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.1 There was certainly cause for that. Elijah was on the run for his life. He felt so distressed that he prayed for death.2 He fled for over 40 days into the wilderness, and God supported him in that.3 It’s possible he’d lost friends among those Jezebel had already killed.4 He felt isolated and terrified.
Yet not everything Elijah believed was true.
His situation illustrates a dilemma faced by many victims of abuse. On the one hand, the abuser may, with some skill and often years of practice, be deliberately undermining the victim’s capacity to see clearly. On the other hand, the fact is none of us are perfect, and we don’t always see or interpret things accurately. A difficulty with hypervigilance is that we are always on the lookout for danger. That makes sense. But danger is not everywhere. Hypervigilance does not tell us the whole truth. Danger is not everywhere. What we need is to clearly see sources of danger and sources of safety, without getting the two confused. It’s not easy.
Lying is an effective abuse tactic
Jesus used a description that seems to fit practised abusers really well. It aligns with the Old Testament phrase sometimes used to describe abusive people as “sons of Belial“, or, as it later came to mean, sons of the devil. Jesus said,
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.5
As people practice lying over time, it becomes like second nature. Like speaking in their native tongue. Entitlement and narcissism reduce a person’s sense of guilt, and they show less of the behavioural clues one might normally pick up on when a person lies. If they don’t feel guilty, why would they look guilty?
One area of lying is quite likely to include messages that turn the tables. An abuser will convincingly state that evil is good and good evil. That they can be trusted, while trustworthy people cannot. They will probably target the victim specifically, falsely accusing them of things the abuser is doing. And they are likely to provoke their victim into uncharacteristic behaviour and use the resultant feelings of guilt to prove their point and further manipulate their victim.
A spiritual abuser might convincingly misuse the Bible to paint pictures that are totally false. Nothing is sacred, and an abuser is likely to be well invested in distorting their victims’ understanding of God, themselves, other people, and their environment.
How did God help Elijah sift the lies from the truth?
God didn’t start to correct Elijah until he was safe, had slept, and had been away from the source of distress for some time:
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
As we have already seen, God cared for Elijah’s welfare first. The text seems to indicate that Elijah was off track in running all the way to Mount Horeb, but all God did at the start of Elijah’s journey was encourage him, feed him, and give him safe company.
The despair Elijah felt back when he wanted to die was understandable, but not necessary. God didn’t explicitly correct him at that point, he comforted him and helped him get to a place of safety. But eventually,
The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”6
So although Elijah was wrong about some important things, God
- was patient
- cared for Elijah’s wellbeing
- spoke in a gentle voice
- was not confrontational
- gave Elijah data
- helped Elijah find safe friendships
Where to from here?
We started this series on crossed boundaries by looking at the value of being cherished, and the harm abusers cause when they don’t treat people and their boundaries with respect. The trauma of abuse creates a whole lot of mess, some of which is a direct result of the lies and distortions of the abuser. It’s a difficult problem, but we have spent time looking at how to listen through the mess so we can better sift the lies from the truth.
Some good news is there are many things we can do, and we have only skimmed the surface. We are going to keep looking at some of this process of recovery. How do we recover our sense of self, and find our own voice?
One of the great treasures of human existence is that we are made in God’s image. Abusers disrespect the image of God, but knowing we are made in God’s image can give us valuable insight into ourselves, and our worth. It can also guide us in how to treat others with respect, and add to our “toolkit” of green and red flags.
When Elijah was traumatised, and needed to sift the lies from the truth, God: was patient; cared for his wellbeing; spoke gently; was not confrontational; gave him data; helped him find safe friendships. 1 Kings 19 #abuse Click To Tweet
- “extreme or excessive vigilance: the state of being highly or abnormally alert to potential danger or threat” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- 1 Kings 19:3-5
- 1 Kings 19:3-9
- 1 Kings 18:4
- John 8:44
- 1 Kings 19:13-18