What is Abuse?

Desecration of the Image of God


Abuse is often misunderstood in the church. We often think of it as physical, but it’s not that simple. What exactly is abuse, and what are its signs? In this post created in cooperation with the Association of Biblical Counselors, Greg Wilson from North Texas Christian Counseling will define the term, identify some signs of abuse, and help Christians understand what’s at stake theologically when people suffer it.


Greg Wilson holds Masters degrees in Marriage and Family Counseling and Christian Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and has completed additional graduate study at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor.  



Greg defined abuse as “the desecration of the Imago Dei [the image of God] in another person through the intentional misuse use of power—overtly, or covertly, in words, or in actions—for the purpose of gratifying self.”  

What stood out to you in Greg’s definition of abuse?
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Were you surprised to hear that abuse is not always just a matter of overt action, such as hitting? Why or why not?
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Greg named of the covert signs of abuse: blaming, criticism, judgmentalism. What do you think makes some of these behaviors abusive, versus simply unkind?
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What experience, if any, do you or someone you know have with this kind of abuse?
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The more overt signs of abuse can be words or actions: things like name-calling, perverse speech, and physical action against the abused. What experience, if any, do you or someone you know have with this kind of abuse?
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Genesis 1:26-28 (ESV)

26Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

28And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Genesis 1:26–28 teaches us that human beings are created in the image of God. Greg says that means we are to reflect His image and extend His just rule and reign on the earth.   

Have you ever thought about being created in the image of God in relation to abuse? In what ways does even covert abuse make it difficult for the abused to embrace his or her identity?
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In what ways have you personally perceived your worth, value, or purpose based on how people have spoken to you or treated you?
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If human beings are created in the image of God, what worth, value, or purpose should be assigned to our lives?
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If human beings are created in the image of God, how should we treat each other? How should we treat injustice or abuse against each other?
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All kinds of abuse—covert or overt—need to be dealt with. If you or someone you know is being abused, this post alone is not sufficient for help. Seek out a trusted friend, pastor, or counselor and tell them your story. And don’t end there! Professional counseling and safety need to be your priority.   


You can find more on abuse from Greg in the course How to Help the Abused.


To learn more about The Association of Biblical Counselors, click here.