This post is kind of for myself because writing helps me to think through and process stuff that happens to me. But it’s also for those who also struggle with the same sort of things. This post is quite long (sorry). It is about abuse, PTSD, depression, anxiety, faith, and God. If you don’t like this sort of discussion, you might want to wait until I go back to my more light-hearted stories about my life in Northern Michigan.
A FB friend who accused me of dishonoring myself, my family, and God because I had no contact with my abusive family triggered an anxiety attack a couple of weeks ago. I thought she was a bit contemptuous about anxiety attacks, as if she felt they were imaginary. Her words took me by surprise and made me feel battered; I struggled with it for several weeks. I think it’s easier to fall into an anxiety attack than to climb back out of it…although I always eventually do make my way out and many times I learn a few things in the process. I think many people do not understand abuse, PTSD, depression, or anxiety and they assume that a person who suffers from these things are weak or have little faith. I’d like to explore those topics.
We all know that soldiers can suffer from PTSD, but other people can also suffer from forms of PTSD. As I understand it, there are two different types of PTSD. One is caused by a short-term event such as a car accident. The other type is called Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) and is caused by long-term trauma, such as abuse, in which a victim feels trapped and unable to escape. Symptoms can include insomnia, nightmares, anxiety, depression, and health problems, among other things. EJ, JJ, and I all suffer from PTSD from abuse and other difficulties we have experienced.
People who have serious illnesses like cancer also can suffer from PTSD. For a while after JJ’s battle with cancer, anything that reminded him of chemo–such as bald heads or items that resembled IV bags or tubes–triggered an anxiety attack. Medical procedures or appointments also trigger his anxiety.
In addition, caregivers can suffer from PTSD. JJ’s treatment was very intense and we spent hours almost every day for several months at the Cancer Center. We never had a full night of sleep and many times we had almost no sleep. By the time his treatment was completed, we were physically and emotionally depleted. After all the previous abuse and difficulties we’ve experienced, JJ’s battle with cancer was like the final straw that broke us. I had never experienced anxiety attacks before cancer. We still haven’t fully regained our strength and problems that we once could easily handle now easily stress, overwhelm, and drain us and can trigger anxiety attacks. I often feel like a car with an empty gas tank. Problems hit me before I have a chance to get refilled and I’m drained empty again. It’s actually quite awful.
Before I go further, I’d like to state that I tend to use examples from my own life as an illustration of what I’m trying to explain. I view all my experiences as learning experiences–of things that I think I should continue to do or that I ought to change. Sometimes I see wonderful traits in a person and they become my model of what I want to become. Other times I see behaviors that I do not want so I try to avoid/eliminate the behaviors in my life.
I also want to list a few things that I either value or dislike because they might help you know where I’m coming from: I value integrity, authenticity, and freedom very highly. I enjoy and value being able to ask challenging questions and explore ideas. I dislike phoniness, deceit, manipulation, hypocrisy, arrogance, control, bullying or cruelty. I cannot comprehend why anyone would think it’s “fun” to abuse others. I care very deeply for those who are struggling and wounded and abused. I love people who are authentic, even if they are a bit “messy.” However, I think there is a HUGE difference between people who are messily authentic, who try to do right but sometimes fail, and people who are unrepentantly deceitful, hypocritical, arrogant, and/or cruel.
I believe that there are moral absolutes–things that are absolutely right or wrong. I think that there is a difference between right/wrong and preferences–and sometimes people confuse the two. For example, murder is absolutely morally wrong. However, choosing to drive a Ford or a Chevy is not right or wrong, but simply a matter of preference. We must not ever condone murder, but it would be foolish to get upset because I like Fords and you prefer Chevys. A silly illustration, I know, but one that I hope helps explain the difference.
I believe that only God is perfect in His knowledge and understanding, and I expect when I someday meet Him, I will discover that many things that I believed were inaccurate, incorrect, and probably downright wrong. However, the best I can do is seek and live truth as best that I can and be willing to acknowledge and change when I discover that something that I believed isn’t actually true. I also think that others don’t always get things right either and just as I want people to be patient with my growth, so I want to be patient with theirs.
I believe that life is a process, a journey of growth. None of us starts out knowing God or knowing what is right and wrong. We will (hopefully, if we are wise) grow in understanding and maturity over time. The important thing, to me, is that we honestly pursue truth, and are willing to change if we are wrong. If we honestly pursue truth, I think God will help us learn more truth. But I don’t think we will gain perfect understanding in our lifetimes. There will always be more to learn, overcome, and grow to understand. I’m ok with that.
The things that I value and dislike affects what I believe and how I live my life. Because I believe in honestly pursuing truth–as much as I can, no matter where it leads–I have often struggled with understanding truth. I have always, throughout my life, asked myself questions about what concepts and ideas actually mean because I feel that if I don’t understand what something means, how can I ever hope to live it? I think many people don’t understand what things mean either, but a lot of them seem to believe that they do and some can be contemptuous about others not knowing their “truth,” which might sometimes merely be their preferences. This results in–for me–observing inconsistencies that I find illogical and confusing so I wrestle with them, especially if I’m not sure if they are right or wrong. I don’t perceive people who struggle or wrestle with various things in a negative way because I think that a lot of growth occurs as we struggle to reach a goal or understand truth. However, people who choose to do wrong or who say they believe one thing but consistently live another is a different matter.
For example, I don’t really understand the Amish lifestyle. Although I do not believe as the Amish do, I could understand if they decided to live simply and avoid the trappings of modern life. That would be consistent with their beliefs (as I understand them). In some ways their lifestyle is even sort of appealing–you know, the simple life away from the rat race of modern life. However, I don’t understand why they think it’s wrong to participate in modern life to the extent that they don’t have electricity in their homes and they drive horses instead of cars, but they have no problem with asking a neighbor to drive them places in their vehicles. If modern things are so wrong, why ride in vehicles? And if it’s ok to ride in a vehicle, why not own them? I can understand why the Amish would go to stores like Wal-mart–because I think there are probably items that they need and can’t make themselves–but it makes no sense to me that they would eat at a fast food restaurant, which is an unessential part of modern life. I don’t really understand the way the Amish live, but it’s not something that I spend a lot of time wrestling with because it doesn’t affect me. The lifestyle of the Amish is more a curiosity and philosophical pondering to me than anything else.
But there are other beliefs that I wrestle more with because they affect my life more:
For example, I think that people who say they are tolerant are inconsistent and hypocritical if they bully those who disagree with them. I hate bullying.
Likewise, I think that if a person says he is against racism then he ought not to be mistreating those who are different from he is. Racism is racism whether it’s white people who dislike black people or black people who dislike white people–or any other race. If it’s wrong if someone mistreats me, it’s also wrong for me to mistreat him. Also, a mere difference in opinion or belief isn’t racist. Accusing people of racism whenever they disagree actually trivializes true racism and causes it to become unheard and ignored. You know, like the boy in the fable who cried wolf.
Furthermore, if a group says that they care about the environment then they ought not to leave their trash everywhere–such as the protesters of the Dakota pipeline did. I don’t know much about the Dakota pipeline and don’t really have an opinion about whether it is good or bad, but I do think that it makes no sense to protest the possible environmental impact of the pipeline and then leave behind so much trash (not to mention abandoning dogs) that it takes more than 2,000 dump trucks to haul it away. That amount of trash actually did affect the environment. If people are going to claim that they believe something, I think their lives ought to reflect their beliefs. I don’t see how leaving behind that much trash is an “accidental mistake.”
I think that Christian inconsistencies are the most difficult for me–because what a Christian believes, teaches, and lives reflects on God and can affect others’ relationship with Him. I love God deeply and I believe that the Bible is absolutely true. However, I think there are a lot of misunderstandings, misinterpretations, false teachings of the Bible and there are inconsistencies between what people say they believe and how they actually live. Of course, all of us are imperfect and fallible humans and we all have our weaknesses, failures, dysfunctions, areas of ignorance, and sins but, again, I see a big difference between a person who genuinely struggles to improve, overcome, and grow and one who deliberately, arrogantly and/or deceitfully chooses to do wrong.
Here are some of the illogical inconsistencies that I have struggled with. This is not a complete list and these are not intended to be mere nitpicky criticisms. I have always genuinely questioned and wrestled–even as a child–with these inconsistencies. Some of my questions have been resolved, some haven’t. I can accept (sometimes) that I might never find the answers to some of them, but I still search for the answers.
When I was a child, I struggled a lot with what to do with conflicting commands. My parents were not Christians. They told us kids to tell the truth and we were disciplined if we didn’t, but sometimes they told us to lie. For example, my parents told us to lie about our age so we would get in various places for free. This was conflicting. On the one hand, the Bible says that children need to obey their parents. On the other hand, the Bible says that we are not to lie. But what was I supposed to do when my parents told me to tell a lie? Which command is more important? Which overrides the other? I wrestled with this sort of question for years.
I also struggled as I was growing up with evangelists who came to preach at my church. They always ended up declaring, “If you are not knocking on doors to win the lost to Christ, you might not be saved.” Huh? Where in the Bible does it ever say that salvation rested on whether people were evangelizing door to door? Doesn’t Ephesians say “For by grace are we saved through faith and that not of works…” But I was a child–what did I know? They were adults–maybe they were right? I struggled with this for quite a while. I have found throughout life that people tend to think everyone should be the same and minister to others in the same way that they do. So an evangelist thinks everyone should be an evangelist, or a person who is a greeter at church thinks everyone should be a greeter, and so on. But I believe that God has given people different gifts to minister in different ways as is described in I Corinthians 12. We aren’t all called to the same sort of ministry. God created us to be uniquely different from each other.
I’ve heard Christians say that the Law (or Torah) is “done away with” and we are no longer obligated to obey them. They specifically have said that this includes the 10 Commandments. So I’ve asked, “So by saying that the 10 Commandments are done away do you mean that we are now free to worship other gods, or to engage in adultery, or to murder, or to lie…?” Aghast, they declare “NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT!” This is illogical. If the 10 Commandments are done away with then we should be able disregard the commands. But if it’s not ok to live contrary to the 10 Commandments how can someone say that the 10 Commandments no longer apply? Furthermore, why did the Psalmist (in Ps 19) say that the Law restores the inner person, is sure and makes wise the thoughtless, is right and rejoices the heart, is pure and enlightens the eyes…if it is actually burdensome and legalistic? Why does the Psalmist say that the Law endures forever if it doesn’t endure forever? If the Law is so evil and burdensome, why would God ever give it to the people He says He loves? How does something that God says is so “good” become “not good”?
I had another friend who shared an article a few years ago about whether or not Christians should drink alcohol. The author of the article started out well enough, I thought, but he ended by declaring that nowhere in the Bible is it ever stated that it is spiritual to drink alcohol. That’s not true. The Bible does warn against a misuse of alcohol, it says don’t get drunk, but wine is used in many of the Biblical feasts and has a great deal of symbolism. In fact, Deut. 14 specifically tells the Israelites that if they lived too far from the Temple, they were to sell their sacrificial animals, travel to the Temple, and “Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.” Even Jesus drank wine. When I pointed this out to my friend, she said, “Even though the Bible says that, I still think that no Christian should ever drink.” I think it’s good to abstain from alcoholic beverages if a person/family has a history of alcoholism, but to say alcoholic beverages is unBiblical is not correct. In fact, it sets personal opinion above Biblical truth and it tries to force a personal choice on all believers. Declaring that the Bible says something that it doesn’t is a misuse of Scripture. It’s an attempt to make the Bible conform to a person’s personal beliefs rather than conform a person’s beliefs to the Bible.
I’ve also struggled with what the Bible means when it says “Don’t do as the pagans do” and “come out from among them and be separate.” Usually people who quote these verses use them in context to whether or not we should celebrate holidays such as Halloween or Christmas or Easter, all of which started out as pagan holidays. Sometimes it seems to me that a person’s position on the holidays–or on any controversial activity–depends on whether or not they want to do it or not. If they want to do it then they say that the day or activity has been redeemed and/or we are under grace. (I know God redeems people, but I’m not sure He redeems pagan holidays?) If people don’t want to celebrate a particular holiday or engage in a certain activity then they say that we “should not do as the pagans do.” Who is right? I am not quite sure. Actually, there are people I respect on both sides of this debate. However, whatever a person’s position is, I have never heard anyone adequately explain what the pagans do that we aren’t supposed to do and what exactly we are supposed to separate ourselves from. I try to live out my best understanding of what these verses mean in my own life, but I don’t try to tell others what they are supposed to do because I think it’s complicated and each person has to work it out with God.
I think that the greatest struggle I have is with beliefs about suffering. These beliefs are very important because through our beliefs/words, we can strengthen or weaken those who suffer, we can bring hope or despair, we can be used to heal or to further wound and crush people, we can be used by God to set prisoners free or we can clang prison doors in their face.
I will share a list of beliefs about suffering that I wrestle with, that I think are illogical or inconsistent or just plain don’t make sense to me. I realize that we tend to look at outward appearances while God truly knows a person’s heart and that outward appearances can be deceiving. I also am very aware that I might be wrong. In fact, often I wrestle with the thought that if I am correct then the belief of many others is wrong–which seems rather arrogant to me. It takes me back to my childhood where a teaching didn’t make sense to me, but I had trouble believing that I, a child, was right when the adults were wrong. Yet, many times the belief of the crowd really is wrong. A belief is truth because it is TRUE–the number of people who believe it is irrelevant. And if something is true, we ought to do our best to live it. I present these questions mostly as thoughts to ponder. I think I understand the answers to some of them, but many I am still searching for answers. I don’t know how to put these thoughts in any sort of order, so they are kind of listed randomly.
If I wanted to know about life in another country, I would ask friends who lived there. If I wanted to gain knowledge about a certain topic, I would ask an expert in that field. If I wanted to learn what challenges a person with a disability or serious illness faced, I would ask a person who lived with those conditions. In fact, I actually do ask people about the countries/areas in which they live, I do seek expert advice about various topics, and I have asked about or researched disabilities/diseases that my friends suffer in an attempt to understand the daily challenges they live with. The frustrating thing to me is that while in each of these cases it only makes sense that a person who has experience would be most able to knowledgeably understand and discuss the experience, frequently the stories of abuse victims is discounted–as if their testimony is corrupted because they are damaged, or wounded, or ….whatever. It doesn’t make sense. Who better to understand the challenges, the suffering, the heartache of abuse except someone who has experienced it?
The Bible is filled–from cover to cover, from the beginning of time to the end of time–with descriptions of wicked people. Genesis describes such events as the days of Noah when everyone did evil continuously while 2 Timothy 3 says that in the Last Days “evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” In fact, the Biblical story seems to me to actually be a story about the epic struggle between those who love God and those who hate Him, between the righteous and the wicked. I would think that people who say they believe the Bible would actually believe that, duh, evil people actually exist, right? Yet, when an abuse victim speaks out about the oppression she is suffering at the hands of an abuser (who fits the Biblical descriptions of a wicked person), more often than not she is accused of being angry, bitter, rebellious, unforgiving, judgmental, unChristlike, and on and on. So I would like to ask: Is the Bible merely a fairy tale about imaginary enemies or is it speaking the truth when it says that there are evil people in the world who “can’t sleep or rest until they do wrong or harm some innocent victim”? (Prov. 4:16).
God says throughout the Bible that He came to set the captives free, to deliver the oppressed from the hand of the wicked, to cut us free from the yoke of the wicked. Was God speaking the truth or lying? If He is telling the truth (which I think He is) then who, exactly, are the wicked He is delivering us from? And exactly who are the people He is setting free? I ask because abuse victims are typically told that they are sinning, rebelling, unsubmissive, and disobedient to God if they seek to escape their abusers. Rather than help a victim escape from the yoke of the wicked, many Christians pressure victims to remain in the power of their abuser(s) particularly if her/his abuser is related to him–such as a spouse or parent. How can a person be set free from the wicked if wicked people don’t really exist? And is a person set free unless she/he is related to the wicked person? This doesn’t make sense.
What are the traits of a wicked person? Are we being wrongfully judgmental if we state that a person is evil? The Bible is filled with descriptions of wicked people. Matthew 7:15-20 warns us to beware of false prophets who come wearing sheep’s clothing, but underneath are hungry wolves. Twice in these five verses it says that we will recognize them by their fruit. In other words, by their actions. Why did the Bible talk so much about how to recognize the wicked? What value is it to be given instruction on how to recognize the wicked if we aren’t supposed to acknowledge that they are wicked? What are we supposed to do with this knowledge? Are we supposed to “not judge” them? Actually, the Bible says that we are not to judge by mere appearances but to judge righteously (John 7:24). In other words, we aren’t to be hasty in our judgment, assume, or jump to conclusions–but neither are we to check our brains at the door. Proverbs 22:3 in the Expanded Bible says: The ·wise [prudent] see ·danger [evil; trouble] ahead and avoid it, but fools ·keep going [go straight to it] and ·get into trouble [or are punished]. Hebrew 5:14 says that “solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by continuous exercise to distinguish good from evil.” In other words, the mature believer is able to distinguish (or judge) between good and evil. In my opinion, abuse victims get a lot of practice learning to distinguish good from evil.
The above paragraph is important because I was told that I can’t really know what is in another person’s heart so I can’t really judge if my abusers are evil or if they hate me. I think that while people tend to judge more on appearances than reality, and while we need to be careful to not judge hastily, we are given the ability to discern if a person is evil or righteous. Proverbs 20:11 says that “The character of even a child is known by how he acts, by whether his deeds are pure and right.” Luke 6:45 says “The good person produces good things from the store of good in his heart, while the evil person produces evil things from the store of evil in his heart.” We might not be able to see into people’s hearts, but we can see their actions, which reveal what is in their hearts. So I’m pretty sure that we can discern by a person’s actions whether or not he is evil. I mean, is there any doubt that Hitler hated the Jews?
Assuming the Bible is correct about the existence of evil people, how are we supposed to respond when we encounter evil people? Christians always quote the verses about forgiveness, love, and grace. This is a HUGELY complicated topic that I have spent years wrestling with so I can’t fully expand on it here. But, briefly, I believe there is a misunderstanding of what forgiveness, love, repentance, reconciliation really is and involves. I don’t believe we are to be filled with revenge, but I do believe that we are to forgive only IF a person repents (Luke 17:3-5). God, Himself, doesn’t forgive the unrepentant (Ps 7:11-12) and I don’t think He would expect us to do more than He does. There are actually quite a few verses throughout Scripture that tells us to not walk, stand, or sit with the wicked, to not associate with them, to avoid and stay away from them. Here are a few:
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3-5) FYI: Repentance in the Bible is not a mere “I’m sorry.” It is evidenced by a changed life.
“No, what I wrote you was not to associate with anyone who is supposedly a brother but who also engages in sexual immorality, is greedy, worships idols, is abusive, gets drunk or steals. With such a person you shouldn’t even eat!” (1 Cor. 5:11)
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive,disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11). FYI: A divisive person is not one who speaks the truth. A divisive person is one who deliberately stirs up division. And we don’t have to spend all our lives trying to reconcile with such a person–we give one or two warnings and that’s it.
I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked. (Ps 26:4-5)
We can’t obey those verses and stay away from wicked people if wicked people don’t exist. Neither can we avoid them if we are unable to judge between the righteous and the wicked. Furthermore, we should be careful that we are telling people what God actually said. It’s pretty serious to tell people to stay with a wicked person when God has said not to associate with them.
The Bible does say that we are to love our enemies, but what exactly is love? Many times people act as if love means that we are never to say or do anything that offends/displeases another person, and we are to never “judge” him or confront him about anything. Is this really love? If so then Jesus wasn’t loving because He confronted people–and sometimes quite unnicely, such as when He told them they were whitewashed sepulchres, children of the devil, and hypocrites, and physically drove them out of the Temple. Paul actually reprimanded the Corinthian church who unconditionally accepted a man who had sex with his father’s wife. The Corinthians appeared quite proud of the unconditional grace they were giving the man. In 1 Cor. 5:1-2 Paul said, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” Luke 17:3-5 says that we are to rebuke others. Unconditional love/grace and forgiveness without requiring repentance, and a refusal to confront evil actually often results in Christians defending and protecting an abuser and condemning a victim. Prov. 25:26 says: “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous person who gives way before the wicked.”
Of course, we have to be careful. Many people declare they are “lovingly rebuking” when they actually are just meddling in the lives of others (at best) or oppressing them. When Peter asked Jesus (in John 21:22) what would happen to another disciple, Jesus said, “What is that to you? YOU follow me.” In other words, stop worrying about him and concern yourself with you. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 instructs us “to mind your own affairs…” 1 Peter 4:15 says that “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” And there are many other such verses. The point I am trying to make is that we have to be careful that we learn discernment and judge righteously. We have to make sure we aren’t merely meddling in others’ lives. There is a difference between obeying what God actually says and forcing your own preferences, expectations, and demands on others.
In regards to this, there are things that other people do that don’t make sense to me, that I don’t agree with, that I wouldn’t do, but I try not to meddle in their lives. I don’t pressure others to live according to my conscience, beliefs, understanding, or preferences. I don’t involve myself in their disagreements. I will give my opinion if asked. Mostly, I just try to set a boundary when others try to meddle in my life or to pressure us to live contrary to our beliefs. As adults, I believe we have the freedom/right to make our own choices and decisions even if others don’t approve. However, I will speak up if innocent people could be harmed by my silence and I will support a victim and stand with him or her against an abuser.
Of course, it can be very difficult to discern between the wicked and the righteous. Often the wicked can seem more calm, spiritual, and charming than their victims. Psalms 55:21 says of the wicked: “The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.” 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 says “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness…” Matthew 23:27: In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. In other words, the wicked can appear to be so very good, very charming, very spiritual while their victims appear messed up, anxious, angry, and unwilling to forgive. The abuse website, A Cry for Justice, points out that many times an abuser appears more willing to reconcile because he wants to deceive others and he doesn’t want to lose his victim–an escaped victim is no longer in his power. Meanwhile a victim might appear unforgiving because she knows very well that her abuser isn’t sincere (she has practice distinguishing between good and evil) and she wants to escape the abuse.
This is why I think it’s so important to educate ourselves about abuse tactics and to read the stories of the victims…so we can accurately judge between the righteous and the wicked. This is very important because, as Proverbs 17:15 says, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both.” (A Cry for Justice often offers to help church leaders identify abuse and deal with it appropriately, but sadly very few churches accept their help.)
The most common experience of a victim is that when, after trying for years to love, forgive, please her (or his) abuser, she can bear no more and she seeks to free herself from her abuser, her abuser works to smear her reputation and turn people against her. Often it works. Many times the victim suffers increasing condemnation and isolation from her relatives, friends, and church. She experiences tremendous pressure to unconditionally love, forgive, and reconcile with her abuser, which usually means she is expected to be less “rebellious” and submit to his/her demands. There are some churches who even tell a victim that if her abuser kills her, she can be comforted that she will be with Christ in heaven. If a victim refuses to submit to her abuser she is accused of being unloving, unforgiving, rebellious, unsubmissive, judgmental, dishonorable, unChristlike…and so on. Often she comes under “church discipline” and some have been ex-communicated and shunned by their churches. Having suffered intolerable torment from her abuser, she must now endure immense pressure and betrayal from those she trusted. The fact that a victim has experienced much rejection from many people can cause others to believe that she was rejected because she is an angry, bitter, and unforgiving person.
Is this true?
Of course, it can be true that a person is rejected because of his own actions. However, typically victims are actually very loving, compassionate, and forgiving people–which is why they stayed in the damaging abuse so long. They kept loving and forgiving over and over again.
A victim who is battered by her abuser and abandoned by her friends and church often suffers from PTSD, becoming depressed, anxious, and “messy.” Some victims consider suicide. Many Christians will condemn victims for her lack of Christlikeness. Meanwhile, the abuser is often embraced, supported, defended, protected with “unconditional grace.” This is wrong.
I think the most terrible aspect of this is that these Christians claim they are representatives of Christ, which carries a lot of power/authority. If they are correct in their accusations, then the victim has no hope. If she stays with her abuser, she suffers worsening abuse that destroys her little by little. But if she leaves her abuser, she is told that she is being rebelliously disobedient to the God she loves and that she has stepped outside His protection. She may wonder if God really loves her, if He has also rejected her, or if He is some abusive bully who enjoys her misery. Is He lying when He says that He cares about the needy and the oppressed? Or that He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit? Or that He will accept those who are rejected and outcast? Or that He came to set the captives free to and free and to cut them free from the yoke of the wicked? Who are the wicked? Who are the ones God says He will set free?
This leads me to another topic:
I think the reason God warns us that we must not judge on appearances is because we humans tend to so quickly judge on appearances–but not the way many people think. Too often people wrongfully judge the victim of being unloving and unforgiving when they need to pause, look beyond the charm of the abuser, and see his oppression. People make quick assumptions rather than really listen to the victim. Too many people judge those who suffer from abuse, rejection, illness, anxiety, depression as being cursed by God and those who are successful and popular as being blessed. This isn’t always true and we need to judge righteously.
I like what Larry Crabb wrote in his book, The Safest Place on Earth, “We often hear that brokenness is the pathway to a deeper relationship with God, but we rarely see it modeled. I sometimes think we want others to believe we know God by demonstrating how unbroken we are….Worse, in many eyes, to admit brokenness means to admit a poor relationship with God.”
Although I have heard for many, many years that broken people are closest to God and that wounded healers are best able to heal other wounded people, it seems to me that few actually believe this. Instead, those who are praised for being most godly are those with successful, popular ministries, who enjoy material comforts and good health, and who always have a smile on their face and a song on their lips. Those who are crushed by severe trials, those who are chronically sick, those who cry and groan, those who struggle with depression or anxiety….well, obviously they lack faith, they aren’t trusting God, they are sinning, they must have done something wrong and are being judged by God.
Is this true? Is this what the Bible says?
Jesus suffered rejection. Isaiah 53 says: “He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.” John 1:10-11 says: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” Even most of Jesus’ family rejected him (John 7:5) and thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21).
Jesus said that those who followed Him would be hated:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… (2 Tim 3:12).
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. (Luke 7) FYI: This doesn’t mean that a victim must stay with her abuser in order to have a great reward in heaven. To put it simply: It is alerting us that people will hate us, they will exclude, insult, and reject us, but God is a righteous judge who sees and there will be justice and reward for the victim.
How were the prophets treated? They were ridiculed, beaten, spit upon, imprisoned, and suffered tremendous rejection:
Job was a very righteous man who suffered deeply. He wrote in chapter 19:
“[God] has alienated my family from me;
my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.
My relatives have gone away;
my closest friends have forgotten me.
My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner;
they look on me as on a stranger.
I summon my servant, but he does not answer,
though I beg him with my own mouth.
My breath is offensive to my wife;
I am loathsome to my own family.
Even the little boys scorn me;
when I appear, they ridicule me.
All my intimate friends detest me;
those I love have turned against me.
I am nothing but skin and bones;
I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth.
“Have pity on me, my friends, have pity,
for the hand of God has struck me.
Why do you pursue me as God does?
Will you never get enough of my flesh?
No one listened to the preaching of Noah or Isaiah or Jeremiah. Jeremiah said in chapter 20:
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.…
I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!
Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!”
All my friends
are waiting for me to slip, saying,
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
then we will prevail over him
and take our revenge on him.”
Paul said in 2 Timothy 4 that “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.”
Many of the wonderful heroes in the Bible that we now revere were not revered during their lifetimes. In the OT, the NT, and throughout history, there were periods when people truly followed God. However, there were also periods when the religious people and organizations became corrupt. The Biblical prophets and the Christian heroes–such as Tyndale, Luther, Wycliffe, and others–spoke against their apostasy and suffered for it. Most of the time they were considered heretics and were rejected and persecuted. Some lost their lives. Even though the Bible warns us about false teachers/prophets, about evil men becoming worse and worse, about wolves in sheep’s clothing that ravage the sheep, even today if a person speaks out against false teachings/teachings within the “church” he/she is typically considered a backslider or troublemaker by the majority.
When I was a child in Sunday School, we often sang a song with the following words: “Though no one join me, still I will follow…no turning back, no turning back.” When I sang those words, I really meant them. To the best of my ability, I will honestly seek truth and attempt to live it even if no one join me. I won’t follow the crowd to do something that I believe is evil. I won’t be pressured to do something that I think is wrong.
Do not follow the crowd when it does what is wrong; and don’t allow the popular view to sway you into offering testimony for any cause if the effect will be to pervert justice. (Ex. 23:2)
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? (2 Cor. 6:14-16) (Remember that not everyone who attends a church is a real Christian. Some are wolves in sheep’s clothing.)
They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. (1 Peter 4:4)
Besides being rejected, many abuse victims, cancer patients, and caregivers suffer from PTSD (as I already stated) which can include symptoms of anxiety and depression. Many Christians believe that those who struggle with these things are sinning and/or lack faith. Many Christians believe that those with strong faith will always be filled with peace and joy in their suffering. Is this true?
John 9:1-3 says “As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:1-3). Like many people, the disciples assumed that the man’s disability was caused by sin. Jesus stated otherwise. Even today many people who are suffering with disabilities or serious illness are told that they are sick because they committed some sin and they would be healed if they had enough faith. I think this can’t be true. If it is true then EVERY human lacks faith because everyone eventually dies of something. I mean, duh, I have never heard of anyone alive today who is hundreds or thousands of years old. The Bible does state that some people are sick because of their life choices, but it isn’t true in every case. It certainly wasn’t true in the blind man’s case and it wasn’t true in Job’s case. Both of these men suffered disability/disease so the works of God might be displayed in them. I don’t know why some people get sick and others don’t, why God heals some people and not others but I know that physically suffering is not always due to sin. Some of the most courageous, godly, and faith-full people I know are those who suffer from chronic ailments. We have to be careful not to assume we know why people suffer.
But what about anxiety and depression?
I think that just as a day has periods of light and dark, and a year has periods of winter and summer, so we go through periods of joy and sorrow, strength and weakness, abundance and scarcity (Ecc. 3:1-8). Although God sometimes give people the ability to have peace and joy in the midst of suffering, I don’t think He always does. I think it’s unreasonable to tell someone who is experiencing heartache, sorrow, and pain to SMILE! I believe that sometimes faith can be quite raw and ugly and messy.
Look at Elijah, for example. After his epic contest with the prophets of baal, he went “a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” (1 Kings 19) Did he lack faith? If he did, God didn’t condemn him for it. Instead, he fed Elijah and showed him that He was with him. I think Elijah was depressed because he was so utterly depleted.
There’s Job, who after losing his wealth, his children, and his health, groaned in chapter 3:
Why wasn’t I stillborn and buried
with all the babies who never saw light,
Where the wicked no longer trouble anyone
and bone-weary people get a long-deserved rest?
“…Why does God bother giving light to the miserable,
why bother keeping bitter people alive,
Those who want in the worst way to die, and can’t,
who can’t imagine anything better than death,
Who count the day of their death and burial
the happiest day of their life?
What’s the point of life when it doesn’t make sense,
when God blocks all the roads to meaning?
“Instead of bread I get groans for my supper,
then leave the table and vomit my anguish.
The worst of my fears has come true,
what I’ve dreaded most has happened.
My repose is shattered, my peace destroyed.
No rest for me, ever—death has invaded life.”
At times Job was angry with God, declared that he looked for God but couldn’t find Him, he had no peace and certainly no joy, and demanded that God answer him…yet God considered him very righteous and even today we talk about the great faith of Job.
Jonah was another person who was angry with God and depressed. He said, “Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” God took the time to teach him, which I think Rabbi Fohrman explains beautifully in this video. When Jeremiah prophesied judgment on Judah, he was rejected, cursed, beaten, and thrown into prison. He lamented his ministry and even accused God of deceiving him. His cries in Jer 20 sound very much like Job’s in Job 3:
You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed…
Cursed be the day I was born!
May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
who made him very glad, saying,
“A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
a battle cry at noon.”
For he did not kill me in the womb,
with my mother as my grave,
her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
to see trouble and sorrow
and to end my days in shame?
In 2 Corinthians 1:18 Paul said, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”
Jesus was described in Isaiah 53 as a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. Luke describe Jesus before his crucifixion this way: And being in agony [deeply distressed and anguished; almost to the point of death], He prayed more intently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down on the ground. (Luke 22:44)
The people in the Bible often suffered deeply and did not always have beautiful faith. They didn’t always joyfully sing during their suffering; sometimes they felt depression, agony, anger, grief, and even longed for death. I think that if our friends said the things these people said, we would likely accuse them of lacking faith, of being judged by God. Many, in fact, do–both today and thousands of years ago. In fact, Job’s very pious friends said those very things to him, accusing him of being arrogant and wicked and under the judgment of God. But listen to what God said to Job’s friends who thought they were wise and had all the answers:
“I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”
Psalms 107 describes sailors going out to sea where they encountered a dangerous storm. The storm was so terrible that
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
These sailors were terrified, but the psalmist said that they are the ones who “saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep.”
The point of this post is that I think people need to be careful about condemning those who suffer. They need to learn to distinguish between good and evil and to “judge righteously,” not siding with the abuser as he oppresses the innocent. They need to stop pressuring victims to remain with abusers. They need to make sure that they aren’t going with crowd to do evil and calling the people who God has chosen “despised and rejected.” Because God just might say, as he said to Job’s friends, “You have not spoken the truth about me.”
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor. 1:27-29)
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous — both alike are an abomination to Adonai. (Prov. 17:15 CJB)
The Lord hates these two things: punishing the innocent and letting the guilty go free. (Prov. 17:15 ERV)