What is a biblical understanding of child abuse?
Our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus of Nazareth, loves the teachable souls of His children at whatever age and stage of life. He is not pleased with those who stumble them (1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Ephesians 4:15; Galatians 6:1; Luke 18:15-17; Mark 10:13-16; Matthew 18:1—19:15; Proverbs 22:6). According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, children must have safe, stable, and nurturing relationships in order to flourish. From a Christian point of view, such a life is rooted in a relationship with God that extends to others in the Golden Rule (Galatians 5:22-23; Jeremiah 17:8; Matthew 5:1—7:29; Psalm 1).
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Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, we do not always treat one another with such love and concern. Dependent children are especially vulnerable. Child maltreatment consists of intentional or deliberate words or acts of commission (i.e., abuse) and/or of acts of omission (i.e., neglect) by parents, guardians, caregivers, and/or authority figures charged with safely interacting with minors (e.g., clergy, teachers, coaches, etc.). Child abuse and child neglect result in threatened, potential, and/or real harm to kids, although the ultimate consequences of such acts may not have been premeditated. Child abuse includes physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse. Child neglect is a failure to provide basic nutritional, emotional, educational, and physical health needs; safety in exposure to violent environments; and proper supervision, even when the consequences of such failures were unintended.
Child abuse and neglect, whether physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, or a combination, has a painful and permanent effect on the child. The trauma from the abuse often carries into adulthood. Many adults who were victims of abuse as children suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, alcoholism/drug abuse, etc. Healing from the effects of child abuse can take many years, sometimes even a lifetime.
How does God feel about child abuse?
The Bible indicates that God is very displeased when a person fails to raise his or her children in a way that honors God. "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:5-6). Parents are supposed to take care of their children and raise them in a God-fearing manner, not abuse or neglect them. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). The God who heard the cry of the Hebrews being abused by their Egyptian slave masters (Exodus 2:23-25, 3:9) is the same God who hears the cry of those being abused today. He does not overlook such sins, and abusers will have to answer to God for what they have done (Psalm 94:1-11; Romans 14:12; Hebrews 4:13).
Why does God allow child abuse?
This is a much more difficult question to answer. God is never the instigator of abuse (James 1:13; Deuteronomy 32:4). Because humans have free will and a sin nature, things like abuse and neglect are unfortunately part of our fallen world. However, God never leaves us to suffer pointlessly. God does not use the victim of abuse as a meaningless pawn in some sort of cosmic game. He loves those who are abused and longs to provide healing and comfort (Luke 4:16-21; Matthew 11:28-30; John 10:10; 16:33; 17; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; Ephesians 1:3-14). Yes, God allows the suffering. But He does not author it nor is He unable to redeem it. "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28; see also Genesis 37 and Genesis 50:20).
How can a victim of child abuse find healing?
If you or someone you know is being abused, or you highly suspect abuse, it must to be reported to the appropriate authorities. Medical, legal, and psychological intervention may well be necessary. Children should never be left in abusive or neglectful situations. Check with your local department of human services for reporting procedures.
After abuse has ended, the journey to healing is likely to be long. It will require support from others. Many adults who were victims of child abuse need support well into adulthood. The process of healing will likely include many emotions, perhaps anger and hurt chief among them. It is okay to experience these emotions and to express them to God. Victims of abuse can rest assured that God hears their cries. Psalm 22:24 says, "For [God] has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him." Psalm 34:18 tells us, "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." God can provide comfort to victims of abuse and bring them to a place of healing, even giving them a heart of forgiveness toward their abusers. It will take time. Victims may doubt God and question His character. But God is faithful and He will prove Himself so.
Abusers who recognize their sin may feel a deep sense of guilt. They may also have a past history of being a victim from which they require healing. God is faithful to extend forgiveness as well as healing.
Child abuse is a devastating reality of living in a fallen world. But God is a redeemer, and He is able to provide comfort for His people. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, "[God] has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5-6). Psalm 72:12-14 says, "For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight." Though life on this earth is far from easy, we can rest assured that our God sees all and He is ultimately good.
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