The Tragedy of Abuse and Jesus' Response

“Lena died!” The words sent a chill down my spine. Lena was Norris’ sister. This was a workday in Lae, Papua New Guinea, but Norris, my haus meri (maid), had just come to explain she wouldn't be working. As conversation flowed in Tok Pisin (the common trade language of Papua New Guinea) between Norris and my guard, I was relieved to learn that Lena hadn’t died as I understand the term, but rather had been rendered unconscious and transported to a hospital. As the days and years passed by, I wondered if Lena would have preferred to have died than to continue in her life of abuse.

On this particular occasion, her husband’s abuse left her hospitalized for quite a few days, and it was not an isolated incident. On another occasion he threw a table at her while screaming, “I wish you would just die.” Finally, she mustered up the courage to go to the authorities and report her husband’s abuse. I typed her statutory declaration for her and shed more than a few tears when, after listing her husbands abuses, she wrote, “I just want to die.” She now had the courage to escape the situation, and had made the right move, but desperately needed hope.

Lena's story reminds me of another, albeit very different, encounter between a man and a woman: a story in John 8:1–11. In this story, we see how Jesus treats a woman who an entire mob of men wanted to stone. Jesus doesn't immediately answer the woman’s accusers, but rather stoops to write with his finger in the sand. I can just imagine the seething, angry, self-righteous men straining to see what on earth Jesus was doing. Then Jesus stands up and speaks: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one the mob slinks away until only Jesus is left with the trembling, cowering woman.

Jesus speaks to the woman, still terrified and perhaps crouched on the ground awaiting the impact of the first stone. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Slowly, hesitantly, she looks up and rises to her feet. “No one, Lord,” comes her reply—relief, hope, and joy returning to her. Tenderly Jesus allays her final fear, “Neither do I condemn you,” and then he admonishes her, “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

When Jesus addresses the woman in the story there is no sarcasm in his voice, nothing demeaning about the way he spoke to her, and, best of all, no abuse. Jesus’ gentleness and kindness stands out as being completely different from the attitude and behavior of every other man in the story. This is the kind of behavior toward women that we need to emulate and that we need to foster in other men. This story gives Lena, and others like her, hope.


Note: The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of John do not include John 8:1–11, nonetheless, it is beneficial for teaching and discipleship, as this article demonstrates.

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Kriselle Dawson
Kriselle Dawson