Biblical Counseling, Book Review Series, Christian Marriage, Complementarianism, Doctrine as Idol, Domestic Violence, Gender Roles, Marriage, Martha Peace, Spiritual Abuse

Book Review Series – “The Excellent Wife” by Martha Peace – Chapter Nineteen – Never Fear, the Lord is Near

This is a book review series of The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace. If you are just joining us, you may click on previous chapter reviews if you’d like to catch up.

Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter Fourteen Chapter FifteenChapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen is titled “The Wife’s Fear: Overcoming Anxiety.” Does the title alone make you anxious to wonder what she will say?

Much like anger in the previous chapter, fear is associated with a lack of trusting in God. With handy lists, Peace recommends that wives biblicaly align their thinking to handle fears instead of truly addressing what is causing the fear. One example of fear referenced at the beginning of the chapter is:

A wife might spend the day sitting in her room with the shades drawn in a panic for fear that if she gets in the car to go to the grocery store she might be killed in a wreck. As a consequence, none of her God-given responsibilities would be completed for that day.

In the above example, Peace is more concerned that a wife will not be able to fulfill her “God-given responsibilities” instead of addressing a fear that debilitates her to the point of not being able to function. This is a mental health concern that needs treatment, not being told that you aren’t doing your God-given job. I find this a total lack empathy and compassion toward someone with a mental health issue.

Peace also states that when a wife fears, she is not acknowledging the power of God within her. She uses the example of Paul exhorting Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7:

You, possibly like Timothy, become fearful because of what you think about particular circumstances, not because of the circumstances themselves. As a result, your focus becomes more and more inward. You become more and more frightened. Typically you think, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ An inward focus is a selfish focus, and the fear that results from selfish thinking is not from God. It is a consequence of your own sin.

Here we see that fear is sinful. Why? Fear is a natural emotion experienced by everyone. There are many reasons why we might fear real circumstances happening to us or fear the unknown. Peace’s solution is to memorize scripture and change your thought patterns to be more biblical. One example of a biblical thought is (parentheses are included in the text):

‘I am afraid he will respond badly, but I don’t know that to be a fact (true thought). My responsibility is to confront him (right thought). When I do God will help me’ (honoring and good repute thought).

Let’s look at this biblical thought through the lens of a wife who experiences abuse (parentheses are my thoughts). “I am afraid he will respond badly (true thought). I am afraid because it is a fact that he has hurt me before when I responded this way (true thought). I am afraid to respond in any way because I don’t know how he will react (true thought). If I confront him, I might get hurt (right thought due to past experience). God will help me if I confront him (unknown thought based upon experience).”

While I fully understand the power of positive thinking, verses and thoughts will not take away the reality of what is happening. How is a wife to believe that God will help her confront her abusive husband if she has prayed for years for him to change and the pain to end and nothing happens?

What frustrates me most about this chapter is that there is no acknowledgment that fear is a valid emotion. I feel sorry for wives who buy into the lie that if they are fearful, then they are sinning and not experiencing a right relationship with God.

17 thoughts on “Book Review Series – “The Excellent Wife” by Martha Peace – Chapter Nineteen – Never Fear, the Lord is Near”

  1. Kathi – this one really upsets me. I don’t have an example of this in a marriage situation, but when I was going experiencing PTSD after being in a major earthquake, well-meaning Christians and “biblical counselors” told me the verse, “perfect love casts out fear.” I obviously didn’t have perfect love because I was still fearing. (This made me feel like a less-than Christian.) When I did everything “spiritual” that I was told to do, I still had PTSD and the fear and flashbacks along with it. What did I do? I internalized that – there must be something wrong with me. It sent me on a downward spiral. I’m grateful to be alive today.

    This kind of teaching is cruel. It does not acknowledge our God-given fear. It makes me so upset to read Martha Peace’s words.

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  2. Yes, there’s so much more about fear in this book that I didn’t specifically point out. If things don’t work out, then this can lead to hopelessness and despair. Then you’re back in the same place, feeling guilty for not trusting God enough. It seems like a vicious cycle.

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  3. “And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” (Luke 22:41-44)

    I think Jesus was afraid.

    Now to the book, this quote seems the most important: “As a consequence, none of her God-given responsibilities would be completed for that day.” As, again, there is an underlying assumption that God doesn’t care about US, he only cares about what we accomplish of our appointed tasks. The god of complementarianism is worse than the Egyptian taskmasters. Not only do we have our daily allotment of bricks, but we must make the bricks with a smile on our faces. If we don’t follow every guideline, the straw and mud are mysteriously moved out of reach, but we are still responsible for our daily allotment.

    One of the things I learned about Jesus from my non-legalistic pastor is that he disappeared for long periods of time. He wasn’t working in the legalistic sense, but he was recharging in the spirit for his ministry. It was the Pharisees who always expected him to be available and ready to answer their accusations and questions.

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  4. In the above example, Peace is more concerned that a wife will not be able to fulfill her “God-given responsibilities” instead of addressing a fear that debilitates her to the point of not being able to function. This is a mental health concern that needs treatment

    Right? That example sounds like a phobia or a reaction to trauma, not a normal fear. What a weird example.

    From journaling, I did realize that sometimes I put off a task because of anxiety and that’s something I’m actively working on.

    What frustrates me most about this chapter is that there is no acknowledgment that fear is a valid emotion.

    Or a gift that tells you things, ala debeckers book. Imagine how many bad decisions we would make if we ignored every fear? Sometimes fear can be paralyzing, but it can also be helpful. Which her treatment of it is not.

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  5. when I was going experiencing PTSD after being in a major earthquake, well-meaning Christians and “biblical counselors” told me the verse, “perfect love casts out fear.” I obviously didn’t have perfect love

    What??? Were you supposed to have perfect love for the earthquake? I dont think people are really thinking this passage through.

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  6. I mean also…they keep talking about everything being internal and thus, selfish. Well, you can also have fear for other people? There is nothing selfish about that. I feel like that isn’t being acknowledged.

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  7. That woman’s instructions defy common sense. But unfortunately, many, many Christians seem to think that we should never be fearful. Do a search on the words, “Fear not,” and you will likely find some seemingly biblical clichés like, “When you say yes to fear, you say no to a meaningful life,” or “You can have faith or fear, but you can’t have both,” or, “Love is letting go of fear,” or this acronym for FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. What those little snippets would have us believe is that if we are fearful for any reason, we are essentially spiritual failures.

    So, is fear always a flawed emotion, a faithless thing? Absolutely not. But that is what many seem to teach – that we should NEVER be afraid.

    When King Saul threw a spear at David to kill him, David ran away. Was he afraid? Of course he was. He had every cause to be afraid, and he and some of his loyal friends fled into the countryside to protect the man destined to be king. David’s decision to remove himself from a legitimately dangerous situation was evidence of his wisdom, not cowardice.

    Many times in Scripture, when people found themselves in the presence of angelic beings and fell on their faces in fear, the angels would calm their fears, saying, “Do not be afraid.” The angels didn’t deny the fear; they acknowledged it as a valid response based on the visible circumstances and sought to dispel it by assuring they were, in fact, safe.

    Other times, God’s people were facing foes they could not defeat in their own strength, and they too were rightly afraid based on very real threats.

    • Were the Hebrews beside themselves when the Egyptian army had them cornered at the edge of the Red Sea? Yes! Their fear was justified. It was the God of heaven who, without a word, miraculously made a way for them.

    • When Herod sought to kill our infant Lord, Joseph was warned and instructed to flee with Jesus and His mother. Would any accuse Joseph of being faithless for rescuing Jesus and His mother?

    • When Jesus came walking on the sea toward His disciples late at night, they were terrified, but Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. It is I…” Were his followers pathetically weak? No, they were human. Their fear was legitimate and could only be quelled by another, assuring Voice.

    When fear rises within us, apart from divine intervention, seeking safety should be understood to be the right and wise thing to do!

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  8. I think in these Biblical situations, fear is condemned mainly when there is an overarching purpose or prophesy. Jesus was not afraid in the boat because he knew that he had a mission, based on prophesy, to die on a tree, not in a boat. David was told he would be the next king. In those cases, fear was a lack of trust in what God had foretold.

    There still are some questions in my mind. Daniels three friends stood up to an unrighteous command. They said “but if not” – meaning that they understood God could intervene, but not necessarily that God would.

    The problem becomes taking these instances of spiritual intervention and saying, “therefore, you should…” Evangelicalism has a false dichotomy of either denying the work of the Holy Spirit (e.g. elders don’t leave space for the spirit to intervene, but instead try to force compliance with their idea of appropriate behavior), or putting the Holy Spirit in a box (e.g. if you “stay and pray” you can win your husband over to Christ), so it’s not surprising that in these sorts of “practical” books, readers are slammed between the two rocks of legalistic requirements that attempt to enforce “appropriate behavior” and legalistic requirements that attempt to enforce the Holy Spirit as a cosmic genie who will definitely work if the right formulas are followed.

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  9. I’ve had generalized anxiety disorder for many years (and I used to have clinical depression, too).
    I used to have social anxiety through my early 40s or so.

    The Christian faith and Christian spiritual practices didn’t do anything to make either condition go away.

    Many Christians like to think their faith is the answer to any and all of life’s problems,
    but it is not, and I don’t think it’s meant to be.

    So many Christians think if you just believe in Jesus, or pray, or read the Bible,
    or follow their doctrines (about complementarianism or whatever else),
    that you will never have any problems with your marriage (if you’re married),
    or you won’t have depression or other problems in life.

    But the Bible itself doesn’t make any of those promises.
    Job in the Old Testament was a righteous man, and it didn’t stop HIM from suffering and having problems.

    I never found relief from anxiety by focusing on Bible verses that talk about faith / fear / anxiety / worries / cares.

    I do wish Christians would stop prescribing those verses to people who have anxiety, as though they will be a “cure” for anxiety. For most people, they do NOT stop anxiety.

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  10. I’d encourage folks to click my name “Daisy” as it appears at the top of my posts on this blog to visit my blog to read more about these topics. There’s a search box or feature and tags you can use to find the pertinent posts there.

    I routinely post about mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and how terrible Christians are at dealing with them over on my blog.

    There was just a news article a few weeks ago (which I excerpted over at my Daisy blog) detailing how churches fire pastors who admit to seeing mental health professionals for depression.

    There is most certainly a stigma about things like anxiety, depression, etc, among a lot of Christians.

    (I guess the blog format has changed here, so that we’re no longer permitted to post links in blogs? If so, that’s a shame.)

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  11. JA – talk about part of a verse being taken out of context (‘perfect love casts out fear’).

    So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.

    The fear that needs to go here – and imo most Christians need reminding of this regularly – is that caused by doubting God’s love and therefore fearing judgment and punishment at the end of the age. Legalism in particular will lead to this, which only makes our painful awareness of our weaknesses and failures worse by adding a mentality that we need to perform in order to earn God’s love, and start wondering if perhaps God will turn out to be fed up with us, which is the opposite of confidence for the day of judgment.

    It is terribly easy to forget the fact that the God of the bible is kind.

    I don’t this verse has anything to do with legitimate fear caused by danger. If we are supposed to ‘cast our anxieties on him’, the anxiety itself is not so much the problem as what we do with it. It presupposes such things as anxiety are part of normal human experience in a fallen world.

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  12. It seems to me that the whole purpose of this book is to make a wife feel guilty because she is not (and never can be)… excellent (according to Martha’s standards anyway). If she feels anger… she is guilty. If she feels fear… she is guilty. She is just a bad person who should try harder not to be so bad… and then she’ll probably still be bad anyway. Whatever happened to God’s unconditional love… his mercy, grace, forgiveness, and acceptance? Where is the joy of knowing our failures and sins were paid for at the cross? Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” We weren’t meant to live our lives under a load of guilt.

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  13. Daisy said: (I guess the blog format has changed here, so that we’re no longer permitted to post links in our posts / comments / replies? If so, that’s a shame.)

    So many of the topics we discuss here are serious. It’s one thing to post a link to an article that is related to the topic and helpful to the conversation. It’s a whole other thing to post a link to your own blog on an unrelated topic. I find this to be self-seeking and dismissive of the current important conversation.

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  14. I think this really ties in with what Sheila is talking about on her blog. When mainly women, but some men, too, grow up in a spiritually toxic environment, they can be so traumatized by the conservative/complementarian insistence that they have nothing worthy of respect that they essentially lose any purpose or desire. In fact, the self-image can be so destroyed that some cannot even recognize their own reflection in a mirror.

    Peace gives women this toxic garbage that somehow their entire purpose of being is tied up in sacrificing their desires and purposes to fulfill their husband’s desires. It’s the same type of toxic teaching that says that our value and purpose can only be defined by those with spiritual discernment and church office. It sickens me to think how many husbands, wives, children, parents, church followers and church leaders have perpetuated this teaching that is so vile it can literally rewire our brains to wipe away emotions (especially joy).

    I remember the story of a woman who finally freed herself of Gothard, only to break down in tears at the grocery store because she couldn’t make herself choose between two brands of the same product. This is the result of Peace’s teaching – women who are so full of self-doubt and self-denial that they cannot function. Complementarians love to argue about the “no true Complementarian would…”, but it’s a matter of degrees, not a matter of theology. The destructive power of this doctrine in a person is only limited by someone’s inability to overcome their bodies natural defenses.

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