Sexual abuse and the victim

Whenever I am ministering I am consciously aware that there are those in the audience whose hidden past is painful beyond words. They are the victims of sexual abuse. Those who have been victims of such crimes often feel guilt and shame. There are questions that haunt them. Could I have told someone? Would they have believed me? Could I have stopped the abuse, even if I was a child? Sometimes these questions further the guilt that the victim struggles with.

In helping victims of sexual abuse I have often turned in my Bible to an obscure passage in the Old Testament. Thousands of years ago the Bible acknowledged that there would be this kind of abuse among mankind. And although God’s plan entailed justice for the offender, He wished to alleviate the guilt of the victim. And so He had Moses record the following words for the young woman (or young man) who had been sexually abused.

You shall do nothing to the young woman, there is in the young woman no sin (Deut. 22:26).

I have watched as tear-filled eyes have fallen upon those words for the first time. Guilt is a hard taskmaster – even when it’s not deserved. But the Bible wishes to clear the abused individual of the guilt that they often impose upon themselves, and so it uses the phrase no sin.

Do I wish to infer that it is an easy road back for the individual that has suffered abuse? No. There are always emotional scars. Do we grieve with them for the pain they still may feel? Absolutely. But God doesn’t hold the abused individual responsible for sin that was perpetrated upon them, even though they may feel like it. And the Bible makes that clear. 

God is not angry with them. He loves them, and is concerned about their future. And such a thought is the beginning of healing for the individual who has carried secrets to painful to talk about for as long as they can remember.

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The Scripture’s Effect on the Mind

Twenty years ago a deeply troubled young man stepped into my office.  He was accompanied by a friend for the sake of encouragement. Together they began to pour out his sad story. When he was in 8th grade he became a victim of sexual abuse at the hand of high school teen. As he had entered high school he struggled with depression, attempted to take his own life, and was hospitalized. He had carried the dark secret alone. Neither parents, nor counselors knew his past.

Now, seven years later his anxiety was all-consuming.  His struggle with fear and worry had even crept into his sleeping hours, revealing itself through nightmares of the teen who had abused him.

I was fresh out of seminary, with limited experience in the ministry. As I reached for my Bible I remember praying to the Lord for guidance. I knew I was in way over my head.

I asked the young man what he was thinking about before he fell asleep. He acknowledged his painful past consumed his thoughts. He said tearfully, “I’m just praying to God that the nightmares won’t come back.”

“I understand you’re praying, but what are you thinking about.”

 “The nightmares” he said, “I don’t know how to stop.”

 Together we opened up our Bibles to Philippians 4:8 and we read,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [emphasis added] (Phil. 4:8)

“Your challenge,” I said, “Will be to develop a plan where you think on the things that are in that list.” Together we read  the promise that came next,

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you [emphasis added] (Phil. 4:9).

 “Memorizing is only the first part” then I added, “You’re actually going to have to do it.”

“Do what?” he said.

 “Think on these things,” I replied.

Together we drew an octagon. He wrote each of the 8 qualities found in verse  on the outside boarders of the sign. Inside the sign we wrote the words “Stop! Think on these things.”  On a separate piece of paper he wrote each quality as the heading for a list. The 8 lists would be comprised of  anything he could think of that was “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.”

One week later he returned to my office with his friend. The two sat down. I began the conversation “ How’s that Bible verse I asked you to memorize?”

His friend smiled, and shook his head as if he knew something I did not.

“Why the smile?” I asked.

 “Did you want him to tell it to you, forwards or backwards?” he replied.

 “Let’s start with forwards.” I said. The young man quoted the verse word perfect one word after the other.

 “Can  you really quote the verse backwards?” I asked incredulously.

 Phrase by phrase he gave the verse backwards. He didn’t miss a beat.

 “That’s pretty amazing” I said. “So how are the nightmares?

 He looked me in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and smiled.

 “What nightmares?”

When Abuse Happens within the Church

Years ago a friend of mine wanted to know my take on the sex scandals that had rocked the Roman Catholic Church. He himself was a practicing Roman Catholic, and although I am not, I appreciated his invitation to share my thoughts.

First of all I assured him that the Roman Catholic Church was not the only church that struggled with sin – even sin of this nature, and that I understood the desire to want to cover-up one’s sin. Although it is not a Biblical pattern it is a natural one. Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden after sinning (Gen. 3:8). Although it increases the harm to others, and violates the Scriptures, it is in our nature to cover up sin.

However, I reminded him, because the Bible is such a practical book it does explain what should happen when the leadership sins within the church. In I Timothy 5:19 we read: Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.  Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.

We immediately notice something from this passage. It assumes sin will take place in the church (even among the leadership) Here is God’s plan for dealing with it.  (1) Make sure the report is true. The witnesses confirm the accusation. Many reputations have been destroyed by rumors. But once it’s verified we move to the next step.  (2) Call it sin. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t make excuses. Don’t explain it away. Such approaches stave off true repentance. We must call it sin if we are ever to understand our need for a Savior (Rom. 5:8). Finally, as difficult as the last step may seem:  (3) Make it public. The Scripture says of sinning leaders you are “to rebuke them in the presence of all.” Strong words? You bet. But they are God’s words. And such a statement reminds us that none of us are above the Scriptures . . . whether that’s a prophet, priest, or a king.