Because the weight of the recent discussion about wifely submission has leaned towards the topic of abuse within marriage, I’ve been seeking the Lord for more clarity on this painful issue. First Peter 3 encourages wives to adorn their spirit by quietly hoping in God through respect and submission. But repeated or prolonged patterns of abusive behaviour force our understanding into another realm of biblical discussion–that of oppression. Families struggling with abuse are not just out in the world; they warm our church pews every week. We cannot pretend that these situations do not exist nor fail to respond biblically. I want to touch on some verses about oppression to get the discussion going.
1. Jesus Himself was oppressed (Isaiah 53:8). No one understands the place of the oppressed better than He. “Because He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
2. We are repeatedly commanded not to oppress others, especially those under our authority and care. Limiting this to the family context, this has intense bearing on husbands and wives, parents and children.
3. Oppressive behaviour must be repented of as sin. (Lev. 6)
4. God judges those who oppress others. (Isaiah 30:12) The Old Testaments prophets frequently preached against oppression as one of Israel’s key sins and a major reason for their punishment and exile (eg. Isaiah 1:15 “Your hands are full of blood.”)
5. God’s heart is tender towards the oppressed. He is their hope and deliverer. (Psalm 72:4)
6. The Bible often links righteousness with helping the oppressed (Isaiah 1:16-17; Isaiah 58:6-8; Jeremiah 22:3; Ezekiel 45:9). This is a particularly striking point when we consider that it is human nature (fundamentalists included) to equate righteousness with law-keeping. But under the guise of obedience to Scripture, oppression within our own church congregations has been tolerated and even justified by the letter of the law. This story from Luke 13 is conspicuously pointed.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people,”There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
Several times in the gospels, demon possession is described as being “oppressed” by a demon. The woman in this story had been oppressed by a disabling spirit for eighteen years. But when Jesus freed her from oppression, the Jews immediately criticized Him for breaking the Sabbath law. They couldn’t rejoice in her new freedom; they could only accuse Jesus of neglecting the law. Jesus’ answer reveals that God regards helping the oppressed as more important than keeping the letter of the law. To relate this to our current context, helping a wife and children who are trapped by abuse is closer to the heart of God than keeping them captive through a technical interpretation of submission and obedience. Because oppression by definition leaves the oppressed powerless, abused people need help from the outside. God’s Word is clear that we cannot turn a blind eye to their needs without distancing ourselves from true righteousness.
What are we doing as churches and as individuals to rescue those who are trapped in marital oppression? Are we strengthening the oppressor or the oppressed?