The Abused and The Abuser
This article is an adaptation from a previous sermon that dealt with the problem of abuse. Due to the sensitive material in the sermon it was not recorded. We ask that discretion is taken when reading this article as well. There is no violent imagery used or sexual imagery used in this publication. The most sensitive wording is a passage taken from the 1 Corinthians 5. If you can read that passage then you should be able to read this article. I pray that this article can help bring about an awareness and a mission for Christians on how we are to walk alongside those who have been abused as they cope with those that have abused them.
“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.”
- Psalm 10:14
Scripture is clear: God cares about those who are being or have been taken advantage of with a specific type of vigilance that many who sit in pews are often out of touch with. In response, those who have been under the hand of corrupt and evil people find little comfort bringing up their pain in Christian circles. Because abuse is an “uncomfortable” topic and its darkness is one that even the most apparent righteous individual could be hiding, we who have the light of the world become dangerously silent to this evil. No wonder those who have been abused seek help elsewhere. It seems to me that God’s Word talks much more about those who are being taken advantage of through superiority and power than I am often willing to talk about. In turn the darkness of abuse is never cut with the light. Thankfully how God responds to those who have been abused is not to be understood by the example of His children (Christians) but by the example we get from Himself through His Word.
So to the abused today I want you to hear these three truths from God Himself:
1. The abuser who shows no mercy to those they abused can expect God to show them no mercy.
“Judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.”
- James 2:13
One of the problems that we have with modern Christianity is that many have painted God as a God who is enslaved to love no matter what. We have convinced a lot of self professing Christians that their wrongs that they have committed are covered in such a way that they do not have to seek forgiveness from those that they have wronged in this life. There is no way for the Spirit of God to bring such a peace to the mind of an abuser that leads them to not show mercy and repentance toward those they have wronged (Rom 8:13, 1 John 1:9). The idea that we only need to repent to God is a very new development in Christianity today and it was not one that Jesus endorsed.
In the story of Zacchaeus (yes, a wee little man) we have Jesus declare that “salvation has come to this house” after Zacchaeus has taken the appropriate means to give back all that he had wrongfully taken (Luke 19). Obviously Zacchaeus was not saved by giving back the stolen money but it was an outward display of a changed inward heart that gave Jesus the ability to proclaim that salvation had come to him. Would Jesus have said such if he didn't give the money back? Would it have been a real salvation? That is for you to wrestle with. The truth is that the proof of vertical (God-man) repentance is in horizontal (man-man) repentance. Don’t expect mercy from God if you are not merciful yourself.
Christians are to be a repentant and confessing people. If there was to be any religion that excelled in having a habit of saying, “I am sorry for what I did to you,” it should be Christians. Jesus’ salvation through belief was so strong that repentance was used alongside it. It is blasphemy to think that we must only repent once in our lives and even worse to think that we only have to repent to God and not our neighbor.
The reason this is important for us to understand when it comes to abuse is that many abusers have repented to God but never to those they have wronged. This is a severe disconnect in our theology of today and it is giving comfort to abusers. This should not be so. Below is another angle to consider as well.
2. “God Will Avenge” is not an excuse to dismiss justice.
“Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord.”
- Romans 12:19
In many cases I have seen this as an excuse to not see justice served in this life. I believe that this way of interpretation is not a healthy one given the greater body of Scripture. This passage does call us to, “leave room for God’s wrath,” but in what situation is Paul talking about? Surely it is a less offense than what Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5?
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you (the Corinthian church), and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgement in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”
It is likely this passage won‘t be preached any time soon at your church and there is a lot to process with Paul’s words. But in view of what we are discussing in regards to abusers finding comfort in repenting to God and not to those they abused I would propose that Romans 12 (the passage about God avenging for us) is dealing with Christians being wronged by non-Christians in a degree that does not equate to abuse. In the situation of 1 Corinthians we find Christians involved in what seems to be a willing and mutually accepted behavior, not clearly what we would consider abuse today. Yet look at the severity of how Paul tells the church to respond. “Hand this man over to Satan” is not a very cuddly terminology that Paul has for such sin. The idea is that this man must be purged from their church. That is how dark this man’s sin was.
So while we do know that God will avenge every wrong that has been committed against us we also see that those who live in a sexually perverse lifestyle and claim Christ are pushed out of the church so they will see their sin, and truly repent holistically. God avenges and we have responsibilities in this life as well to seek justice.
Another consideration is found when Jesus says, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Lk. 17:2). I think that it is important to note that this passage is not directly speaking about abuse. It instead is focusing on the role of our influence in others lives who are pushed from encountering God because of how we influence them to sin instead of seek holiness. Jesus points out the severity of causing, “one of these little ones to sin,” equivalent it to tying a weighty milestone around your neck and being thrown into the sea. Jesus cares about how we treat those that are influenced by our lives and influencing them where they stumble away from God... this is no light matter.
If God takes influencing others to sin to such a high degree, imagine what God has to say about those who destroy other people’s soul though abuse. The lives who were taken advantage of, who were objects of anger for nothing they did. Think of the underlying impact this has had on their lives. The amount of people who have been under the evil hand of abuse that has impacted their lives in a way that we often do not consider. The trauma from abuse is destructive in most every area of one’s life that goes unnoticed by the rest of the world. What the outside sees as a failure of a person is often fueled by an inward trauma from abuse. But many times the church judges without understanding. God forgive us Christians for not having compassion and jumping to judgement toward those battling the demons that come through abuse.
When we crunch the numbers, the statistics are staggering.
1 in 6 women will be taken advantage of sexually at some point in their lives.
Anger is the common root characteristic found in those who abuse.
Those who have been through the trauma of extreme abuse are 12 times more likely to commit suicide.
Neuroscience shows that brain development in children who have been abused are catastrophically affected.
All the while those who abuse get to live out normal lives that go often unhindered by their conscience. I don’t think our preaching helps bring about the severity of unrepentant hearts of those who abuse others. We highlight in our preaching that all you have to do is, “ask God to forgive you of your sins and you will go to heaven.” I think the road to an eternity with God isn’t as simple as we often sell from the pulpit. While justification (being made right through faith in God’s grace) is of no effort on our part, our salvation is not simply justification which is often times what preachers sell as the whole package of salvation from the pulpit. But salvation also involves sanctification and if abusers can not make the steps to repent to those they have wronged, just as all wrongs to others should be repented of in a real personal way, then our justification must come into question. An abuser’s abuse not repented of is a life spent not knowing with certainty if God is going to show mercy to you on the Day of Judgement. As we said earlier; if an abuser’s (or any other sin that impacts others) repentance is genuine they will repent both vertically and horizontally.
3. Forgive the Unforgivable.
“If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” -Matt. 6:15
While it may seem that justice is not satisfied as it should be in this life whether the abuser pays for what they did or not those who have been abused need to focus in on the state of their own soul. Jesus commands a difficult standard for the abused. He calls those who have been abused to forgive those who have destroyed that which should have never been theirs. If the forgiveness that we received at the cost of the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is so ineffective in our hearts that we are bent on holding unforgiving grudges and bitterness against someone, those who have been abused have not yet been freed.
Struggling with this type of forgiveness is going to be real and I personally don’t know how you get to the point where you can. Yet the bitterness, grudge, and vengeance that we hold onto is not of Jesus. Jesus died to free you from the effects of sin from every angle. Be free from their bondage by forgiving them and handing them over to God. His vengeance is pure. His judgement is right. This is not an excuse to dismiss justice but if nothing comes of it we still trust Him to avenge and lets be realistic; nothing the courts do will ever be more severe than what God will do to harbored sin.
So to the abused today, hear God: While there are those who have tried to destroy you, God can make you new. Abuse does not have to be your identity. The trauma from it does not have to define your life. You no longer have to be defined as a child of abuse; you can be a child of God. Forgive them not for their sake, but for yours.
While I have tried to structure this article to have some degree of order I know that I went on many sidetracks. My hope is that those who have been abused can have some clarity on how God sees the issue as opposed to how many churches often react. I hope that those who have been abused will seek out a community of Christians who are genuine in their support and love for those who have been abused. Community helps so much. Makes sure that you seek help in relationship. This is how God helps us as well and we all need genuine relationships that help us through the pain of this life. You might find that you can help someone else wade through the trauma of abuse in your local church as well. I hope you can see the effect that a relationship with Jesus can do for the trauma you have been through as well. He sees you, He wants to walk with you and free you because He loves you.
Today you do not have to be defined as the child of abuse. You can be defined by Jesus’ gospel as a child of God.
Caleb Rawls is the pastor at Pleasant Home Baptist Church located in Laurel Mississippi. He and his wife Taylor work to lead the church grow in their relationship with Jesus and help others encounter the grace of Jesus. They also have a golden-doodle named Tiglath-Pilesar IIII.