5 Ways God Responds to Oppression
The Biblical truth about love, submission, & gender equality
Angie, speaking of her pimp, asked, “How could I love him for 8 years and not know what love is?”
We receive messages all our lives about what love is. Most of those messages are lies because our world has a Hollywood shallow, selfish, and artificial view of love, which has contaminated the biblical meaning. We are set up to be vulnerable to grossly distorted definitions of love. This certainly applies to those manipulated and coerced into commercial sex. Until they have embraced the Love that will last through Jesus Christ, it will be nearly impossible for them to recognize the lies they have believed about love and develop healthy, intimate relationships.
God's Response to Oppression
Traffickers and pimps commonly “acquire” their girls through deception—seduction and romance. They tell the victim it is love, but it is really oppression. Even today, thirty-plus years into the movement against domestic violence, far too many girls and women are still taught to accept gender-based violence. Sadly, some are taught this at church. Many are also taught through media, male-dominant pornography, or simply viewing it as a model while growing up in a home of abuse.
It’s also important to recognize the vulnerability of boys and men. Media teaches them to show “tough love” and pornography poisons their minds to associate physical and verbal aggression to lovemaking.
Every survivor must learn the difference between godly submission and unrighteous oppression. Any behavior or sexual activity that devalues the other person and their integrity is oppression. Since abuse is about power and control, abusers such as pimps and traffickers, twist the gift of submission in order to manipulate and control the other person into doing what they want, creating an unjust power imbalance. And it is the misunderstanding of what submission really means that causes certain people to back down or give in.
The word “submit” is one of the most difficult, disliked, and divisive words in the Bible. Submit means to willingly line up under another’s authority. It is an act of a person’s free will. This means I voluntarily limit what I desire to do naturally in this relationship in order to benefit you. Ephesians 5:21 gives us a command: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Let’s say I’m the one with more power; instead of using that power to make my life easier, out of devotion and respect for Christ I’ll use my power to serve you. I become willing to even give up my life in order to benefit you. Submission also means that if I have less power, instead of doing what I might do naturally and fight you every step of the way, I’m going to show you respect and honor.
The opposite of submission is oppression. It is the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner; the feeling of being heavily weighed down, mentally or physically, by troubles, adverse conditions, anxiety, and the like. Think of oppression as demanded submission. It is an imbalance of power in that it lacks any kind of order, or protection, or love. Dr. Gregory Jantz wrote, “The power to demand obedience is a great responsibility. When we obey others, we submit to their will above our own. Therefore, this power should be used sparingly and only with the other person’s best interests in mind.”
“I was frequently locked in a closet. Nick (my pimp) told me I was nothing but dirt, and that no one loved me but him. He’d beat me and yell at me. He said that’s what men do when they love someone” (Anonymous).
God is clear on gender equality. In the very beginning of the human race God created man in His own image; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27). And God gave both man and woman the exact same responsibilities (Genesis 1:28). Ann Graham Lotz said, “Woman may not fare well in world religions, but she is greatly loved by God who created her equal to man.”
The Bible goes out of its way to carefully record God’s intentionality to reestablish the position of women to that of equality with men. His Son, Jesus Christ, not only bridged the gap between God and man through His death on the cross; He removed all barriers including that of gender, race, and nationality. The words and actions of Jesus underscored His elevated opinion of women, as did the early church. (I encourage you to do a Bible study on these statements of equality: Galatians 3:26-28; John 13:16; Matthew 20:25-28; Acts 10:34-35; Romans 10: 12; Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 3:9-11; Philemon 1:16. Colossians 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7; Job 12:3.)
God’s Redemption of Abuse and Judgment
Think back to middle school. Most of us remember the peer pressure and power struggles, physical growth and changing emotions. We remember developing deep and close friendships, separating ourselves from our families, and forming our own social universes. As you went back in time, you probably pulled up some of the faces of 12 to 14 year-old girls. Now picture those girls delicate features ruined—split lips; broken jaws, noses and ribs; mutilated vaginas and rectums. Sounds like a horror film. But it’s not. God is love, but there are things that make Him angry. Romans 1:18 tells us, “God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, evil men who push away the truth from them” (TLB).
He gets angry at injustice and willful disobedience. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ became angry when people were victimized by evil of any kind and God’s will was thwarted. When we look at the state of our world today and the evil which runs rampant, it may appear God has lifted His hands and left mankind to his own devices. But that is not what His Word tells us, “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed” (Psalm 103:6).
God hears the prayers of the oppressed and desires they experience freedom. The Bible records many cries for deliverance, “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD. “I will protect them from those who malign them” (Psalm 12:5). God tells us in His Word not to get even for a wrong, but instead, wait and allow Him to handle the matter (Proverbs 20:22; Romans 12:19). Our human nature says, “Get him good God!
Even David, a “man after God’s own heart,” had his moments, “O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!” (Psalm 139:19). But David also recognized he was not sovereign, only God is. For example, he refused to take revenge on Saul, even though David was the innocent party being wronged. David submitted to God's command to forego vengeance and trust in Him (1 Samuel 24:12). (It is important to remember there is a difference between vengeance and justice. Perpetrators of abuse should be held criminally responsible for their crimes.)
"Because He Loves Me"
Dalia left her pimp two weeks ago. Through an anti-sex trafficking organization she enrolled in a mentor program. Today she is at her mentor’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Her mentor, Janna is married to Mike. Like all married couples Janna and Mike had a disagreement. It was silly, about how thin to slice the turkey. Janna wanted it thinner than Mike was slicing it. Dalia watched their heated interaction. She became quite agitated. Then Mike did something that shocked Dalia. He agreed with Janna, apologized, and then kissed her.
Dalia turned to Janna and whispered, “Why didn’t he hit you? How come you didn’t get punished for questioning him?” Janna responded, “Because he loves me.”
1 Corinthians 13: 4-9 is God’s clearest picture of what love in action is and is not. We must unlearn the world’s definition of love and replace it with God’s message of love. As we study this passage we should ask ourselves, “How does the man/woman I love, and who claims to love me, measure up to God’s definition of love? How do I measure up to it?”
The Message version reads: Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always ‘me first,’ Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. Love never dies.
I believe if the person you love expresses and lives out the very opposite of each of these characteristics, such as extreme jealousy, possessiveness, anger, distrust, self-centeredness, demeaning, or depresses you, then you are in dangerous territory. God designed love so that there can be no fear; no loss of freedom in love, for perfect love casts out fear (see 1 John 4:18).
Freedom and responsibility are necessary for love to develop. When two individuals allow each other freedom and take ownership of the relationship, they are creating an environment for love to grow and mature. Freedom and responsibility create a safe and secure environment for a couple to love, trust, explore, and deepen their experience of each other. Real love happens when two people honor each other’s values, standards, and purpose. They don’t just talk about it, however. They live it. They “do” love. Real love says, “I’ve seen the ugly parts of you and I don’t think any less of you. I’m staying!”
Just like any counterfeit object or characteristic, it can be tricky to know and identify the real from the fake. The onset of real love and false love can feel very similar. Being God-centered and familiar with His Word will enable us to navigate through a culture where false love is prominent. It requires wisdom and discernment which God is more than willing to give us; all we have to do is ask Him.