16 October, 2009

You Shall not Tempt the Lord your God

“I am overcome with joy because of your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul. You have not handed me over to my enemy but have set me in a safe place” (Psalm 31:7-8, NLT).

When I answered the telephone, I found myself listening to a weeping woman. Between sobs she explained that every three weeks or so her abusive husband strangles her into unconsciousness. Though a professing Christian, he suffocates her with pillows, locks her in closets, and leaves her in terror for her life. She has turned for help to several pastors who call the couple into their office for joint counseling. I explained that couples’ counseling is inadvisable in situations of abuse, and she acknowledged that things were always worse at home after a counseling session.

She has come to realize the danger of her situation and was prepared to leave until a Christian friend told her that she must not break the covenant that she made at the marriage altar and must believe that God would work a miracle of transformation in her husband. I pointed out that her husband was the one who had broken the covenant promise to love and cherish her. A covenant is a solemn agreement between two parties, both of whom must abide by their promises. If one party refuses to honor the agreement, the covenant becomes null and void.

But this victim, who desired above all things to do God’s will, had been told that she must give the Lord enough time to change her abuser, even if that meant remaining in a life-threatening situation. I asked if she remembered the temptation of Jesus when Satan took him to the top of the pinnacle in the temple. Cleverly selecting a Bible verse, the devil urged Christ to throw himself down so that angels would bear him up and keep him from danger. But Jesus staunchly refused to risk his life in the expectation that God would perform a supernatural act. He responded “It is written ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’.” It was not a question of who could quote the best Bible verse but who could honor God and respect the laws of the natural universe.

Jesus refused to defy the force of gravity and put God on the spot for a dramatic intervention. We should not expect God to provide protection when we have taken unreasonable risks that could have been avoided. Certainly the advice provided by well-meaning Christians did not consider this victim’s safety a paramount issue. More than that, it did not consider the welfare of the abusive husband. His dangerous conduct may well have been intended to intimidate his spouse rather than to cause her actual harm, but how very easily his conduct might have escalated one step further into a terrible crime! The conduct is already very wicked and totally inconsistent with God’s purposes for a Christian family.

Separation would provide an environment that would be safer for both victim and perpetrator. A time apart would enable each partner to address some of the other issues that must be faced. The Bible tells us to flee temptation rather than continuing to dwell where we are most likely to fall into sin. We pray “deliver us from evil” but we also need to remove ourselves from situations or circumstances that can lead us into grievous sin and harm.

Indeed, David praised God for having restrained him from acting on his murderous intentions (1 Sam. 25:26, 32-34, 39) and prayed “Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Ps. 19:13; see also 51; 119:29; 120:2; 139:12-14; 141:3-4). Four times the Lord exhorted his followers to pray that they would not fall into temptation, (Matt. 2:41; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:40, 46), and he himself prayed that his own would be kept from evil (John 17:15).

God is able to keep us from falling (2 Thess. 3:3; Jude 24), but let us not tempt the Lord our God, nor place others where temptation may assail them. Rather let us look for his place of safety and peace.

Catherine Kroeger

This week’s column is written by Catherine Clark Kroeger (Ph.D., University of Minnesota) who is adjunct associate professor of classical and ministry studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is an author, president emerita of Christians for Biblical Equality, and president of Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (PASCH).


Junkster said...

Excelent article; spot on advice.

I like this:
Separation would provide an environment that would be safer for both victim and perpetrator. A time apart would enable each partner to address some of the other issues that must be faced.

This is the opposite of the counsel commonly given in conservative churches. But I have given similar advice on several occasions, and not just when abuse was involved. Just as Jesus withdrew Himself from others at times, some sort of separation from various circumstances can be very helpful in finding the right focus.

I am also reminded of Paul's counsel in 1 Cor 7 to husbands and wives regarding sexual intimacy: "Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." This passage shows the principle that there is a normal way of doing things (in this case sex within marriage), but that the normal pattern can be suspended for a time, if the purpose is honoring to God (in this case, prayer), and if the plan is to resume the regular pattern at a later time.

Likewise, though the normal pattern in marriage is for a couple to live together, that pattern can be suspended for a time (separation), if the reason is to honor God (avoid a sinful situation, protection of self and family members, etc.) and if the goal is to seek restoration if possible (once repentance has been demonstrated over time by lasting changes).

And, as the article points out, in the case of physical abuse, the abuser has already broken the covenant, so the abused need not feel guilty over choosing not to remain in the marriage. I hadn’t thought of staying in an abusive situation as “tempting God”, but that is an excellent point, one could be used to encourage many women who feel guilty about deciding to leave.

Too often we praise people simply for "staying married", when God's goal is not just that, but a marriage that honors Him. True success is not merely as a lack of failure, so a successful marriage is not merely one that endures without divorce;, rather it is one in which both partners are assisting each other in progressing together in Christlikeness. I wish that more churches were more concerned about promoting good marriages rather than just discouraging divorce.

Lin said...

I had not thought of it as tempting God, eithe. Which is why I posted this to see if there was any reaction.

Churches focus on the wrong part of this issue. They focus on NOT getting the legal document that says divorce. They should focus on breaking the vows. An abusive spouse has already broken the vow and in OT language has already 'divorced'.

Another aspect of this tempting is that we can be enablers of sin by staying and subjecting ourselves to a bully.

I love your last paragraph. You are so right. The church has focused on its image when it comes to marriage. They want to be able to report few divorces.

And male abusers who happen to attend a church that teaches male authority think they have immunity and are not good judges of what constitutes abuse.

Paula said...

I think the issue of tempting God also applies to the extreme view of faith healing. It's the same principle of practically demanding that God do something, treating faith as more of a force or magic power than in something that brings us closer to God. And once again, the focus is on us instead of God, since it's our faith that controls what God does.

But I still cannot fathom how anyone with the Holy Spirit can so despise another human being as to beat their own spouse or child, verbally or physically. Bad theology or not, surely even the most backslidden believer would not be so cruel.

Lin said...

"I think the issue of tempting God also applies to the extreme view of faith healing. It's the same principle of practically demanding that God do something, treating faith as more of a force or magic power than in something that brings us closer to God."

Excellent point, Paula.

Kristen said...

I found my way here through a link on Suzanne's Bookshelf. This is a message that really needs to get out. Women are being treated as if they, as human beings made in God's image, are less important than the "image" of a godly marriage portrayed to society. It's a crime.

This also seems an appropriate place to mention this: I am on the board of a new non-profit which is going to be called "Take Heart Project." It is a joint effort of Christians, agnostics, atheists, etc. (many of whom have been in church-endorsed abusive relationships) to provide help and resources to wives and daughters who are seeking a way out of the Quiverfull patriocentric movement. We are hoping to get websites like yours to link to Take Heart Project when its website is complete. In the meantime, I wanted to ask if you would link to the No Longer Quivering Blog. Here's the link:

This is a blogsite run by Vyckie Garrison, and the Take Heart Project is her brainchild. She is not a Christian, but is seeking the help of Christians in helping those women who want to leave Quiverfull homes but do not want to leave their Christian faith. I am a Christian guest-blogger on her site. If you would be willing to link to No Longer Quivering, and later to Take Heart Project, please let me know. Thank you for your time.

Kristen Rosser

Hannah Thomas said...

What I thought about when speaking about tempting?

Is the church tempting God to take care of this woman due to their opinions on how she should stay in harms way.

I think we all know there are times you can't escape danger - because it just happens. Sticking around when you know danger is near, and there is an avenue to escape? Isn't that tempting God in way?

Just a thought.

Lin said...

Hannah, Good point. Why did Paul sneak out of cities to avoid harm? Why didn't he stay, pray more and submit to those who wanted to harm him?