She turned up at the meeting with a huge bruise on the side of her face. When someone asked she shrugged and said something about turning around in a hurry and colliding with the open kitchen door. Well, it sounded plausible but I knew she was lying. I’d been to her home after her daughter had turned up in my Church Catechism class in tears. On that occasion I had seen the holes in the plaster wall of the dining room. To say that her husband had an anger-management problem was an understatement. Usually it was the wall or an item of furniture that copped his wrath – but increasingly it was the other people in his family. The trouble was that nobody knew about it and she and her two children covered up for Dad’s tirades – it was a scandalous family secret they didn’t want to talk about.
That scene is familiar enough and for a small number among us it’s an especially painful story because we are the victims. Domestic violence has been in the news of late for all the wrong reasons. Hospitals and police are reporting increasing levels of violence in the home.
What is far less common than the above scenario is when the woman of the house is the perpetrator and the husband the victim. When he once turned up at church, black and blue with bruises, I suspected that it wasn’t true that he had slipped on the stairs. Later I found that my suspicions were correct: he had been pushed down the stairs – not by a wife with an anger-management problem but by a wife with some deep-seated emotional problems. In fact whenever she had one of her episodes it seemed she had the strength of ten men.
A sad outworking of The Fall in Genesis 3 is that violence is often done to those who are nearest and dearest. The violence is not always physical either. I’ve counselled women who have the deep scars of verbal abuse – and occasionally a man who cops that kind of treatment from a sharp-tongued wife. In many instances the domestic violence is fuelled by alcohol.
What is particularly sad is when the violence is justified: She had it coming to her! Or even sadder; when the man of the house thinks that his authority as a husband allows him to belittle his wife and even to lay hands on her. I recall an older man (he was already a grandfather) being caught out slapping his wife around. He justified his actions by accusing her of not being willing to submit to him as the Bible requires in Ephesians 5. What he conveniently forgot was the part of the same chapter that called him to show Christlike love to his wife.
In my experience we face the same problem in domestic violence as we do in marriage breakdown – and that is that we leave it too long to get help. So often pastors are called in to try and hold a marriage together when one party or the other has already decided to walk out. Rarely is the pastor called in with the request: Can we talk to you because things are getting a little rocky in our marriage? Similarly when it comes to domestic violence pastors and elders usually become involved only when things have gotten well and truly out of hand.
I accept that relationship can be hard work and sometimes there are family and relational dynamics that so easily lead to these kinds of problem. But we need to deal with matters early. Get help and talk to someone if you have sharp tongue that becomes abusive to others. Get serious about that anger-management problem you struggle with and seek help for it. Not like the man who assured his pastor that it wasn’t a big deal because his violent explosions only lasted a moment. His pastor replied: A shotgun only explodes for a second too but look at the damage it can do in the process.
Above all we need to walk close with the Lord and work at our spiritual life, cultivating the fruit of the Spirit. Paul puts it well in Philippians 2: that we ought to cultivate the mind of Christ and count others as better then ourselves.