What Does “Loving Your Enemies” Look Like With an Abuser?

Recently I received a note from a friend, Rochelle Sadie (whose blog about recovering from domestic abuse is here).

The verse that the enemy likes to use against me to guilt trip me is Luke 6:32 when Jesus said “anyone can love someone who is nice to them, but it’s better to love your enemy.” Basically I feel so much condemnation, like I’m taking the easy way out by avoiding my abuser, and God is disappointed in me that I would not seek to “love my enemies” or just try to work around their “shortcomings.”

I wonder – if you might help me understand Jesus’ true intentions with this statement. What is the heart of God regarding our attitude toward our abusers and sometimes toward those who pressure us to return to an abuser and/or a chronically unfaithful man?

Here is my reply.

Thank you for writing. There’s an important question we need to ask ourselves:

Does love mean enabling wrongdoing?

When you love your enemies, will you help them, even passively, along their wicked path?

No, it is actually not loving to enable a sinner to continue in his sinful path without consequences. When an addict wants to feed his addiction, it’s not loving to do that, even though it may feel or look like it is.

When an abuser wants to abuse, it may look loving to stand there and take it. But when a person is hell-bent on a path of wickedness, the most loving thing to do is not to assist him on that path, even if it’s simply “passive assistance” by refusing to speak up about it, or covering for him to the children or the church.

Rather, it’s far more loving—loving to him—to get the target of his abuse out of his way. In fact, the most loving thing for that person in those circumstances is to take away any enablement on that wicked path. Then, to pray that he’ll come to repentance (until/unless the Lord commands otherwise).

You left the abuser for your own health and safety. But it’s also the best thing for his health and safety.

When Jesus said “love your enemies,” He was not by any means indicating that we are to allow them to harm us as they please.

Loving from a distance

You can still love the abuser and pray for him from a distance, but that love, and those prayers, will look different from what they would have looked like if you thought you needed to simply silently remain under the devil’s thumb.  We  can pray for the repentance and salvation of our enemies, even while keeping wise boundaries in place.

Consider the apostle Paul, who loved the Jews who persecuted him, and prayed for their salvation. With all the many times they stoned him and tried to kill him, he escaped from them whenever he could. He never felt like he needed to just stand there and take it in the name of loving his enemies.

The same is true for David, who ran from his enemy King Saul. Never did he conclude that he should allow Saul to kill him in the name of loving his enemies.

The same is true regarding those who continually tell you that you should return to one in whose life wickedness has run rampant, that you are the one in sin, for escaping. Even while you draw firm boundaries with those ignorant people, you can love them and pray for them, that God will open their eyes to understand the truth about wickedness.

Helping the helpless

We may have opportunities to help our enemies without putting ourselves in the way of wickedness. Jesus’ story of the Samaritan who stopped to help the wounded Jew alongside the road was a powerful story for His audience, because Samaritans were considered to be enemies of the Jews. Helping the helpless Jew indicated that the Samaritan loved his enemies.

But notice, the Samaritan did NOT seek out the robbers, knowing that they would have harmed him too. He helped his enemy when his enemy was helpless.

I know a woman whose abusive husband went into the hospital on life support. There he was in a place where he couldn’t harm her, so, for this one who had declared himself her enemy through years of words and behavior, she could show her sacrificial Christ-like love.

Helping a helpless person who has been your enemy? Yes, that is loving like Jesus.

Enabling an abusive, adulterous person? No, that isn’t what Jesus was talking about.

It can sometimes be challenging to sort it all out, especially when you’ve experienced such great betrayal. I pray that the Holy Spirit will give you wisdom as you proceed step by step.



Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 years ago

Love this! I’ve come to see my divorce from my loving spouse to be a great act of love and mercy. Why? Because it gave him the chance to finally see his sins as is. I followed Matthew 18:15 and when he refused to listen to the church, the divorce was God’s mercy and my love to him to see that he needs to repent before God and find Jesus’ mercy. I couldn’t, the mentors couldn’t, the professional counselor couldn’t and the church couldn’t get him to see his sin of idolatry in abuse but hopefully someday through the divorce he will see his need for repentance. To not file for divorce and allow him to continue in his sin of idolatry and abuse wouldn’t have been unloving. When I filed for divorce, he didn’t meet me with repentance by a desire to have back what he rightfully loss and tried to gain it back through manipulation and control but I once again told him this is like a death certificate of what he broke. To miss Jesus in this life, is everything so I hope he finds Jesus through this!

Rachel Nichols
3 years ago

Thank you Rebecca.
Love is not enabling sin.
Corrie ten Boom loved and forgave her torturers. But when God provided a way for her to leave the concentration camp she took it.

3 years ago

For me, this is one of your best postings! Confusion on this issue had me stuck for decades – continually allowing emotional abuse from those in my inner circle, thinking I was loving them like Jesus! The turmoil that resulted from this misunderstanding took an emotional toll on me – eventually, I wrote down what I learned on this topic… Here is an excerpt:

We can’t sacrifice justice – something God loves Ps37:28 – and tolerate evil – something he hates Prov 8:13 – in the name of Christian love! Love does not exist in the absence of justice. Love that is grounded in truth is real and authentic, not the counterfeit variety. Authentic love does not see things through the rose-colored glasses of denial. Real love is not afraid to tell the truth or hear it; at the same time, it never uses the truth as a club. Real love sees people as they really are and still wants the best for them, understanding that the best always includes accountability-this is unconditional love.

3 years ago

I pray that those who psychopathically preyed on me and repeatedly criminally victimized me and nearly murdered me will either repent or burn in hell. Since they won’t repent, as they are proud of their evildoing and wicked selves, it’s pretty much Imprecatory Psalms and hoping they die soon so they might no longer plague the world and victimize others.

Those who evidently laugh at the concept of God or doing right and truly glorify themselves as to how evil they are. I don’t see how or why I should be praying for anything but that God sends them into the pit when they finally expire.

This may be sin on my part. I’m not sure. But if any of them were in heaven, they’d make heaven into hell, being evil through and through.

And some people are so evil, wicked, violent, and dangerous, that if they are bleeding out on the side of a road, it’d be a merciful thing and beneficial for the world at large to let them bleed out, so they cannot harm anyone anymore. I wouldn’t throw salt in their wounds and all, to torture them, but I’d feel awfully tempted to let them die instead of saving their lives through heroic efforts and then their patched up selves are free to prey on more innocents. So many murderous, dangerous, psychopathic predators never see a single day in jail and aren’t about to be otherwise restrained in their reign of evildoing.

Maybe I’ve lost my way with the above thoughts, but it’s where I am at right now. Feel free to criticize and rebuke me, as I wonder if all the damage, harm, evil depravity and wickedness has been too much and blackened my soul. Why shouldn’t I hope for God’s wrath to be poured out on them? Why shouldn’t I hope for God to repay them and for Him to avenge?

With the Good Samaritan, it wasn’t necessarily the Good Samaritan’s mortal enemy found helpless on the side of the road, someone who’d personally beaten, robbed, brutalized, tortured, abused, sexually assaulted, etc. the Good Samaritan. It was just another person, although I think they ran in different groups and weren’t to associate with one another, so the social status and societal prejudice was there.

How does Psalm 139:21-22 factor into this all?
“Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.”

Perhaps there’s a qualification there as to who and what an enemy is, in reference to ‘love your enemies’ versus those who are so out-and-out wicked, depraved, evil, dangerous, and psychopathic that their demonic selves are referred to in Psalm 139:21-22 and are no longer mere ‘enemies’ of us, but rather are God’s enemies and are to not be loved or prayed for or anything other than hated, “with complete hatred”.

And again, I welcome rebuking, comments, criticism, and edification, as I don’t want to lose my soul ever and never do I want to be separated from God, so if I’m straying from the path, by all means, tell me.

3 years ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

Yes, I was thinking about how the Good Samaritan story had been pitched to me in the past. Your point was good.

And thanks for reminding me about Saul and how there was a point to stop praying for him. I don’t pray for those who harmed me. They are like Satan himself. And proud of it, too.

Oh good, what a relief, in my worry as to whether or not my soul is blackened with all the deleterious effects and all, it shows I’m still God’s child. Struggling, but struggling towards God, not away and against. Whew!

Thank you for your prayers and for your blog. So much wisdom.

2 years ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

I’ve been thinking about this all. And witnessing to the dying evil person is acceptable and good. After you said that, I thought about it and it’s only right. It’s a hypothetical, of course.

But the two criminals condemned to die with Jesus. One did repent in his final moments (hours?) of life. He didn’t require anyone witnessing to him, but after all, he had Jesus right there.

The unfortunate thing is most all evil people I know, and have been victimized by, are not in the least bit close to death, but rather are flourishing. Perhaps God is having mercy on them — letting them prosper and flourish — because they are ultimately destined to burn in Sheol and that’ll be for eternity.

At any rate, love your blog, Rebecca!

3 years ago

Thank you, Rebecca! This is your best post every, I think! I’m so glad that you explained some of the nuances. When I am trying to decide whether or not to keep some distance from someone, I asked myself – “what is your motive?” If my motive is protection, then this is a valid reason to keep a safe distance. If my motive is simply to ‘shun,’ then maybe not.

Angela Stoner
Angela Stoner
2 years ago

Hello, Rebecca (and fellow survivors). I cannot feel love, will certainly not enable, but I have found it is forgiveness which frees me. I have been hard at work in the healing process for decades after God revealed, with flashbacks, heinous acts of incest. Initially, I rejected the notion of forgiveness (and the sin of self protection), but God’s faithfulness has returned me to the cross. Even now, after so many years, it is a process. It isn’t logical, but God is not confined by logic; His ways are higher than mine. In my experience, I must draw from His example and the mystery of my life hidden in Christ and His life in me. Contrary to popular thought in a secular world, lack of forgiveness isn’t a win for anyone but keeps me in bondage. “Give us, this day, our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” For me, I tasted freedom in forgiveness and am working down a very lengthy list. I also would like to acknowledge, we are all in different places on our journeys. Submitting to Christ with a response of forgiveness is contrary to our flesh, however, there is no condemnation in Christ. Regardless of where we find ourselves, His grace and mercy are there to meet us. He will finish the work He began in us…

Blessings to all, Angela Stoner

Angela Stoner
Angela Stoner
2 years ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

Indeed! Well said. It took YEARS for me to identify what I was forgiving because identifying the evil and feeling appropriate emotion took A LONG TIME! Reminder: I am a work in progress. Smile. The damage caused by the abuse created significant emotional damage, some days I swim, sometimes I float and sometimes it feels like I am drowning. Therefore, identifying evil, feeling the appropriate anger and choosing forgiveness has been a painful, messy, inefficient process. No matter how hard I “tried” I could never renew my mind enough to transform my heart. I humbly discovered I am powerless over my own heart and am absolutely powerless over the speed of my journey. God used Lewis Smedes to teach me, “When we forgive evil, we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it.” Peace.

Julie A. Zetina
Julie A. Zetina
1 year ago

Forgiveness does not automatically imply restored relationship. It is preposterous for a loving God to force his children to place themselves back into a situation that is abusive and terrifying. I do believe we are allowed boundaries to protect ourselves from others that commit atrocities big and small furthermore, I don’t believe he would ever expect or want us to try and forge a relationship with evildoers. Would an loving, caring earthly father want his children to do that? Why would the Father of the universe expect that? I would never visit or care for a man in a hospital.. that abused me. I would run and not look back. Forgiveness yes… relationship.. no way. And that is not sinful, it’s smart.

Fearless bird
Fearless bird
1 year ago

first and foremost, I am extremely grateful to receive God’s graceful mercy. As day by day, I’m studying the Scripture, I found and stumble at this commandment, love your enemies. I found extremely hard since some of those people did a lot of awful thing that exceed mere judgements toward me. How to love someone who try to kill you . It there a difference between enemies as general opposition versus God’s enemies. What if the abusers try to use your faith and belief in which this verse to further hurt you. The only grace that I can do is praying for them from afar. I have been very torn by this verse. I truly believe forgiveness does not mean forcibly forge a relationship or forcibly quickly given . I read some comments below, I can deeply relate that by distancing I’m protecting myself. I’m still really new in my journey following God. Please help me to understand this verse from a different perspective.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
%d bloggers like this: