How do you love a boyfriend that abuses you? How do you treat an abusive girlfriend like Jesus would treat her? How do you forgive a person without letting him/her hurt you again?
Ever since I broke up with my abusive first boyfriend five years ago, I’ve been searching for answers to this question.
If I had treated him better…
If I had stayed with him longer…
If I hadn’t responded with violence at the end (our break up involved me punching him in the face out of self-defense)…
….would he have changed?
Does loving like Jesus loved mean letting people walk all over us? I used to think so.
But I’ve changed my mind.
I’ve been reading the book Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. If you’ve read other books by Shane Claiborne, you’ll know that he is radically committed to following Christ’s teachings of love, mercy, and peace. He is anti-violence, anti-war, and pro-”enemy love.”
But in Jesus for President, he reminds us that Jesus was not pro-passivity. He didn’t want us to “let people sadistically step all over us (p. 92).”
No violence or hatred.
Jesus taught a “third way.”
As Claiborne and Haw explain, when Jesus preached on “turning the other cheek” in Matthew 5, he was not supporting passiveness. Because of cultural law, the Jews of that time would only use their right hand to hit someone. Turning the other cheek would prevent attackers from backslapping you as one would an inferior. Your attacker would have to “look [you] in the eye” and fight you as an equal. Jesus did not want people fighting back or cowering in fear. He wanted them to look attackers in the eye and say, as Claiborne and Haw state, “I am a human being, made in the image of God, and you cannot destroy that.” (p. 92)
Of course, our culture is different. Turning the other cheek won’t produce the same effect today. But we can still stand up for our “sacred humanity” (p. 93). By leaving abusive relationships- by showing our abusers that “I am enough!” we can remind them whose image we are made in.
When we walk away from those relationships, our abusers see our strength. They are forced to look at us, not as inferiors, nor as objects, but as equals. As fellow humans. We escape the situation, and at the same time, we force our attackers to see things from a different perspective.
(By the way, this isn’t always easy. I used violence because I couldn’t find any other way out of my situation. I’m a pacifist committed to non-violence, and my saying this is probably hypocritical. But, if you feel that there is no other way out of your situation and you punch your abuser in the face like I did, I will not judge you. In fact, I might secretly cheer for you in my head. There, I said it. Excuse my imperfections. You may not have to use violence, but you may have to get authorities involved. And you will almost certainly need help from friends and family. It’s not easy. Don’t do it alone)
It’s not loving to provide your abuser with an opportunity to continue his violent lifestyle. Violence kills the image of God in us.
So leave abusive relationships and give your abuser a chance to start over. Give your abuser a chance to see the image of God in you, but also in himself/herself. Love abusers by letting them start fresh- by giving them a chance to change.
As Jesus for President states, “Even those who have committed great violence can have the image of God come to life again within them as they hear the whisper of love.”
Love by ending the violence. Love by leaving.
**By the way, read Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. It’s awesome!