As we saw with Saul in our last article, abusers might employ a barrage of emotional abuse tactics that can make it very difficult to know how to spot a non-apology. Those tactics can make conversations about harm and responsibility very confusing. To cut through that...
As part of his armoury of abusive tactics, we can see Saul’s skill at non-apologies. If we understand his tactics, that can help us spot non-apologies in our own situations.
In our last few articles, we have been looking at some of the story of King Saul, and his son Jonathan. The few details we have of Saul’s life give us many examples of emotional and physical abuse, and one of his tactics was to avoid responsibility for his behaviour. Avoiding responsibility is a key feature of abuse. That hasn’t changed over millennia.
“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water”
Psalm 1 carries such a beautiful picture of the relationship between our ethics and our health and wellbeing. The poet calls us to avoid harmful behaviour but also calls us in a positive sense. Since we are created in God’s image, there is a part of all of us that loves to treat people well. When we spend time reflecting on our own behaviour, and how we can best care for those around us, I suggest that’s us nurturing the image of God in ourselves. It’s just like caring for a garden and can be as beautiful, or as much hard work.
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.
Jesus talked about the difference between good and bad people with directness and clarity we don’t often hear repeated. He certainly never claimed we could be perfect. He died, willingly, knowing that was the depth of our need for God’s help. But at the same time, Jesus was very clear about standards of behaviour that we could follow, despite our imperfect ethics. He continually reinforced how critical it was for us to follow those standards, for the sake of others.
“Deep calls to deep, in the roar of your waterfalls”
I’ve written earlier about the experience of having significant disagreements with God. I’d like to suggest some of those ongoing disagreements might demonstrate we are listening to his image in us. If we are moved by compassion and concern for others, doesn’t that sound like an expression of the fruit of the Spirit?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
We have been looking at some of the ways we can sift the lies from the truth despite the mess created by abuse, and the story of Elijah gives us some clues. Much of what God did with Elijah was simply care for and affirm him. But God also helped Elijah refine his understanding of what was happening around him.
It’s possible Elijah was experiencing some degree of hypervigilance. There was certainly cause for that. Elijah was on the run for his life.
How can we hear God’s voice more clearly when there is so much noise? Even though Elijah was well-practised in listening to God, he had great difficulty hearing God clearly when he was in the midst of trauma.
If even Elijah struggled to hear clearly, we can take comfort when we struggle. Perhaps that’s one of the no doubt many reasons why we have been gifted with his story. I am confident at least that while it was happening God was already conscious of our current situations. Way back then, he knew.
Jesus made it abundantly clear that good shepherds cherish their sheep, while wolves are intent on doing harm. And there is a sense in which we are all called to be shepherds.
We all have a responsibility to care for the humans around us, and those responsibilities are reflected in our daily communication and interactions as well as in larger ways. Even children can learn to be increasingly kind and respectful of others.
What does it mean to cherish someone? It’s a word that is often used in wedding vows, but it is relevant in all our relationships.
When Paul and Timothy wrote to the Colossians, they praised them for the love they held for all people, and that sense of holding love is like cherishing.
Today we start a series looking at Eli, and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas.
When we read 1 and 2 Samuel, and look for what it has to say to us about abuse, we are flooded with stories and examples. This makes sense because what we now categorise broadly as abuse is a grouping of different harmful or toxic behaviours: different sins.