9 Gospel-Reflecting Ways to Respond to a Former Abuser

In his new mini-book, HELP! My Parents Abused Me When I Was a Kid, Joshua Zeichik writes, “As a Christian with a commitment to honor God, you must look to Scripture to evaluate whether your motives and responses reflect your new role as an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:11–21).” He then provides the following list of God-honoring principles that you can use to discern whether your motives and responses reflect the grace of Jesus Christ. [Note: this is simply an abbreviated summary. More complete explanations are found in the book.] Your response should reflect:

  1. A love for your enemies (Matthew 5:43–48; Romans 12:9–21). In these passages, both Jesus and the Apostle Paul call believers to live counter-intuitively by loving those who have acted as enemies towards them.
  2. The response that Jesus had to his abusers (Luke 23:18–43). It is one thing to call a victim to love his or her enemy; it is another to model it. But that is exactly what Christ did on the cross. When he suffered abuse, Jesus modeled for all victims of abuse how they should respond to their abusers: that is, with a heart of forgiveness.
  3. What you have received from God (Matthew 18:21–35; Ephesians 4:31–32). It can be easy for a victim of abuse to comprehend the evil that was done and think that he or she would never do that to someone else….Therefore, a Christian response must balance the understanding that the abusers deserve to be held accountable for their abuse with the rejection of self-righteous thinking that ignores the victim’s own need for God’s forgiveness (Romans 5:8–10).
  4. Discernment that does not allow future abuse to occur (1 Samuel 18–27). The relationship between King David and his father-in-law, Saul, is recorded for us throughout the book of 1 Samuel. At times Saul acted kindly towards David, but in many instances he acted abusively, out of jealousy. On several occasions, David took steps to prevent the abuse from continuing (1 Samuel 19:10, 12, 18; 20:1–42; 26:21–25).
  5. Obedience to God’s process of calling those who have sinned to repentance (Matthew 18:15–20). A willingness to confront sin and see sinners restored is found in Matthew 18, where we are given procedures for dealing with conflict. In these procedures we see a heart that desires to win people back to God, clear direction to approach the offender boldly, and a process that includes community.
  6. God’s call to reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17–21). God calls all his followers to be ambassadors of reconciliation. This is not a calling to be selectively applied only to easy relationships. Although it is not always possible to be reconciled—because both parties must be truly interested in that reconciliation—the Christian victim must do everything in his or her power to encourage it (Romans 12:18). The true believer should ultimately seek to desire what God desires, which is for the abusers to be reconciled to God and man.
  7. The goal of restoration (Revelation 21; Exodus 21:34). Forgiveness is something that the Christian is called to pursue regardless of the abusers’ future choices. It is a heart posture towards those who sinned against you.
  8. Trust in God’s sovereignty, regardless of the relational outcome with your abusers (Romans 8:28–29). Much of the struggle you will have is the battle to understand why God allowed the abuse to occur in the first place. Although there are no easy answers, trusting in God’s promise that he is working through all your circumstances for your good and his glory should bring some comfort that the abuse was not meaningless.
  9. A desire always to believe the best (1 Corinthians 13:7). It is understandable if a lack of trust in your parents becomes your default response. However, you must strive to believe the best, as far as is reasonable without being foolish, as you seek to move forward in your relationship with them.

The above list is certainly not exhaustive, but it builds a framework to enable you to evaluate your past and current responses. These principles can only be put into practice as God’s Spirit illumines your heart to accurately see your past and current unloving responses. Therefore, seek God earnestly in prayer, asking him to show you any areas where you have not honored him in your response, so that the Spirit may transform your heart (Psalm 139:23–24).

[Excerpted from HELP! My Parents Abused Me When I Was a Kid.]

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