The Westminster Shorter Catechism reveals that man’s objective in this life is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Enjoying God does not come naturally to sinful, guilty men or women. More specifically, when women gleefully rejoice in their domestic duties, Christ’s dominion visibly and powerfully manifests itself in that domestic realm. Few greater challenges exist for the Christian woman who has experienced verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse in her life than for her to obey God’s Word with a guilt-free and undefiled joy from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5). To truly enjoy God, a Christian woman who has experienced abuse must, as every other believer, obey God’s Word and allow it to transform her mind.
It is certain that abuses are not new under the sun. Nonetheless, this century has been characterized by fathers who have failed to lead and to discipline their families and by feminism, which has attempted to reverse God’s perfect creation order regarding male and female roles, and abuse in families is highly prevalent. Now, many adult women who were cruelly victimized as children are filling (praise to God) Christ’s church — yes, even the Reformed churches. These dear Christian women are finding it difficult to work with their husbands in discipling their families. In addition, these women are troubled by excessive guilt and are in need of Christian discipleship and healing.
R.J. Rushdoony has explained the dynamics of guilt in The Politics of Guilt and Pity , stating that the human race is “deeply involved in a rebellious claim to autonomy and in the guilt which follows that claim” (p. 2). Rushdoony articulates the great lengths to which mankind will go to absolve his guilt himself, behaving unconsciously in irrational patterns of psychological sadism and masochism. Sadistic (self-empowering) and masochistic (self-degrading) behaviors manifest in these circumstances in people whom Rushdoony describes as those who “take pleasure in displeasure.” He defines the “injustice collector” (p. 4) who masochistically places himself into positions in which he is sure to feel offended and then sees himself self-righteously as the one sinned against and, hence, “innocent.” These individuals “collect” these “injustices” committed against them and indulge themselves in self-pity regarding them. We often see these behavior patterns in formerly abused women.
Women, in general, embrace a sense of obligation for the happiness of others. Consequently, they often feel guilty about their husband’s successes or lack thereof, their children’s happiness or unhappiness, their household duties, the needs of others in the church, their relatives’ miseries, etc. When women begin to operate in guilt instead of in joy, they tend to complain about and belittle their estate in life. They tend to compare themselves among themselves, which, the Scriptures teach, is unwise (2 Cor. 10:12). This guilt and discontentment can lead to gossip, slander, jealousies, lying, consuming and devouring one another, pettiness, manipulation, and controlling personalities. Many women who have been abused struggle that much more with these sins, as they experience a “double-portion” of guilt as compared to women who were reared in non-abusive, godly homes. Not only do victimized women have their own guilt to manage, but also they unconsciously and masochistically take on the guilt of their offenders, as do all victims. They can find themselves taking “pleasure in displeasure” and engaging in “injustice collecting.”
Consider this scenario: Various women are abused as children. They grow up in conscious or unconscious guilt and shame. They subtly or ostensibly manifest fear, bitterness, depression, masochistic dependency, and/or sadistic domineering behaviors in their personalities. Undiscipled Christian men are attracted for various conscious and unconscious reasons to these women and take them for their wives. Perhaps these men enjoy feeling “strong” with a weak, fearful woman (a case of pseudo-masculinity). Or, perhaps they masochistically find comfort from the leadership (control) of the domineering woman. They marry, and their relationships form new family systems. These couples find difficulty glorifying God and enjoying Him because their abuse secrets are seemingly so painful and powerful that these secrets are suppressed and not brought to the light of God’s Word for correction and healing. This suppression leads to further manifestation of sinful and/or aberrant behaviors. Furthermore, these families produce children and struggle with training them, finding it difficult to differentiate between desirable and undesirable behaviors in their little ones. Within the church, these formerly abused Christian women and their families may attract women and families with similar characteristics while at the same time repelling or are being repelled by joyful families. Few families are conscious that this scenario is occurring within the redeemed community. Few elders are aware of this type of dynamic, and regrettably, few elders labor to disciple these families in order to stop their destructive behavior and to disciple a godly and joy-filled character within them.
The Christian woman’s awareness of this abuse dynamic significantly initiates healing; however, the simple, yet profound solution that breaks this sinful, vicious yoke that these women endure is single-hearted and sincere devotion to Christ through joyful daily obedience to His Holy Word. Christ’s law is the fulfillment of love (Rom. 13:10), and God’s love covers a multitude of sins. To achieve a joyful and loving character among those who have been abused within the covenant community, qualified elders (who are joyful covenant heads of households themselves) must joyfully disciple these struggling families. These elders should have meek, single-minded, pure-hearted wives who are equipped to teach women (by word and deed) to love their husbands and to love their children (Titus 2).
A Christian woman, who has had an abusive past, must purpose to do God’s Word with joy. She must restrain her tongue and fill herself with the Scriptures. She must speak the truth. She must be a lover of what is good, and cleave to it. Christian women who have difficulty putting off the thoughts of an abusive past should find joyful and godly women, and follow their examples of how they enjoy God, their husbands, their families, their churches, their lives. If a joyful, godly woman cannot be readily found, then women can read about them in the Scriptures (e.g., Hannah in 1 Sam. 1; Mary in Luke 1:46), or else they should pray for God to bring joyful women into their lives. Christian women who have been abused must be rooted in the truth that their beloved Savior was thoroughly abused by wicked Pharisees and hypocrites, and that He intercedes for their healing and sanctification and for the restoration of their hearts. To learn to enjoy God, Christian women must fill their homes with Christ’s joy so that the dominion, which He already has in that realm, can manifest itself mightily (…for the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit [Rom. 14:17]). Regardless of the abuse of the past, the Christian woman’s life in Christ is ordained for God’s glory and for godly enjoyment. Thankfully, God promises in Ecclesiastes 2:26 to give wisdom and knowledge and joy to one who is good in His sight.