Bold Love: Loving My Abusive Father
I first read Dan Allender’s book Bold Love when I was about 18 years old. You see, I had an abuser in my life. My dad was my abuser, but he was also my father whom I was called to love and honour. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that there was intense emotional and spiritual abuse that I, and my family, suffered at his hand. I was called to love him, even though I despised him. But what does it mean to “honour” a parent like him? How do you love an abusive person without opening yourself up to more damage? These were the questions I asked. And this book had biblical answers. Aside from the Bible, RC Sproul’s “The Holiness of God,” and JI Packer’s, “Knowing God”, this book has had the most profound impact on me.
Bold Love is about what it really means to love someone. From a regular sinner, to a fool, to an evil person. Love is not simply about forgiving and forgetting; love is in fact about admitting the pain and hurt that has been caused and confronting it head on. And boldly confronting sin is the point of the book. When you confront the person who has hurt you, the purpose is not simply to get the monkey off your back or to move on with life. Neither is it to hurt them. The point is to love them. What was amazing to me when I was younger, and even now as I read it again, was that it pointed me back to the object of your love, the person who was not worthy of love. It solidified the fact that evil committed against you must be admitted and the abuser must be confronted. This is extremely difficult and thus the “Bold” in the title. The underlying belief is that no one is beyond saving. No one is beyond the hope of reconciliation. Charles Spurgeon once stated,
If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.
He was talking about people we don’t know – should we not do the same for those close to us? Even those who have damaged us seemingly beyond repair?
Allender’s model for this book is God’s reconciliation with man. Even though we sin against God, he still loves us. But God does not beat around the bush. He does not deny the sin committed or the gravity of the consequences. He does not just forgive and look the other way. He doesn’t confront us to simply get something off his chest. Rather, Jesus sought after those who had abused God through their disobedience. He never gave up. He never handed in the divorce papers. He never said to us, “You are beyond hope.” He intercedes for us, the adulterers, the killers, the abusers saying, “Father, forgive them.”
The argument is that God’s reconciliation with us, His perfect love, should be our driving force for boldly seeking after and loving those who have sexually, physically, verbally, or mentally abused us, whether it’s my dad, your spouse, friends, or family. You see, God did not give up on us. He sought after us at great expense to himself. This is what it means to love. The importance that the book places on admitting the evil that was done along with the hope that no one is beyond the reach of reconciliation is what has impacted me so much in so many different areas. I cannot help but think of Romans 5:6-11 here:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
When I first read this book I needed to know how to love my dad, because really, I hated him. Loving my dad was difficult because of the type of sin he had committed, and loving him meant eventually cutting him out of my life when he showed no repentance. Cutting him out served two purposes, and is not unlike when excommunication occurs in the Church. First it protected me from his sin, and second it forced him to take the issues seriously. Because of this bold love by my mom and other’s, my dad eventually repented of his sins before Christ and before his family, and sought reconciliation after many long years.
Nice story right? Let’s be real clear here. There are three possible places to stick n abuser.
Abuser’s are not fools. They are not bumbling around and simply being selfish. They are not regular sinners. They are evil. Abusers set out to harm others. They are Evil. They are incapable of change, just like all of us, unless they are met by God. My dad was evil, incapable of change…until God met him and destroyed him.
God is just and gracious.
Some quotes from the book:
Biblical forgiveness is never unconditional and one-sided. It is not letting others go off scot-free, “forgiven,” and enabled to do harm again without any consequences. Instead, forgiveness is an invitation to reconciliation, not the blind, cheap granting of it. (162)
Forgiveness involves a heart that cancels the debt but does not lend new money until repentance occurs. (162)
The offender must repent if true intimacy and reconciliation are ever to take place. (163)
The magnificence of bold love is that in its brokenness, surprise, and simplicity. It is a human gift that could come only from heaven. Bold love provokes disruption that leads to solace, repentance that leads to rest; but far more, it invites both giver and receiver to stare into the eyes of mystery, the wonder of the meaning of the Cross. (309)
The book is broken down into three sections.
1: The Battlefield of the Heart
This is the most theologically oriented section as it introduces the problem and describes the motivation to love based on what God has done for sinners like us. This was tough for me. God loved me even though I was a sinner. Even though I abused the name of God, he still sought me and paid for me. That meant I had to do the same.
2: Strategy for the War of Love
This section is the heart of the book as it lays out the steps toward reconciliation. First there is a hope and hunger for restoration. Second, we turn our backs on revenge as we are reminded of our brokenness and how God hoped and hungered for restoration with us. Third, it introduces us to the way we can confront the enemy. The first two were easy. I did long for a relationship with my dad, even though he was an abuser. I never wanted to harm him for harming me or my family. The problem arose with confronting him. It was probably the most difficult thing I have ever done, and this book helped to lay out how to do that.
3: Combat for the Soul
This section takes the principals in the first two parts of the book and applies them to three different types of people who may have caused hurt in our lives. First, there is a chapter on loving an evil person, called Siege Warfare. Specifically this is about sexual, physical, verbal, or mental abusers. Second, there is a chapter on loving a fool, called Guerrilla Warfare. This part is about those who carelessly cause great damage to us. Third, there is a chapter on loving a normal sinner, called Athletic Competition. This is the type of hurt we might encounter from regular folks at church on a daily basis.
I highly recommend this book. Especially for office bearers, but for anyone who needs to learn how to love those hurt them, and what that love looks like.