No Place for Violence
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

October 29, 2017
Domestic Violence Awareness Sunday

Genesis 1:26-31
Ephesians 5:21-33

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

Time for a little Bible Study. I want us to think about the Hebrew word “nephesh.” When the 23rd Psalm says

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul (Psalm 23:1-3a – KJV)

What it says in Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, is that God restores the “nephesh.”

In the second creation story, in Genesis 2, it says that…

then the Lord God formed man [“adam” – mortal] from the dust of the
ground [“adamah” – dust], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of
life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 – NRSV)

In Hebrew, it says that this mortal one became a living “nephesh.”

The examples go on and on.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out
and your coming in from this time forth
and for evermore. (Psalm 121:7-8 – NRSV)

In Hebrew, the Lord will keep you from all evil, the Lord will keep your “nephesh.”

This word gets translated as life, as soul, as being. And it is a poetic word because it is hard to pin it down. It is not a formulaic word that fits nicely into little boxes.

In Exodus 31, in describing the reasons for keeping sabbath, it says

It is a sign for ever between me and the people of Israel that in six
days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested,
and was refreshed. (Exodus 31:7 – NRSV)

This is just before Moses goes down with the tablets to the people. And the words here for refreshed are literally, “God’s nephesh was restored.”

(Fundamentalist commentaries try to draw distinctions between God and humans by glossing over this part, largely by changing the vowels to a different word. But the original Hebrew did not use vowels, so I think we are okay in the comparison.)

What we have is a word that means “the totality of who we are.” It means “our whole being.” Body, mind, and spirit. Or heart, mind, soul, and strength.

  • We are created in the image of God.
  • We are created whole, even as God is whole.
  • We are created in love, even as God is love.
  • We are created in and for relationships, even as God in Trinity is an eternal relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But what happens when our nephesh gets damaged? What happens when we are treated as less that whole and created in the image of God? Or betrayed, or hurt, or belittled, or demeaned by those we love and who claim to love us? What happens when relationships are toxic?

There are sobering statistics:

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
  • On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime. · Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.
  • 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.
  • Domestic victimization is correlated with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior.
  • Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

For some of us these statistics are shocking. Maybe even more shocking are the number of men who are victims of violence by an intimate partner. But perhaps we should not be surprised. Our society rarely speaks about domestic violence in general. We know that it is under-reported. And while women are more often the victims of violence by someone who claims to love them, there are even more social stigmas against men speaking up.

What then shall we say about this? We know that the church has been complicit in domestic violence. “Well, just go home, and read your Bible, and try to be a better Christian spouse, and maybe they’ll come around.” But such things do not tend to go away. They tend to escalate.

Part of our problem has come from reading only half of Paul when it comes to marriage.

Wives, be subject to your husbands, even as the church is subject to Christ.

Should we not carry it further?

If a wife is to be as the church to Christ, shouldn’t the husband be like Christ to the wife. Christ did not hurt those he loved. He did not lord it over those he loved, but loved them as they are. He did not demand his feet be washed, but washed their feet. He did not kill them, but was willing to lay down his own life for theirs. He did not make the disciples his servants, but called them friends.

Paul’s writing here is only about one having power over the other if we forget everything we know about Jesus.

What Jesus did was love unconditionally, healing the nephesh, raising the nephesh, building up the nephesh, reminding the nephesh that it is created in the image of God, beloved, and made for good and right relationships.

Anything less is not worthy of us. Anything that demeans, destroys, degrades, or denies the image of God is not worthy of us.

We hear these statistics and we recognize them, maybe in our own lives, maybe in the lives of those we love. This is why being the church means making sure that we know and we live the love of Jesus that never justifies such pain. Bad theology has made it more difficult for people to be honest about domestic violence.

So here is good theology.

Domestic Violence Awareness

If you have been the victim of domestic violence, whether…

  • Physical
  • Verbal
  • Sexual
  • Emotional
  • Financial
  • Spiritual

If you have been told, whether in words or silences, actions or inactions, that you are less than a beloved child of God, made in God’s image, a nephesh worthy of God’s love;

You are not alone.
It is NOT your fault.
Help is available.
God loves you.

I believe you.

Thanks be to God. Amen.