The Heart of Abuse

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

In working with men who are abusive one difficulty I have encountered is the willingness of pastors and ministry leaders to accept any immediate change in behavior as a sign of repentance without recognizing the manipulative nature of the abuser and certainly without adequately addressing the heart. The assumption may be that once the “violence” has stopped then our role as shepherd shifts from confronting abuse to looking for ways to restore the marriage, it always seems to come back to the marriage. Among the many problems with this approach is that it draws our attention away from the source of abuse, which is the abuser and his beliefs.

The Centrality of the Heart.

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:43-45)
Jesus words in Luke 6 remind us that as we deal with problems it is imperative that we address the issues of the heart. In working with men who use violence it is easy to focus upon the actions surrounding the instances of abuse. The abuser’s behavior will require diligent and focused attention but, they remain only a portion of the problem. Sometimes men are willing to embrace the “respectable” sins of poor judgment and bad behavior in exchange for the continued concealment of an abusive heart. Like the “bad tree” in Jesus’ story the abuser may have experienced some consequences resulting from his sin but remains unwilling to address the real problem. Lying beneath the soil are a system of roots that have developed over time in the heart of an abusive man that contribute to so much more than just the abusive behavior and if left un-confronted may produce, though possibly different, more damaging fruit. Yes, the behavior must be addressed but in conjunction with the uprooting of the heart of abuse. Behavior is rarely, if ever, an isolated event. As James chapter four illustrates people do what they do, because they want what they want. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” If we only confront violent behavior we may very well see a family susceptible to new tactics of control. He will more than than likely still be entitled, empowered, and bent on control. This is why we spend a great deal of time connecting behavior to beliefs when confronting men in our groups because we believe that a change of heart is the only real means of changing behavior.

Final Thought.

My grandparents have an apple tree in their backyard and unless we uproot and remove it there will always be an apple tree in the backyard. Behavior modification without heart transformation is a kin to ripping all the apples off the apple tree, stapling bananas in their place and then trying convince others of how amazing this new banana tree is. That is exactly what abuser’s are willing to do if they think we’ll buy it.

Learn More

To learn more about the dynamics and impact of domestic violence as well as how your church can respond well consider joining a PeaceWorks coaching group. Visit for more details.

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13 Responses to The Heart of Abuse

  1. Brenda R says:

    Very well said. I hope many pastors will read this.I especially like the example of the apple tree and trying to convince others of how amazing the new banana tree is. X husband would have me believe this even though after a 23 year “relationship” (more or less) and a year of seperation, intensified verbal abuse and adultery which lead to divorce, he still wants us to have dinner together so he can prove how he has changed. Of course, I am to simply forget the past and start over which includes forgetting everything he has said and done in the past year and no consequences such as counseling or repentance. The pieces of the marriage are too many to be restored. The pieces of my heart are still a work in progress, but the Lord does amazing work. I have more peace in the past few months than I have had in my 57 years here on Earth.

  2. Betty Surgeon says:

    O I wish my leaders understood the abusive situation like you do and you explain the situation so well. When troubles started in our home, The leaders kept taking my husband out for coffee and listening to all his excuses for his behaviour and then telling me that it went well. I kept saying to them….but what about the root of all this pornography, this deceit, this unfaithfulness, this swearing etc……surely there is disease at the root of this tree which must be dealt with before there is healing. It completely baffles me that this statement from me didn’t make sense to them. They just see it as a marriage problem….both of us not getting along together.

    • Betty, they don’t train us well in seminary to address issues like abuse. I pray that things will change, and that clergy training and resources in abuse intervention, and prevention will become the norm rather than the exception.

      • Brenda R says:

        Amen, Seminaries have a long way to go and need to know what they keep in their libraries and keep tabs on what their teachers are teaching.

    • Brenda R says:

      Betty, A marriage problem? I’m sure you did not ask your husband to do all of those sinful things. I can’t imagine anyone thinking this was a marriage problem, much less the leaders of your church. That is sinful on their part.

  3. phyllis says:

    Chris…..This is a great article and I hope that many preachers read it. I agree with everything you said. Keep up the good work. We need a male voice out there speaking against abuse. I really liked your final thought….

  4. Tony says:

    Awesome article. Good job as always.

  5. HisEzer says:

    Thanks, Chris, for your insight and courage to bring awareness to this problem of abuse – particularly addressing the church’s failure to deal with it appropriately… Leaders these days must be either content with turning a blind eye, or they simply are clueless about manipulation and twisting of reality which takes place when an abuser puts on his mask of repentance ….( all the while in the private realm between he and his wife, nothing has changed… everything continues on as before… ). They see this “nice guy” with head humbly bowed, but that is not the presentation she experiences… It is all a manufactured facade for pure manipulation and self-protection… No heart change … And then she experiences only more added despair as the church leaders, through favoritism, choose to dismiss her expressed concerns about what is going on, believing the word of the abuser over hers… (even though he has proven himself to be a liar). He skillfully leads them to see that the real problem is …..the wife is unforgiving.

    No follow up questions… No digging for truth. Just acceptance of the guys word over hers. She is victimized all over again…

    Thanks much for the good article!! Looking forward to more…

  6. Clarity says:

    Thanks so much for the blog and the Biblical posts and yet educated on abuse. My abuser would use these verses
    “As James chapter four illustrates people do what they do, because they want what they want. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”
    against me as he would say that we both obviously don’t want a better marriage bad enough or we would do what it would take to “get better” and that I obviously didn’t want things to be better b/c I was unwilling to do the things he asked me to do: i.e. answer my phone when he called, go to Sunday School with him, etc etc. So those verses triggered some intense feelings in me right when I read them…. I hate that that is my response to God’s Word sometimes now. Thanks again for your work.

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