This post first appeared on the Faith Biblical counseling blog www.faithlafayette.org/counseling
I’ve read scores of criminal complaints, police narratives, and victim statements over the years but this one was different. Maybe I’m getting used to reading them because as I look back I was far too casual with this one, almost callused hurrying through the details eager to place it back in the file. It wasn’t until later that evening as I quieted my mind that the Holy Spirit allowed the words from that report to begin penetrating my heart. It was as if the details flew into my mind almost like they were in color and the background was black and white. Words like, “bruising on the arms and face” “lacerations” and “the victim’s blood” reminded me that this is far more than just paperwork. These are people, people who in the context of an intimate relationship find their lives reduced to a few paragraphs on a sheet of paper. I was actually reading about a victim who is far more than the extent of her wounds, and a perpetrator who in fact is more than his rage and desire for control. They are people created and subsequently pursued by the God of heaven. His desire for them far exceeds the trouble they have and will continue to face. He has comfort for the victimized, and hope for the violent man and also longs for His people to compassionately respond to both the victim and perpetrator as well. While this experience has left me with many thoughts, here is one that I hope will challenge you as well.
What the image of God has to do with domestic violence
People are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). Therefore when one person assaults another he is in fact assaulting an image bearer of God. This was running through my mind as I contemplated the victim in the above case. Asking myself what that means I jotted down a few thoughts.
- Sacred Space: Most agree that the image and likeness of God involves more than what we see in the mirror but this is still a fine place to begin. The human body is sacred so to speak. When we neglect or harm our own bodies, or inflict harm or pain on another we are in fact attacking the one whom our bodies represent. For the believer this truth is emphasized in the New Testament in reference to our own bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) as well as how husbands in particular are to treat their wives (Ephesians 5:28). As Biblical counselors we should not neglect this reality as we ask questions or find out more information. In our case above a husband has done great damage to his wife, and in doing so had minimized or completely ignored the image of God. We should love him enough to challenge his sin and call for repentance. In addition we should acknowledge the victims pain and mourn with her.
Our God is a relational being therefore we are relational beings. We are designed for community and abuse perverts and distorts this reality.Relational Beings: Our God is a relational being therefore we are relational beings. We are designed for community and abuse perverts and distorts this reality. Domestic violence isolates the victim from safety and security, and the perpetrator from sources of accountability. This relational dysfunction of isolation deviates from God’s design, and for the believer violates the principles of Scripture (Hebrews 10:24-25). I really believe that the church is the proper place to address domestic violence because we are a laboratory of relationships. We can both teach and model these principles to the couple above. Yes, we should give way to the authorities, domestic violence is a crime. But, that does not mean we neglect our brothers and sisters. The authorities can punish, and try and protect but they can’t offer the hope of the gospel. The church has as our mission and calling the ministry of reconciliation (2Corinthians 5:18-21). We too are compelled by Christ’s love to see the victim and the perpetrator through His eyes. Only the church can call the offender to repentance and provide the spiritual accountability he needs through the body of Christ and church discipline. Only the church can bring the healing touch of Christ through his body’s response and subsequent care to the victim. (1Corinthians 12:12-14) The bottom line is they need us.
- Made for a Reason: We, as image bearers have purpose. Our functionality or purpose is connected to the image of God as well. Consider how a Christian husband is fulfilling his God given purpose of living for God’s pleasure (2Corinthians 5:9) while physically assaulting his wife, or how the victim is confined and restricted from being salt and light by a controlling spouse. Domestic violence has at its very heart desires for control and sinful abuses of power which constrict a relationship to the point of little or no meaning. Purpose is swept aside for conformity and truth is replaced with manipulative communication both from the offender who controls and the victim who resists, or plays along to avoid abuse. Marriage is a mirror of Christ’s relationship with the church. (Ephesians 5:21-33) But, when a marriage is blanketed by violence and control it will not effectively point observers to Christ. It lacks purpose and meaning.
This post is the result of considering one story, but there are many more like it. If you haven’t encountered domestic violence in your counseling you probably will. You will more than likely see the bruises, marks, and scars of the victim and may be a witness to the rage, denial, and slander of the offender but will you see more? Will you see clearly the image of God stamped upon and in each person that seeks your help? And, are you and your church prepared to offer comfort to the victim, and hope to the offender? Let’s work together so that God’s incredible work of restoration may be visible in the lives of all those we counsel.