Authenticity in Love & Life
A Blog by Elaine Barron, LCSW
A while back as I was reading the story of David in the Bible, I found myself noticing a biblical principle in how David handled an unsafe relationship. In the realm of Christian relationships, I have seen many Christian women putting up with risky, harmful situations under the guise of being submissive wives to husbands asserting their authority as “head of the house”.
The following is the story of how one who was under the authority of another, reacted when he was put in harm’s way by that authority figure.
When King Saul was disobedient to the Lord, the Bible says that the Lord’s Spirit departed from Saul, and he felt tormented. Saul took his servant’s suggestion to have David come into his palace and play his harp for him, finding that the music that David played eased his troubled soul. Because David met such a valuable need and Saul liked him, David became a “regular” in the palace.
After David killed Goliath and established his reputation as a warrior, King Saul’s jealousy toward David became unmanageable and added to the torment he had already been feeling. Though he was a successful warrior, David continued to play the harp for the king. King Saul, obsessed with jealousy, became filled with anger toward the warrior-musician and was no longer calmed by the music. So much, that he hurled his spear at David twice while he was playing the harp. Because Saul knew that the Israelite people loved David, he sent him away on many war campaigns, hoping the Philistines would kill him. Over and over again, Saul recognized that the Lord was with David, but because of his uncontrollable emotions, he hated David and treated him as an enemy.
King Saul’s son, Jonathan who was also David’s best friend, tried to act as a mediator between the two and convinced David to come back to the king’s palace as before. Strike 2—once again Saul’s jealousy got the best of him and David became spear target practice again. Understandably, David decided it best to stay away from the king’s presence, when the whole family was accustomed to David sitting down to dinner with them every night. Meanwhile, Jonathan as an optimistic family member, continued to hope that his dad had no ill intentions toward David.
David decided to give Saul another chance from afar. He had a special signal arranged with Jonathan, regarding Saul’s response when the king found David missing from the family meal. David was highly suspicious that the vacancy would spark the king’s hot temper. When King Saul noticed that David was missing, and Jonathan explained his absence, Jonathan became the new target for his father’s spear. Now, convinced by personal experience, Jonathan gave the signal that began David’s tenure of running from King Saul.
During the years that followed, much of Saul’s focus was fueled by his obsession with killing David, not on the ruling of the nation of Israel. But the Lord continued to be with David during this huge relational conflict. David even had the opportunity to kill King Saul twice, the first time cutting off a section of the king’s robe, the second time taking his spear. Both times with the king’s possessions in hand, he confronted the king respectfully, asking the king to consider his innocence, desiring the longstanding wearisome “hide and seek game” be over. Both times, the king confessed his sin and proclaimed David’s virtue. The second time he asked David to come back and called him his son. Because David had experience with Saul’s words not ringing true with his actions, he refused to trust his words and continued to flee. Sure enough, the chase continued until King Saul died.
I see many parallels with this story and those in abusive relationships.
1. There was a pattern of abuse from King Saul toward David. Abusive relationships also involve patterns of abuse, not usually one-time events.
2. Saul came from position as king, an authority figure over David, who was in the king’s service. The abuse was from one in an authoritative role over one in a deferent role.
3. At times, the relationship between Saul and David was pleasant. There are times in abusive relationships when the abuser is nice to the victim, which serves to give hope to victim.
4. Jonathan, King Saul’s son, had a hard time believing that his father meant harm to David. Those who are not privy to the relationship may not believe the victim of abuse, and may defend the abuser.
5. Saul revealed his anger to his own son with the same action of thrusting his spear at him as he had with David. The abuser will often show his emotional reactivity to others around him.
6. David came to a time when he recognized he needed to separate from Saul to save his life. An abuse victim needs to recognize that she needs to separate from the abuser to save her life.
7. David continued to honor the authority of the king while living in separation from him. Those who consider themselves under the authority of their husbands can continue to honor their spouses while being separated from them.
8. The Lord continued to be with David when he separated from Saul. God’s favor will still rest upon the abused even if the victim feels the need to separate.
9. Saul admitted his fault and expressed his sorrow over his evil actions. Abusers commonly apologize for their wrongful actions.
10. David learned not to trust Saul’s words but instead observed his action when it came to reconciliation. Abuse victims should pay attention to consistent behavioral changes rather than the apologies and words of their abusive partner before considering reconciliation.
I believe the New Testament also emphasizes the importance of actions matching words. The words, “I’m sorry” are relatively easy to say. Saying “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” is a little harder. John the Baptist admonished his followers to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”. Repentance is turning away from a sinful direction and going the opposite direction. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the people to be fruit observers in order to judge whether or not the tree (or person’s character) is a good or bad one. Galatians 5:22-23 reveals the fruit of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. Each of these qualities are incorporated with actions in order to demonstrate these fruits.
If you are in a relationship in which you are beginning to wonder if it’s abusive,
ask yourself these questions:
Is this a pattern of behavior? Does the person in question place himself in a position of ‘one-upmanship’? Am I and those I love in harm’s way? Does the person “lose it” with others in his life as well as with me? Does the person continue in the same behavior despite frequent apologies and periods of “niceness”? Do I really trust this person’s word?
Consider the response of David, one often referred to as a “man after God’s own heart, as to how he handled the abusive situation in which he found himself.
Elaine Barron is a psychotherapist in Alpharetta, Georgia who is also a Christ follower. She has experienced much in her life that was necessarily the way she would have chosen, but sees those struggles as opportunities for growth and healing, desiring to share with others what she has learned "so far".