Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 1: Acknowledge the Power of Your Actions
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 2: Know What God Requires
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 3: Make Your Action Plan
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 4: Get Ready for War
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 5: Master Your Biggest Enemy
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 6: Fight This Fight
Even when it’s fully in our power to resist or stop an abuser, if we don’t know without question and without hesitation exactly where he crossed the line, and exactly what we should do about it, we often might just as well be bound and gagged. Our ability to resist evil is only as strong as our understanding of what actually is evil, and what specifically we’re supposed to do about evil.
As we explained in Part 1, 100% of the guilt of the abuser’s crime rests on the abuser, no matter what the victim does or doesn’t do. There is nothing a victim can do to “deserve” abuse, and if she fails to stop a crime being committed against her, it’s never “her fault.” However, while God promises that the sin of our abusers will not go unpunished (Num. 32:23, Isa. 13:11, Prov. 11:21), He has also given us specific instructions for becoming a type of woman and developing a type of strength that can make us devastating to this kind of man. But that first requires knowing how to draw the lines.
After all, are we sure what this man did was wrong? What if he’s a mature Christian who has studied his Bible and is assuring us that this is OK? What if he was in a position of authority over us – doesn’t God say we’re supposed to submit to authority? And besides, what are we going to do? Slap him? Call the police? Would telling someone else be gossip? If this gets out, how will it reflect on the church? Is that really what Jesus would do?
If our knowledge of the Scriptures primarily consists of some vague or misapplied concepts about forgiving, overlooking offenses, covering sin, obeying authorities, not gossiping, and having a gentle and quiet spirit, we are not ready to fight this battle. These are all important concepts, but removed from their context of “the whole counsel of God,” they could actually lead us to enable sin and abuse. And with weak or straight-up wrong teaching on how to respond to evil being so prevalent, we should all assume that we’ve got some false ideas to combat. The good news is that the answer to both ignorance and bad teaching is right within our grasp.
But if we want to be able to see things the way God does and not just the way our culture or community does, we first need to accept that His standard is the only one that matters (as well as the only one that doesn’t shift with cultural fads or phobias, pendulum-swing from one extreme to another, or react to bad experiences… and the only one that holds men and women equally to the standard of acting like Christ.) This standard is also above our cultural conditioning for appropriate and inappropriate behavior, our own personal comfort zones, or our preferences for consent or non-consent. It’s even above the teachings of church leaders, psychologists, parents, and social justice warriors. The Word of God has to come first in our minds, hearts, and actions.
Then we need to see that His standard does speak even to our most practical questions about how to deal with flattery, coercion, intimidation, threats, guilt-manipulation, abuse of power, and more. God says His Word is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16,17) – and this includes even the good work of dealing with bad people. Ironically, the modern church tends to shy away from the parts of the Bible that contain God’s most practical instruction about how to restrain evil, protect the innocent, and help make victims whole, instead pulling solutions from more “uplifting” passages about “forgiveness,” “turning the other cheek,” and “not casting the first stone” – things God never meant to be the complete response to sin and abuse in our midst. To avail ourselves of His full counsel on this, we need to be willing to study parts of the Bible we may not have delved into much before.
Let’s return to our protagonist Emily and what God would say about her situation. Like her boyfriend Bryan, Emily also had begun the story with general duties to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (2 Tim. 2:22, Col. 3:5, Mark 7:21-23, Gal. 5:24, 1 Thess. 4:7, 1 Pet. 2:11), abstain from sexual sin (1 Thess. 4:3-5, 1 Cor. 6:18, Heb. 13:4, Eph. 5:5), provoke those around her to greater holiness (Heb. 3:13, Heb. 10:24,25, 1 Thess. 5:11, 2 Tim. 4:2), and not deliberately put temptations to sin in front of others (Luke 17:1, Rom. 14:13, Rom. 14:21).
When Bryan began trying to entice her into sin, some new responsibilities came into play. (Note: we’re presenting these responsibilities as we believe they would apply to an adult woman, in full command of her faculties.)
1: Confront this sin at the very first stage.
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness,” commands Eph. 5:11, “but instead expose [literally, confute, admonish, convict, convince, tell a fault, rebuke, reprove] them.” This is exactly what Joseph did the first time Potiphar’s wife came after him; he “refused,” and told her in strong, morally-clear terms why this would be a “great wickedness and sin against God.” (Gen. 39:8-9) Any time a man is trying to entice us into sin, we need to not only “take no part in it,” but also communicate clearly one way or another that this is sin and we will not tolerate it.
(In the case of a Christian brother, part of why we do this is to help our brothers back onto the path – the most truly loving thing to do. Matt. 18:15, Jas. 5:19,20, Gal. 6:1,2.)
What if the man is in a position of authority over us – does that affect our right to challenge him? Not remotely. God does establish authority to be “the servant of God” (Rom. 13:4), but also makes it clear that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) whenever the two come in conflict. Just as David and Jonathan had to reprove and resist Saul’s ungodly desire to put a spear through David, Emily’s right and duty to resist and reprove Bryan’s sinful desires would have been no less if he had been her pastor, employer, father, or king.
The failure to confront men’s over-steppings at the beginning is often the first inch that we give. Perhaps we are flattered by a man’s attentions and allow them… or perhaps in discomfort or fear we deflect them in a way that sounds as little like “no” as possible – we turn it into a joke, we laugh, we change the subject, we try to ease out of the situation in a way that won’t make things uncomfortable.
Sometimes the problem is that we don’t realize what a man did was even wrong. Perhaps we haven’t been taught anything about boundaries. Or, something very gratifying to our flesh, such as flattery, may not bother us, if we don’t know what God says about it (Prov. 26:28, Prov. 29:5). A physical overstepping-of-bounds from someone we’re attracted to may not repulse us in the same way as the advances of an old lecher, if we’re not steeped in God’s teaching on fornication, adultery, and “youthful lusts.” And romantic or sexual pressure being presented as “godly” from someone we look up to may not register as “lust” or “extortion” unless we have developed a healthy hate for those things which God also hates. Soaking ourselves in the Word is the only thing that will give us the moral confidence and righteous indignation that these situations demand.
And don’t think you have to figure it out alone – where the rubber of specific situations meets the road of general biblical principles, most of us will still have a lot of questions, and we should not hesitate to ask a parent or trusted counselor, “Is it OK for a guy to…” or “How do you think I should handle…” Proverbs 11:14 and 24:6 tell us that “In a multitude of counselors there is safety.” Abuse thrives in secrecy, silence, and darkness – where there is no secrecy, abuse is immediately exposed for what it is – so the more light and accountability we can shine into our relationships, the better.
Whatever the cause, if we fail to clearly say “no” at the little stages at the beginning, we are likely setting ourselves up for failure at the crisis point – potentially training ourselves in surrender.
2: Stop giving him opportunity to sin against her.
After Joseph’s initial response to Potiphar’s wife, her harassment didn’t stop, and once again, he demonstrated the right response; “And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.” (Gen. 39:10) Not only did Joseph refuse to be worn down her persistence – he wouldn’t even stick around to keep saying “no” to her. The fact that she hadn’t listened the first time proved that his refusal meant nothing to her.
This is critical. One of Harvey Weinstein’s victims described him as “a classic case” of “someone not understanding the word ‘no.’…I must have said no a thousand times.” If someone has demonstrated that God’s wishes and ours mean nothing to them, the time has come to stop saying “no” and get away from them. At that point, we’re dealing with someone who is only listening to his own unrestrained, self-serving flesh, and that, if you think about it, is a really dangerous thing to be close to. That may be why Scripture tells us to just stay away from people like these (Rom. 16:17-18, 2 Tim. 3:2-7, 1 Cor. 5:9-11).
If Emily had rebuked Bryan the very first time he pushed his limits, and he had laughed her off and persisted, the right thing for her to do would have been to remove herself from danger, and remove him from temptation that he obviously could not handle. She should not have kept being available to him to keep sinning against her like this.
Sometimes making distance between ourselves and an abuser takes physically fighting a man off. Sometimes it takes firepower. And sometimes it simply takes the moral strength to end a relationship with someone we love. But we need to take seriously the opportunity to stop men from sinning against us and God – for their good as well as ours.
3: Cry out, or to try to bring in help.
If Bryan had persisted in forcing himself on Emily, and she physically couldn’t get away from him, she needed to “cry out,” a principle we find in Deut. 22:23-27. This passage describes the necessity of a girl “crying out” during an assault, as a determining factor in whether the deed was considered consensual or not. The Hebrew word for “cry out” means something like “to cry for help,” “to make an outcry,” “to be summoned,” “to call together.” In other words, this “crying out” is not a message to the assailant to stop; this is a call for help to anyone nearby to intervene (which also serves as evidence to any within earshot that the girl was not consenting.)1 We believe the principle here of trying to bring in help and create evidence could have many applications besides physical screaming – making loud noises, using a safety app that calls 911 – anything to bring in help.
One thing we need to be realistic about is the fact that this kind of response is not going to come naturally. One of the most natural responses to the shock and stress of an attack is to completely freeze, and we’ll discuss handling that response more in article 3. However, many women also refrain from screaming during date-rape situations because they simply think that would seem ridiculous and over-the-top… and then press charges afterward because they do believe what happened was a crime. The desire to not want to make a scene is common, but if we believe rape is a crime, we must treat it as such at every stage, and be preparing ourselves to respond as aggressively and decisively as if we saw another woman being assaulted or raped.
What if we didn’t realize that something forced on us was wrong until years later? What if trauma blocked an old memory from our minds until recently? What if we long ago suffered a crime we knew was wrong, but had been taught that it was truly more biblical and loving to tell no one? Does God hold us guilty for staying silent in ignorance? And have we missed our window for crying out if we didn’t do it immediately?
Many of us were truly ignorant of God’s requirements at the time of an incident, and while that doesn’t change how God designed His system of justice to work, or the steps He requires of us, it does affect how He views our failure to take those steps. According to Luke 12:47-48 and James 4:17, He puts a far more serious burden of responsibility on those who knew the right thing than on those who didn’t. But this means that we need to embrace the responsibility and privilege of being a justice-seeker from the moment we realize the wrong that has happened and the right that needs to be done – and also rest in the fact that any regrets about mistakes in the past can be fully forgiven by our gracious Father. In Christ, we are not defined by the mistakes we have made in the past. And we’re also not too late to follow step 4:
4: Tell the right people.
This is where we play a role in breaking the culture of silence, or we don’t; where we take a stand for justice to be done, or we don’t; where we make sacrifices to try to protect future victims from being hurt, or we don’t; where we tell predators that what they did is unacceptable, or we don’t. Going to the authorities, whether employers, parents, church officers, or the police, is often the last thing that a woman wants to do after suffering something traumatizing, humiliating, or painful. And on top of the horror of re-living the incident all over again, is the likelihood that she won’t even be listened to or believed. One of the saddest realities of our times is how often truth-tellers are met with the accusation that they are exaggerating or lying, which can lead to yet another volley of abuse against them. The cost of telling can be very high, and we can’t imagine anything giving a woman the strength to do it except the knowledge that God is the final judge, Who will execute justice on authorities for their oppression of the innocent. There are spiritual strongholds that support this culture of silence, and we have to remember that the very act of speaking the truth in faith (even if it appears to do no good) can be mighty in bringing those down (2 Cor. 10:4).
As we look at why reporting is important, it might be helpful to consider some of the purposes of God’s justice. Biblical justice was not designed as a mechanism for victims to get even with their abusers, a kind of ugly legal tit-for-tat. It’s not about seeking revenge, humiliation, or destruction. There is a strong restorative aspect to biblical justice, for both the victim and the whole community. And even the consequences and accountability applied to the perpetrator, as he worked to bring wholeness to whomever he wronged, would be the very things most likely to correct his own deformed character and help him eventually redeem his reputation. Those consequences would also serve to make reparations to the victim, keep other women from being hurt by him, and send a message to future predators.
When we take the principles and goals of real justice to heart, it makes a big difference in how we choose to break our silence. Will we seek attention and self-aggrandizement? Will we pursue a path of personal vengeance, simply trying to inflict pain and humiliation on the one who hurt us? Will we wait for dozens of other victims to come forward first? Or will we swiftly go to those who can actually bring the offender to account in pursuit of real justice?
Let’s also consider that the pursuit of justice has a due process, designed to protect not only victims of abuse but also victims of false accusations. God does not command judges to implicitly and unquestioningly “believe the victim.” He does command judges to “not show partiality” (Deut. 16:19, Deut. 1:17), and to “inquire diligently” from witnesses and evidence (Deut. 19:18). If we love justice, we need to embrace this due process and be willing to do our due diligence to help the wheels of justice move forward by gathering whatever evidence and witnesses we can.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss what levels of offense deserve to be taken to which authorities and when. We hope it goes without saying that things as serious as rape or incest need to be handled differently than creepy compliments or inappropriate physical affection. The point is, our goal here should be a just resolution of the situation, and that is going to require personal study of God’s thoughts on all these things.
Let’s note one responsibility that was not on this list: “Stop the crime.” Though we’re required to do what we can, God does not hold us responsible for things outside of our power. As He Himself says of rape, “But you shall do nothing to the young woman… for this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor.” (Deut. 22:26) As we said in the previous article, true empowerment comes when we take full responsibility for all the things that are in our power…. and don’t weigh ourselves down with false responsibilities and guilt over things that aren’t.
Being a woman in such a vile, abusive culture might mean that we have a lot more opportunities to be heroines than we would otherwise. And if we arm ourselves with the tools the Lord gives us for facing wicked men, we may play a much bigger role in ending this culture of harassment than we realize. Every woman who owns these things is one less victim to be taken advantage of, one more threat to predators, and one more voice for justice. The tools we find in Scripture for confronting evil, fighting evil, and bringing evil to justice were created by a God Who tears down strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4) and overcomes the world (John 16:33). Let’s use them!
1. “Innocent until proven guilty” is here applied to the girl; if the act had happened outside the earshot of anyone who could have intervened, it would be assumed that the girl had cried out, and the act was automatically considered rape instead of seduction..↩
Read the next article: Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 3: Make Your Action Plan