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What does the Bible say about violence in relationships?

It is crucial that two people feel safe within a relationship. I’ve recently gotten into ‘Married At First Sight’, a show about couples who enter an experiment, choosing to get married without ever having met their bride/groom. The participants, effectively, choose an arranged marriage. Their trepidation grows as their wedding ceremonies approach, and what’s really apparent is that everyone is looking for reassurance from their mystery partner.

Towards the end of the experiment, as they reflect on their wedding days, nearly all of the participants praise their partners for putting them at ease on their wedding day or helping them to feel relaxed throughout the experiment. Where safety and trust were thrown into contention, the relationships quickly broke down (I won’t spoil too much more!). People flourish in relationships where there is safety, because safety is a primary human need.

Our God is a God of safety. Throughout the Bible we see stories of God intervening or raising up specific people in order to bring God’s people, the Israelites, to safety. The Hebrew word which is usually translated as ‘safety’ in the Old Testament means ‘a place of refuge; security, trust, confidence, hope.’ Verse after verse refers to God bringing peace of comfort and confidence to the people of Israel; sometimes that’s described as Israel finding refuge under God’s wings and sometimes that looks like God being their strong tower. Natural imagery and language associated with defence are used to remind us that our God is a God who is both gentle and kind, but also incredibly powerful and able to fiercely protect us.

There are numerous examples of God saving His* people from devastation. The story of Esther is one of the best examples of a large scale intervention which saw the rescue of the Jewish people. King Ahasuerus, a Persian King, threatened to kill all the Jewish people. But Esther intervened, the King had compassion and the Jewish people were spared. Throughout the Old Testament there are, of course, moments of bloodshed and terror; some passages can be difficult or even traumatic to read. But there are glimpses of comfort and the promise of a future Saviour who will bring a peace unlike any other. God promises there will be safety for those that worship Him.

But what does this mean for intimate partner violence? You might argue that there is little or no connection between the violence caused by sparring people groups and the violence we see all too often in relationships. Can we look at God’s heart for people to be safe and assume that the same is true for safety in our closest relationships?

‘Those who love me, I will deliver;

I will protect those who know my name.

When they call to me, I will answer them;

I will be with them in trouble,

I will rescue them and honor them.’

— Psalm 91:14-15, NRSV —

The Psalms contain a lot of language about safety and refuge, and even a quick flick through this varied book will highlight that safety was a chief concern for the writers. They focus not just on safety for the individual, but on safety in relationships between God and His people. We see this with the writing of David, who wrote the majority of the Psalms. Through David’s poetry, we get a window into the intimate dialogue between God and David, who experienced threat on all sides, from both his enemies and from his own family.

The writers of the Psalms reassure us that we will ‘enjoy safe pasture’ (Psalm 37:3), that ‘no harm will befall [us]’ (Psalm 91:10), and, crucially, that because of God’s love for us, we will be protected (Psalm 91:14). The love that God has for us means that we are safe, be it in a battle or in our day to day interactions with other people. If our human relationships in some way reflect our relationship with God, they are to be relationships of comfort and safety. We can trust God wants us to be safe even if our partner does not provide the safety we crave.

But the Psalms don’t stop at reassurance that things will be ok in the midst of fear and abuse. We see that God is actively working to intervene in our lives to keep us safe. Psalm 124 features an attack, which is described as a storm; a flood engulfing God’s people and sweeping them away. It’s brutal. But, the defeat doesn’t actually happen. Instead, David praises God for keeping them safe, describing what would happen ‘if the Lord had not been on our side’ (Psalm 124:1); because God is with them they escape. It’s a reminder that God has the power to intervene. When we’re afraid, this Psalm is an encouragement that even the most hopeless situations can be turned around.

Sometimes it can be hard to believe that God is working to bring us to safety. There are times when we certainly don’t feel safe. The crucial thing to hold on to is that God is working to turn your situation around. If you’re experiencing abuse, it does not have to continue. God’s intention is never to harm you, or keep you in the cycle of abuse. The situation in Psalm 124 is one of a major turnaround, but if you’ve been abused for a long time and are reading about this incredible change of circumstance, you may feel pain and frustration. Perhaps you’re feeling trapped and alone right now, feeling unable to share that someone is hurting you. The words of the Psalms are for you. You are loved by a God whose heart is for safety and you are deserving of it.

*There are a variety of ways that you can refer to God and we recognise there are different parts of God’s character that are either male or female. But I’ve chosen the pronoun ‘He/His’ for ease in this blog.

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