepest suffering, and that he cared when you experienced your most difficult pain. Thank him for that, and for the truth that he will always be there for you in the present and the future, because he has promised just that.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Dealing with the Tactics of Emotional Abuse

These guidelines were distilled from a number of sources. The tactics of the manipulator are often found in the Bible in the behavior of characters such as Laban, Tobiah, Sanballat, Saul and others who certainly weren’t the ones wearing the ‘white hats.’

1. Note the tactics that the manipulator is using:

  • Denial (whitewashing aggressive actions)

  • Selective inattention (playing dumb or acting oblivious)

  • Rationalization (excuses for inappropriate or harmful behavior)

  • Diversion (changing the subject, dodging the issue, bringing up long past issues)

  • Lying (withholding information, distorting the truth, exaggeration)

  • Covert intimidation (veiled threats to intimidate or silence)

  • Guilt tripping (trying to make the other person feel guilty, playing on that person’s conscience)

  • Shaming (subtle sarcasm and putdowns to induce fear, self doubt in others)

  • Playing the victim role (portraying oneself as the innocent victim of circumstance)

  • Vilifying the victim (putting the victim on the defensive by pretending to be responding to or defending against the aggression of the victim)

  • Playing the servant role (cloaking self serving agenda in the guise of service to a more noble cause)

  • Seduction (charming, praising, flattering or overly supporting others to elicit trust and loyalty)

  • Blameshifting and scapegoating

  • Blindsiding

  • Traps and something for nothing pseudo-exchanges

  • Exaggerations and grandiose self promoting stories

  • Minimization of the pain and hurt to others from his or her behavior

2. Redefine the terms of engagement.

  • Describe what you think that the aggressor wants in this situation and why it may be inappropriate.

  • Describe your own needs and wants in this situation.

  • Describe what personal limits are acceptable to you: what behavior to tolerate and when to take action.

  • List your direct requests (“I want you to . . . “, and “I don’t want you to . . . anymore”), and your requests for direct responses to these requests.

  • List any possible responses (stonewalling or outright refusal, yelling, etc) and counterattacks and your own responses that the aggressor might and could do to avoid perception of losing.

  • List your personal support system.

  • Describe an appropriate win/win solution.

3. Prepare for confrontation:

  • Note any previous body language which signals a deceitful, disdainful and aggressive intent: icy smile, intimidating gestures, invasion of personal space, unnecessarily strident or intense voice demonstrating repressed hostility and/or fear. Plan on responses to these if you understand what they signal.

  • Make the inappropriate behavior the issue.

  • Keep the weight of responsibility on the aggressor for behavioral change.

  • Keep the aggressor aware that aggressive tactics will not work.

  • Avoid threats, sarcasm, hostility and putdowns.

  • Use assertive “I” statements to state what you want and need.

  • Stay with the present issue and avoid past issues.

  • Make appropriate, reliable, verifiable and enforceable agreements (win-win if possible).