I’m excited to share with you a new book that’s just come out, Is It Abuse, by Darby Strickland. Darby is a colleague, friend, and fellow warrior in helping Christian women who are in abusive marriages get sane, safe, and strong. This book expertly and Biblically unpacks the whole concept of controlling abuse in all its forms.
I asked Darby to guest blog for me so you could meet her and get acquainted with her thinking.
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Is it Sinful to Keep a Record of Wrongs?
Question: I went to my small group leader to ask for help with my abusive marriage. I brought with me a list of some of the things my husband is saying to me. I wanted to ask her for help with how to respond to him. I feel like I need to protect myself and my children from his anger. But before I could share more than two things on my list, she told me I should not be keeping a record of wrongs. It was sinful for me to list out and keep a record of my husband’s sins, that would frustrate any husband. Now I am wondering, is it my fault that our marriage is a high conflict one? Am I making him angry by holding grudges? Please help. Now I am so confused!
Answer: I appreciate this question because I often get it from my oppressed counselees when I suggest that they keep a journal. I frequently ask them to do this so they have a clear record of the conflicts, abuses, and punishments they receive from their spouse.
My goal is for them to sort through the cruel behaviors and see patterns. When a marriage is oppressive, there are ongoing patterns of coercive, controlling behaviors. To clearly identify the abuse and figure out what to do in response, we have to spend time recounting what exactly is happening. Click To Tweet
Often a victim’s abuser will say, “I am not going to talk about it. That was in the past, the Bible says not to keep a record of wrongs.” This line of defense is being used to dismiss her concerns and hurt. And, as is the case for the woman who wrote the question, we may hear this same rebuke from people in our church. So, we need to answer the question, “Is it okay to keep a record of wrongs and remember how I have been hurt?” We will look at three ways to gain clarity on this question.
The first is to try to discern what the phrase, “keep no record of wrongs” means in its context (1 Cor 1:4-5). But this can be tricky, as even biblical commentators do not always agree. The translations for this phrase are varied.
The two most popular interpretations are that love will not cling to past hurts, and that love should not impute evil motives to another. Neither of these would apply to abuse. For the first interpretation, the hurts are not only in the past. They are ongoing.
As for the second, evil motives are not being wrongly assigned to an abuser; abusive behaviors clearly demonstrate a lust for power and control. An abuser’s commitment to sin leads us to other passages when figuring out how to love.
Abusers need the type of love that names, confronts, and exposes the evil they perpetrate. Scriptures that are applicable to this situation include Luke 17:3b, which says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them,” and Ephesians 5:11, which exhorts us to “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” In keeping with the wisdom offered in 1 Cor 13:4-6 we know that holding perpetrators accountable is not to be mistaken with seeking vengeance – we entrust their hearts to the Lord.
The second way to gain clarity on this passage is to look at the examples in Scripture of godly people who recounted the sins of others. Consider Paul, who wrote to Timothy, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him” (2 Timothy 4:14–15a).
Here Paul remembers and recounts the harm that this man did to him in the past. He is so concerned with this man’s history that he feels the need to warn others. And yet, at the same time, he trusts in God’s justice. He doesn’t forget, but he also doesn’t repay evil for evil.
And who better to look at as an example than Jesus? In his rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, he presents them with seven woes, a list of how they have sinned against God and the people they were called to care for. His list of wrongs spans 36 verses! So, it cannot be labeled as ungodly to keep a record of wrongs in all circumstances.
The third way to better understand this passage is to look at how Scripture calls us to remember our suffering. God does not ask us to have any memory of the evils we have suffered. He often recounts how his people have suffered at the hands of others. Here is just one example of how God speaks of his people’s suffering, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high” (Leviticus 26:13).
Notice in this example that the Israelites are not being called to forget the past, but rather to recount it in light of God being their rescuer. Similarly, the Scriptures invite us to cry out to God about ongoing injustices, “They slandered me without ceasing. Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me. How long, Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my precious life from these lions” (Psalm 35:15b–17).
Cries like this one can be found throughout the psalms, where God’s people lament the wrongs done to them. It is good and right to speak about our history of suffering from another’s hands, especially to the Lord.
Every time I have heard the phrase “don’t keep a record of wrongs” used in the context of abuse (which sadly occurs far too often), I have been struck with how this one small phrase is dislocated from its broader context in 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love chapter.”
This passage uses words that strongly indict abusers: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:4–6). An abuser exhibits the opposite behaviors: impatience, cruelty, jealously, distortion, pride, dishonor, selfishness, volatility, and vengefulness. They rarely show remorse for doing evil, and regularly tell lies.
It is easy to get turned around by the words of a friend or your abusive spouse, especially when they use Scripture to do it. But remember, in the context of habitual, destructive sin patterns, it is always good to humbly and lovingly label and address sin. Jesus came to restore sight to the spiritually blind and to free the oppressed (Luke 4:18). When you speak about and ask for help with the sin that your spouse perpetrates against you, you are joining Jesus on this mission.
Darby Strickland, Author Is it Abuse? A Biblical Guide to Identifying Domestic Abuse and Helping Victims and CCEF Counselor. www.darbystrickland.com
Friends, share with one another one new insight or ah-ha moment God gave you after reading Darby’s blog.
A note about translations: Only the NIV, CSB, and NLT translate this phrase along the lines of “does not keep a record of wrongs.” The ESV translates it as “it is not irritable or resentful,” and the KJV reads, “is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.” At the same time, the NASB says, “does not take into account a wrong suffered.”