November 29, 2016

Enough is Enough

Gary Thomas — 


Abusive Men

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

What does it mean to “hate” someone we are elsewhere called to sacrificially love? We are told to love even our enemies, yet Jesus here tells us to hate some of our closest family members. What could that mean?

Hatred here is Semitic hyperbole. In essence, it means “love less than.” There are times when our love and allegiance to God may be at odds with human loyalties; in those cases, love for God, His light and the way of truth, must always prevail.

It’s okay (actually, commendable) for me to love the Seattle Seahawks. But if my wife needs me to take her to the hospital in the middle of a game or needs me to pay her some attention, I have to act like I hate the Seahawks and not even consider my love for them in service to my wife.

Let’s apply this principle in regards to how the church views marriage and divorce.

I recently spoke at a long-standing North American woman’s conference and was overwhelmed by the quantity and horrific nature of things wives are having to put up with in their marriages. Between sessions, I was bombarded by heartfelt inquiries: “What does a wife do when her husband does this? Or that? Or keeps doing this?” It broke my heart. I felt like I needed to take a dozen showers that weekend.

This may sound like a rant, but please hang with me, as I think this conference was a divine appointment. I can’t get this out of my mind.

One wife began our conversation with, “God hates divorce, right?”

“Yes,” I said. “I believe He does.”

“So I’ve just got to accept what’s happening in my marriage, right?”

When she told me what was happening, I quickly corrected her. “If the cost of saving a marriage is destroying a woman, the cost is too high. God loves people more than he loves institutions.”

Her husband is a persistent porn addict. He has neglected her sexually except to fulfill his own increasingly bent desires. He keeps dangling divorce over her head, which makes her feel like a failure as a Christian. He presented her with a list of five things he wanted to do that he saw done in porn, and if she wasn’t willing, he was through with the marriage. She agreed to four of them, but just couldn’t do the fifth. And she feels guilty.

God hates divorce, right?

This is monstrous and vile. This woman needs to be protected from such grotesque abuse, and if divorce is the only weapon to protect her, then the church should thank God such a weapon exists.

A young wife, barely in her twenties, held a baby in a blanket and looked at me with tears. Her husband has a huge temper problem. He’s made her get out of the car on a highway with her baby, twice. “But both times he came back for us,” she said in his defense when I looked absolutely appalled. They were separated and she was living with her parents. She wanted to know if she should take him back because his psychiatrist supposedly said there wasn’t anything really wrong with him. Her husband doesn’t think he has a problem that, in fact, the problem is with her “lack of forgiveness.”

They had been married only three years and she had already lived through more torment (I’m not telling the full story) than a woman should face in a lifetime. My thoughts weren’t at all about how to “save” the marriage, but to ease her conscience and help her prepare for a new life—without him.

Church, God hates it when a woman is sexually degraded and forced to do things that disgust her. It should also make us want to vomit.

When a young man is so immature he puts his wife’s and baby’s life in danger on a highway (amongst other things), the thought that we’re worried about the “appropriateness” of divorce shows that our loyalties are with human institutions, not the divine will.

As Kevin DeYoung so ably puts it, “Every divorce is the result of sin, but not every divorce is sinful.”

Another woman told me about putting up with her husband’s appalling behavior for over forty years. I was invited to look in her face, see the struggle, see the heroic perseverance, but also be reminded that counsel has consequences. So when I talk to a young woman in her third year of marriage and it’s clear she’s married to a monster, and someone wants to “save” the marriage, I want them to realize they are likely sentencing her to four decades of abuse, perhaps because of a choice she made as a teenager. When these men aren’t confronted, and aren’t repentant, they don’t change.

Jesus said what he said about divorce to protect women, not to imprison them. Divorce was a weapon foisted against women in the first century, not one they could use, and it almost always left them destitute if their family of origin couldn’t or wouldn’t step up.

How does it honor the concept of “Christian marriage” to enforce the continuance of an abusive, destructive relationship that is slowly squeezing all life and joy out of a woman’s soul? Our focus has to be on urging men to love their wives like Christ loves the church, not on telling women to put up with husbands mistreating their wives like Satan mistreats us. We should confront and stop the work of Satan, not enable it.

Look, I hate divorce as much as anyone. I have been married for 31 years and cannot fathom leaving my wife. I have prayed with couples, counselled with couples, written blog posts and articles and books, and have travelled to 49 of the 50 states and nine different countries to strengthen marriages in the church. By all accounts, I believe I’ve been an ambassador for improving and growing marriages.

The danger of what I’m saying is clear and even a little scary to me, because no marriage is easy. Every marriage must overcome hurt, pain, and sin. No husband is a saint, in the sense that every husband will need to be forgiven and will be troublesome and even hurtful at times to live with. I’m not talking about the common struggles of living with a common sinner, or every man and woman could pursue divorce. (There are many men who live with abuse and could “biblically” pursue a divorce as well.) Charging someone with “abuse” when it doesn’t truly apply is almost as evil as committing abuse, so we need to be careful we don’t bear “false witness” against a spouse to convince ourselves and others that we can legitimately pursue divorce to get out of a difficult marriage.

That’s why I love how some churches will meet with a couple and hear them out to give them some objective feedback, helping them to distinguish between normal marital friction and abusive behavior. Some women need to hear, “No, this isn’t normal. It’s abuse. You don’t have to put up with that.” Others need to hear, “We think what you’re facing are the normal difficulties of marriage and with counseling they can be overcome.” There’s no way a blog post (or even a book) can adequately anticipate all such questions.

I love marriage—even the struggles of marriage, which God can truly use to grow us and shape us—but I hate it when God’s daughters are abused. And I will never defend a marriage over a woman’s emotional, spiritual, and physical health.

I went back to my hotel room after that woman’s conference and almost felt like I had to vomit. I don’t know how God stands it, having to witness such horrific behavior leveled at his daughters.

Enough is enough!

Jesus says there are “levels” of love, and times when one loyalty must rise over another. Our loyalty to marriage is good and noble and true. But when loyalty to a relational structure allows evil to continue it is a false loyalty, even an evil loyalty.

Christian leaders and friends, we have to see that some evil men are using their wives’ Christian guilt and our teaching about the sanctity of marriage as a weapon to keep harming them. I can’t help feeling that if more women started saying, “This is over” and were backed up by a church that enabled them to escape instead of enabling the abuse to continue, other men in the church, tempted toward the same behavior, might finally wake up and change their ways.

Christians are more likely to have one-income families, making some Christian wives feel even more vulnerable. We have got to clean up our own house. We have got to say “Enough is enough.” We have got to put the fear of God in some terrible husbands’ hearts, because they sure don’t fear their wives and their lack of respect is leading to ongoing deplorable behavior.

I want a man who was abusive to have to explain to a potential second wife why his saintly first wife left him. Let men realize that behavior has consequences, and that wives are supposed to be cherished, not used, not abused, and never treated as sexual playthings. If a man wants the benefit and companionship of a good woman, let him earn it, and re-earn it, and let him know it can be lost.

Enough is enough.

I know I’m ranting. But I don’t think it was an accident that I was constantly stopped at that woman’s conference and forced to hear despicable story after despicable story (“forced” isn’t the right word. I could, of course, have walked away). I think God wanted me to see the breadth and depth of what is going on, and in this case, perhaps to be His voice.

Message received! We are called to love marriage, but when marriage enables evil, we should hate it (love it less) in comparison to a woman’s welfare.

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395 responses to Enough is Enough

  1. Is lying to your spouse normal? Is threatening to kill yourself in the heat of an argument normal? Is hiding your alcoholism ( functioning alcoholic) normal? Is breaking things, throwing things , screaming at your wife normal? Is running off the side of the road and jumping out leaving your wife in the dark because you wanted to avoid answering a simple question, normal? Is threatening to jump to your death on a cruise ship because you started an argument with your sick wife because “it’s the last night of the cruise and I can’t believe we have to stay in the cabin!! ” is that normal?….. I could go on, I’ve been living like this for 30 years now, is that normal? He tells me it is. Oh, and I just can’t do the Christian thing and forgive him.

  2. I, for one, and probably many more sisters or brothers in the Lord, who had to, after trying for years to save and survive an abusive marriage, would like your input on scriptural bases for a divorce so we can marry and be loved and love again. I know the Lord is the Lord of the Sabbath, and each case is different. Paul spoke of a couple situations, but I believe he did not represent the abused spouse who HAD to divorce. Any comments or scriptures you can share? Thanks

    • Remarriage deserves more than a few paragraphs. I’m putting together some notes to deal with this in book-length form. I’m sorry I don’t have it available now, but I’m working on it…

    • Paula,

      I would like to suggest two books that address the issue of remarriage: Barbara Roberts book, Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery & Desertion and David Intone-Brewer’s book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church.

      Also, the website,, specifically addresses domestic abuse that hides in the church and has many posts regarding divorce and remarriage.


  3. Thank you for your words, Gary Thomas! I stumbled upon your blog in my facebook feed and have not been able to stop reading the comments nor stop thinking about how life-changing these ideas are. I too suffered through an abusive 14-year marriage. The abuse started early. When I tried to get help from our family pastor, he said he would not talk to me unless my husband came also, which of course, he would not. I felt trapped, like there would be no help for me, ever. This lead me to endure many more years of worsening abuse. The man who was supposed to love me completely destroyed me instead. I wanted out of the marriage so badly, but stayed because I knew it was a sin to divorce. No book, no pastor, and no Christian friend ever told me that divorce was a biblical option. Finally, through a miracle of God, we were lead to a experienced Christian counselor who was capable enough to recognize right away that my husband had mental illness. He was referred to a psychiatrist. At that point, relieved to have a diagnosis, an explanation, I was willing to stay in the marriage and help him get better with treatment. However, my husband eventually rejected all his doctors and sought his own counselor, someone not as experienced who was easy for my husband to manipulate. This counselor only worsened the situation. By that time, we were in a different church, and there were two pastors there who on several occasions witnessed my husband’s aggressive behavior against me. They counseled him to move out for a while (out of concern for my safety). One of the pastors told me more of what I’d always heard – that there were no biblical grounds for divorce, ever, and just to continue to live in separation and to pray for my husband. The other pastor did a very difficult thing for which I am forever thankful. Knowing how long I’d given my husband to change and how many counselors and doctors we’d been to with things only getting worse, he counseled me to divorce. The very next day after hearing those words, I filed. The divorce process took almost 2 years, and my husband made it a nightmare. But, with God’s help I persevered, and my children and I are free. The court granted me full custody of our children, and ordered supervised visitation for my husband. My husband ended up not going to the visits and has cut off all contact with us completely. The kids haven’t heard from him in 2 years. The Lord has blessed us immensely. We have moved to a new town, the children have great new schools and lives they love, I’m financially stable, and I am waiting for the Lord’s answer to our prayer for a father and husband to come into our family.

    I have wanted to use my experience to help other women (and tell my story in its entirety), as a ministry. However, I have been reluctant to use my story to encourage women towards divorce. Would God really be pleased with that? How can I minister, then, to women in similar situations? Your article has given me inspiration that indeed there is a ministry opportunity here that would also be honoring to God.

  4. 1 Cor. 7:12-16 “…if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?…” A man who abuses his wife is not living as a believer and so is an unbeliever. And abusing is leaving the covenant of marriage even if he hasn’t left the house. Biblically, you are free. Let him go.

  5. This is the best article I have ever seen written on the topic. This is the true heart of Christ. More churches / as well as church members in fellowship with abusers need more training on this. I was almost killed – a concussion- black eye and repeated rape from my husband.
    There were men in the church that said I was to do nothing but stay in the house and continue to pray for the darkness to leave him.
    That advice almost cost me my life. It is not only pastors who need educated – it’s Christians in general.
    When I started to read about my Heavenly fathers standard for love , I knew that god would forgive me for getting a divorce. Since then I have been able to be the mother and woman that god called me to be. God wants us to use our talents and skills to serve him… not some mans sin. God made us on purpose for a purpose!
    Thank you so much for calling attention to this matter (especially because Christian women are more likely to stay than a non-Christian)

  6. Thank you. Just thank you!! I am 8 years out of an emotionally abuaive marriage. We married when I was 25 and I stayed 5 years. I was slowly and methodically being destroyed. (I actually call it my five years of captivity) It was my mom’s wisdom (honey I’ve watched women put up with this stuff for 25 years and nothing changes) and the whisper of God (daughter I never intended for you to be treated like this) that finally got me to leave. Just this weekend I was at a women’s conference for young writers and I was praying for someone to give a biblical case for divorce so I could just shore up my answer in case I ever had to give an explanation to someone. See I know in my heart that my leaving as Gods will and his best. I have peace. I just don’t know how to offer other people peace about my decision. And your article came across my feed. Because our God is that kind. Thank you. I feel like my older brother just stood up for me. And fought for me. And defended me. Please keep talking about this!! Especially in this culture so saturated in porn where the older generation cannot fathom what the lies being communicated to young women about sexuality. It is truly evil.

    • I read your comment. I too know Jesus called and walked me out of a very abusive marriage. I barely lasted 15 years. I believe the Holy Spirit will show me God’s heart in the scriptures about His ok’ing remarriage for the victims who HAD to divorce. The “scriptures” on divorce don’t pin point abuse. I think that in that culture the neglect of women in getting divorced at the quick of a pen was addressed by Jesus when he told the Pharasees that they could only due to adultery. Jesus was mainly talking to men, not women, and I don’t think women were abusing men in giving Jesus another category for which men could divorce women. So much religion, I believe, has stiffled the minds of men, that they miss the very heart of God. It’s amazing, but those thoughts just flowed. I’m copying and pasteing them as a comment to see if others have scriptures.

  7. Thank you for your article and your heart. I am so lost and so broken and so confused and I don’t know what to do. I’ve been living in my car for 2 1/2 months because I couldn’t take one more minute of the 23 years of abuse and neglect. It has been a daily, lonely, abandoned suffering almost all of those 23 years. My husband, although a believer, has never stepped in to the godly role of a husband or father. Never cherished me, never loved me unconditionally, never protected or fought for me, and worse, has not been a model to our son of a Christian husband or father. In the last 15 years he has not once taking me out, shared a meal with me, read the word with me, or touched me. He has not responded to any of my physical advances or my desperate emotional pleas. He has allowed our son to be the center of the home and only spends time with him. I have spoken to multiple pastors and I have heard everything from, “well you know how men are” to “well you must’ve done something to make him that way” to ” just come to our one day marriage conference”. Worse than my suffering however is the dramatic distraction it has done to her 19-year-old son. He wants nothing to do with God because of what he has seen and is an absolute angry depressed wreck. Since I left 2 1/2 months ago my husband has completely abandoned me and has done nothing to try to rectify the situation and has taken over with parenting decisions of our son that are harming him. For 23 years when I have brought up all these issues he has said that he’s sorry and that I’m right about what he’s done and has not done but then nothing changes. I don’t know where to go from this point. He controls all the money and I’m not able to work. My son is furious at the situation. He and I have always been very very close and my has been is now destroying that as well by bad mouthing me and undermining My parenting. My husband has also laid a foundation against me over the years with local pastors, the community, and even my own personal friends. I made the mistake of keeping all of this hidden all these years trying just to pursue God and do what was right and not talk against my husband to anyone, but now I am paying the price because he has not done the same and has portrayed me as the unstable abuser. I have been doing nothing but soaking in God’s word and praying and fighting in spiritual warfare all day every day for the last couple months and while I have heard a lot of personal encouragement from the Lord, I feel no guidance in what I should do. Thank you.

    • Sympathetic listener February 17, 2017 at 5:10 pm

      I know it’s hard but try to get help from family (siblings if any) and friends on a place to stay, how to get a job and how to file for divorce (getting a lawyer you can afford). Tell your son, family and close friends the whole truth about your marriage and ask for help. No need to beg but simply ask. I have just learnt myself that keeping marital problems a secret creates problems for the victim of abuse and such secrecy is usually encouraged by the church and the abuser whereas the abuser goes about maligning and lying against the victim like what happened to you. So pls speak out.

    • Debbie, I can’t tell you what to do, all I will do is share part of my story. before 2004 i read Matt 7:18 a bad tree can not bear good fruit, so the “good” the little i got to keep me was not good, but bad cause it came from a bad tree. When I figured out the truth, the confusion of brain washing started making sense and i no longer believed him. I believed the bible. That was my start to a 5 year divorce battle. I’ve been out almost 13 years of a 15 year bad bad marriage. I had PTSD from it and more. Being strong in leaving and keeping the door bolted was the only thing that gave God the time to recover my sanity and strengthen me to the person I used to be before i met him. I was hemmed in also by the way he made the outside world perceive me. I felted trapped with no way of escape. But God got me out. The biggest advise I have is to learn to truley forgive from your heart, not be bitter, so God can have free reign in your life and heart to restore you. Forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who have trespassed against me.For me, the other night while taking to the Lord, he told me He didn’t want me in that marriage. So for me, I have peace with God and am very happy that God loves me so much, he wanted me out of destruction. The devil comes to kill steal and destroy, but I came that you would have life and that more abundantly. sometimes you have to get far away from the midst of the trees to see the forest, the whole perspective.

    • correction. the last reply was in error of my email. it is gmail, not ymail. thanks

  8. Kathryn Farrell February 7, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Hi Gary,
    I agree with your heart in this. Just wondered if you would consider putting a bit more emphasis on an interim measure before jumping straight to divorce, namely separation. There should not be a stigma in the church attached to separation! If the church is healthy enough to truly help separation can be a tool to save the marriage. “Serious” separation, under supervision and accountability, with the full support of the church for the abused party and a commitment to genuine, long-term discipleship help for the abuser – as long as they are GENUINELY open to facing the truth about themselves and repenting to transformation. This is what Jesus can do.
    A healthy separation can also help to unravel whether or not there is two-way dysfunction that is fuelling the abuse. The abused party can grow and strengthen their godly healthy personal boundaries and differentiation during this time, and it can result in a healed marriage.

    • I totally agree. Separation gives the two parties time to evaluate their lives, and gives the church a chance to gather around the one who is truly hurting.

    • I believe there could be a place for the church to step up here. But I’m also from an abusive marriage and well know that my husband and many others like him would never put themselves under the authority of the church. We tried separation but my husband was convinced that I was the problem. To this day he still admits no fault.
      If my husband was willing to see his sin and admit it then yeah, separation with supervision and accountability might have saved my marriage.

  9. God bless you for this message you’re sharing. I have a close relative in an abusive relationship who is so convinced divorce is wrong that she’s accepted the trap of abuse her husband has her in.

    There’s so much more nuance to this issue that people realize and, sadly, than the church tends to speak to. You made an important distinction between human institutions and God’s will. Keep championing and encouraging daughters of the King!

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