I’m a former pastor who, from time to time, tried to help victims of abuse and rape overcome the affects those crimes had upon their lives. Because I was a community leader (pastors still are), I was thrust into the netherworld of the human psyche – both the victim’s and the perpetrator’s.
My training in pastoral counseling was broad and useful. It was meant to be beneficial to my “clients,” both my congregants and the Man on the Street who might come by my office for conversation and prayer. I felt my role was to provide first aid … to stop the bleeding long enough to get these poor, psychologically and emotionally wrecked people to better equipped individuals – “professionals” (if there is any such thing when it comes to dealing with human brokenness and pain).
Nothing – no amount of education or training – could have prepared me for my conversations with rape and abuse victims.
That said, the reason I’m writing today is because I’ve been reminded of the continuing effects this kind of violence has on men and women. Once again I’ve been painfully exposed to the long-term influence and power of abuse upon its victims. Once again I heard (and most of the time I’ve heard), “If I had been smarter, this would not have happened.” Or its variant: “How could have I let (this or that) happen to me?”
It’s been my experience on many occasions that rape’s victims seem to think they are at fault in the matter and that they brought the violence upon themselves. The abused many times take responsibility for the actions of the abuser, saying, in effect, “I let this happen to me” (emphasis on I).
That may or may not be the experience of other pastors, counselors, or mental health professionals. I’m saying, authoritatively, that this has been my experience … and it has and continues to sicken me.
In my thirty-three years of being a pastor my joy has been to preach about Jesus. I’ve had the privilege of sharing the love of God. The most loving thing I’ve done is lead people to an understanding that God has a solution for the sin they, themselves, are responsible and accountable for. The Word of God says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” It also says, “The wages of sin is death” (eternal separation from a holy God who cannot look upon sin, or have it in His presence). But that same Word says, “But …” (I love it!) “ … the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The good news (Gospel) in a nutshell is, “Jesus took my sin upon Himself, dying in my place, so that I might have eternal life … and if I believe that, and ask God for Christ’s death to cover my debt to Him (‘the wages of [my] sin’), I can be forgiven of ALL my sin and sins. As a result I can be made (by God’s work, not mine) clean (holy), and be assured that I am ‘saved’.”
I’ve watched people accept this Idea, this His-story (sic), this Truth, and I’ve watched God’s LIFE permeate their entire beings – bringing freedom from addictions, guilty pasts, and the lies of our enemy – Satan. I’ve then watched as freed people joyfully live out their days!
Many times I’ve led rape and abuse victims to this loving Father God, the One who commissioned His Son Jesus to provide salvation, and watched as He changed MUCH of their lives while giving them assurance of eternal life.
But (and here’s a frustration of mine) many of these same folks continue to struggle with the memory of their physical and emotional rape. [NOTE: I’m not suggesting that God, when He saves a person, takes away bad memories. In fact, 99.9% of the time He does not, I believe because He wishes those bad memories to become the springboard for empathetic ministry to other victims.]
Here’s the crux of my frustration: On an intellectual and psychological level, these victims have never quite gotten to a place where they could say, “I didn’t do this to me! I don’t have to take responsibility for anything but my sin, and in this case I didn’t sin … I was sinned against!”
I realize now that I am way over my head, and that much of what I’m writing will be fodder for critics of God’s amazing grace. Still, I must write, “Oh, how I wish I could somehow magically transform the mindset of these wounded people by saying something, or by waving a magic wand over their head and heart. I wish the truth of what has happened to them would come into clearer focus.”
Today, my purpose in writing on this subject is not to suggest a quick fix or religious version of “Abracadabra.” That would be insulting, and insensitive. I’m writing to express my ongoing disturbance – that victims of past violence continue to live with a kind of self-imposed “responsibility” for the crime – and that’s a LIE. I’m also writing to suggest a way to break the power of the LIE. I believe the only antidote for a lie is truth.
Further, I’m saying that one dose of the truth may be adequate for one person but not for ninety-nine. I’m saying that for most victims, repeated doses of TRUTH will break the power of any lie.
Jesus said, “The TRUTH will set you free,” and I believe that. And the five-fold Truth I’ve gleaned from my experience with rape and abuse victims is this: At some point, if a victim is to experience real freedom from the violence of their past they must BELIEVE (1) that they didn’t do to, or bring this violence upon, themselves! And they must believe (2) that God didn’t WILL that terrible experience for their life, but (3) because people are selfish, and because selfish people have a mind and will of their own (“freedom to choose” being one of the first gifts God gave mankind in the Garden), God is NOT the One they should be angry at or distant from. They must accept as fact that (4) Satan puts the thought into the rapist’s head (tempts him or her) that being violent against someone else will lessen their own pain. Satan puts the thought into the abuser’s head that hitting someone will undo the damage done to them. And victims of rape and abuse must believe that (5) when a person is deceived by such lies, and acts out, the perpetrator is responsible for making that choice and the resulting action … and by extension, Satan is a coconspirator in the crime. (NOTE: I don’t think it’s a sin to be angry at Satan. Just keep this in mind: he’s a powerful adversary. Refrain from taking him on in your own strength!)
When I hear abusers say, “She MADE me do it,” I know the abuser bought a lie of Satan. (And for those of you who don’t believe in a real Satan, just a few thoughts to ponder: One, Satanists believe. Two, God knows there is a real Satan … he visited Jesus in the desert, and Jesus said He saw Satan fall from heaven. Three, wishing or thinking he does not exist is not very bright – you’d be denying empirical evidence found in the world’s daily newspapers. There’s more, but I just include these three.)
I’m inviting comment, of course. This is a very emotional topic. If I’ve written anything that has offended any reader, my intent was not to stir up pain and anger but to bring my experience, my thoughts, and the love in my heart to the public square for consideration.
THINK ABOUT IT.