Category Archives: Abuse

The “Who am I to God?” of Abuse—From Pawn to Power through the Path of the Cross

IMG_3865I saw another one today. As I passed by on my morning run, she stood on the side of the road waiting for a bus, freshly groomed and tastefully dressed for going out into public. But the beautiful hair and clothes failed to hide her hideously disfigured face, bearing the characteristic pulverized look of someone whose features have been dissolved by acid. What this woman’s story is and how she has survived such a vicious attack on her womanhood I cannot say, but she bears the scars (quite literally) of her abuse for the whole world to see and never forget.

Somehow the sight of her grotesquely marred beauty reminds me of the high-powered civil rights attorney whom I met over dinner in a neighboring country last week. Her scars may not be visible to the human eye, but the lingering effects of childhood abuse continue to haunt her as she bravely battles for a relationship with the God who didn’t protect her. Beyond the ongoing fear of the same thing (or the next disaster) occurring again, she wrestles with the question of God’s involvement in her torment. Was He absent, uncaring, or simply using her distress to create a better story for her to testify to His grace? Even with the last option, she is left with a god who is little different from her abuser, callously using her for his purposes despite the damage it would cause her.

Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Put on your garments of splendor, Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, Daughter Zion, now a captive.
For this is what the LORD says: “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.”
Isaiah 52:1-3

As I wrestle again with the deep theological angst to which abuse gives rise, I can’t escape the story of Jesus’ abuse and the way Scripture repeatedly weaves it through the stories of other abused individuals (and cities, as the case may be). Isaiah calls out to Jerusalem, referring to her in terms of a woman who has been penetrated, defiled, and held captive in fear and shame. He picks up the refrain of her lament (echoed in Psalm 44:11-12), acknowledging that she was tossed out and sold for nothing but also echoing the promise that her redemption will occur in an equally baffling manner.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
Isaiah 52:7,9

And what is this good news that the evangel’s feet so eagerly carry to the bruised, battered woman sitting abandoned in exile? Your God still reigns. He is neither bound by the helplessness that overwhelms you nor heartless towards the tears you are too numb to shed. He is still in control and His reign is one of both sovereign power and of tender compassion.

But how does that news help the one whom He seemed to abandon?

Just as there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness— so he will sprinkle many nations,and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living…

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,and he will divide the spoils with the strong,because he poured out his life unto death…
Isaiah 52:14-15; 53:3-4, 8, 11-12

Isaiah leaps straight from this hope-inspiring call into a gut-wrenching description of the depths of abuse and abandonment that God’s Righteous One would experience. His face would be pulverized beyond recognition; His body stripped, beaten, flayed, and pierced until it could hardly be compared to a human form, much less the glorious image of the invisible God. The wrongness of what would be done to Him would not be protested by His contemporaries. Rather, He would suffer this abuse in silence, betrayed by His friends, ignored or despised by the public, and ultimately feeling forsaken by God.

And yet Isaiah’s description doesn’t stop there. It points forward to the fruit of this Victim’s suffering, the deeply satisfying vindication and glorification that would come as a result of all that He had endured. Perhaps most amazingly of all, that fruit would involve not just His exaltation to the throne of God and the adoringly bent knees of kings and angels en masse, but it would also include the healing, consolation, and exaltation of the broken woman spoken of in Isaiah’s earlier chapter.

By His stripes she would be healed. His suffering would be God’s reply to her agonized questions of who she was to Him. Far from the insignificant pawn or the castoff slave girl that her experience had led her to believe she was, she was the one for whom He would give Himself. He would personally shoulder her grief and take her abuse on Himself. But he would not stop there, leaving her permanently bowed at the foot of the cross having received forgiveness from her sins but still broken by the sins of others.

“Sing, barren woman… “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes… “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

“Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise,your foundations with lapis lazuli. 12 I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.

…no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD.
Isaiah 54:1-4, 11, 17

Isaiah casts the spotlight back on the desolate woman, calling her forth to sing, to expand her sphere of influence, and to step up into the powerful position that God is preparing for her, too. Just as He will resurrect the Suffering Servant and exalt Him to a position of power and glory, He will turn the woman’s shame into glory, personally vindicating her before her abusers and rebuilding her to a level of beauty and status greater than she ever knew before.

As I zoom out again to the myriad of men and women who have suffered abuse in this world, Isaiah’s powerful prophetic words (many of which have already been so poignantly fulfilled) grip me with a new level of hope and vision. They confront the small-minded comfort to which I have clung, raising my eyes to the vision of empowered enthronement that God has for all of His beleaguered sons and daughters. His goal is not just His glory at our expense. Nor is it a warm blanket tenderly wrapped around trembling survivors. He responds to the pain of our past, the terror of our present, and the despair of our future by personally blazing a path through the same circumstances, but which ends in a radically different destination than human experience would teach us to expect.

IMG_3864 (1)

As we follow in the footsteps of our Lord, sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings even as He entered into ours, this path leads us to the splendor and strength that Isaiah called broken Jerusalem to rise up and embrace. This is who we are to God, and this is the destiny for which He has been preparing His suffering servants all along.

Advertisements

Reverse the Curse

debateRecently released footage of Donald Trump boastfully describing his sexual domination of women has prompted many Christians to revoke their support of his candidacy for president of the United States. But his remarks, as well as the public outrage they have provoked, beg the question: why is it so wrong for a man to speak of (or treat) women as objects to grab, use, and dominate at his leisure? Is this simply an embarrassing case of “boys being boys,” or is it indicative of a fundamentally flawed attitude towards women and towards power?

Amidst the shrill manipulative posturing of women and the boastful objectifying comments of men, God’s Word calls us back to an other-honoring submission.

But among Christians, the same people who would decry such sexual exploitation of women, a not-altogether-different attitude often comes to the surface. Men are often assumed to be right in exerting dominance over women, particularly husbands over their wives. Though the church would teach against abuse of this power, the necessary call for men to step up to leadership in their families is sometimes mistaken for an encouragement for men to treat women in controlling ways.

Laying the whole question of male headship aside for a later post, the problem I would like to highlight here is the competitive, controlling approach that has infected our relationships ever since the fall. Genesis 2 paints a beautifully cooperative and harmonious picture of the relationship between the first man and the first woman, in which the woman gloriously fulfilled the man and the man honored and gave himself to the woman. Just like the Trinity in whose image they were made, man and woman found their satisfaction in using their personal power and position to promote the cause of the other.

Then another sign appeared in heaven …The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.
Rev. 12:3-4
…But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Genesis 4:7

Into the garden slithered another creature who had already traded in service for competition. Satan’s goal was to break up everything good that God had created, pitting humans vs. God, women vs. men, and man vs. earth. Poised in ambush awaiting the birth of a new creation, the serpent played the babe-like humans off of each other and off of God, successfully injecting his poison into all their relationships.

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Genesis 3:15-16

Worse than the scam pulled off against the man and woman, the serpent’s poison effectively turned his victims into perpetrators. He no longer had to strike at the woman’s glory—the man would subdue her under his thumb. And he no longer had to undermine the man’s strength—the woman would reallocate her power to compete with him rather than to complete him. She would start behaving towards her husband with all the mastering attempts that sin uses to control weakened human flesh. And her husband would start using his strength, properly directed against sin, to overpower and dominate her instead. (Note the identical language of desire and rule used both in Genesis 3:16 of husband and wife in Genesis 4:7 of Cain and sin.)

Far from being a prescriptive statement of God’s new intent for husband-wife relationships, Genesis 3:16 describes the painfully devastating effects of the fall. It stands in sharp contrast to the joyfully abandoned marital bliss of Genesis 2 (which is found again in the garden-songs of mutual delight and empowering love in the Song of Songs). What some Christians use to substantiate their claim that God has given husbands dominion over their wives should stand out to us as a clarion call to resist the curse, not to perpetrate it.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands…
Husbands, love your wives…
Ephesians 5:21-22, 25

As Christians, we don’t hesitate to fight back against weeds and drought or to overcome the dangers and pains of childbirth. If anything, we consider these efforts an extension of our faith in God’s resolute commitment to restore a broken world. And yet we fail to see the importance of resisting the human tendency to dominate and control each other. Is this not the very essence of Jesus’ teaching on servant leadership and of Paul’s teaching on mutual submission? God’s statement to Eve should jolt us into resisting the urge to exert our power over each other, not give in to it as our new normal.

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.”
Genesis 3:20; 4:1

And amazingly, this is exactly the effect God’s statement had on Adam and Eve. Adam took up his power and used it to bless his wife with a noble name. And Eve exerted her God-given power to give life to another man. Hand in hand they faced down the curse, taking the first steps in overcoming their common enemy by surrendering themselves to each other.

Amidst the shrill manipulative posturing of women and the boastful objectifying comments of men, God’s Word calls us back to an other-honoring submission. Each time we empower and promote each other, we deal one more blow to the serpent’s scheme. As counterintuitive as it may seem, women empowering men and husbands submitting to wives is a crucial part of our Christian task to reverse the curse.

A Prayer for the Persecuted

"Sanctuary" by Cadi Clark
“Sanctuary”
by Cadi Clark
What do rape victims and the persecuted church have in common?

Both have faced the invasion and desecration of God’s Temple. Both have survived atrocities that leave them scarred and damaged. And both are left with some serious questions about why God didn’t protect them from evil men.

Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross echoes through the voices of the Psalms, some in response to national disaster and other in response to personal abuse. This is the same question that I have encountered in counseling sexually abused women and in interacting with Nigerian Christian leaders. The inevitable conclusion their hearts struggle not to feel is that God has somehow forsaken them.

Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? Remember the people you purchased of old, the tribe of your inheritance, whom you redeemed– Mount Zion, where you dwelt. Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary.
Psalm 74:1-3

How can they not take it personally? God’s Word has set them up with certain expectations that they are valuable in His sight and therefore worth protecting. They could even tell stories from the past of how He did deliver and honor them, including their testimony of salvation. But if they are still so precious to Him, then how in the world could He stand by and watch their devastation?

Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs. They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees. They smashed all the carved paneling with their axes and hatchets. They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
74:4-7

What hurts deeper than the physical assaults they have endured is the sense of violation and desecration that remains. Their bodies are no longer their own; their sacred places have been contaminated. The very place where they communed with God has been damaged, hindering their ability to share that intimacy with Him again.

They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land. We are given no miraculous signs; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be.
74:8-9

How could God allow that level of destruction? Physical suffering is one thing, but that He would permit such an assault on their souls seems unthinkable. Doesn’t He want to have relationship with them? If so, then why didn’t He draw the line around how far the enemy could go in attacking them?

How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
74:10-11

The spiritual discouragement that settles in seems like it might be the new normal. It seems the enemy got what they wanted after all. Is God really going to let them get away with this? If so, that sends a pretty loud message to His devastated people. He must be angry with them. He must have rejected them. If God won’t act on their behalf, there’s not much point in going on.

But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth. It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. …It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.
74:12-17

A brief survey of history reminds them that this isn’t the first time God’s people have faced opposition. And always before He has been the sort of leader who uses His power to rescue, defend, and make things right. If that’s how He’s done it in the past, then surely there is hope that He will do it again today.

Remember how the enemy has mocked you, O LORD, how foolish people have reviled your name. Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts; do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.
74:18-19

With slightly renewed confidence in their relationship with God, devastated cries of abandonment can shift to bold pleas for help. Their world not longer feels like a safe place and they are still defined by the mockery and abuse that were heaped on them. But if God will acknowledge the depths of their ruin and address it, there is hope that they may yet be restored.

Have regard for your covenant, because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land. Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace; may the poor and needy praise your name. Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day long.
74:20-22

After all, they are His people! He is the one who reached out to them in love in the first place and established a relationship with them. They bear His image and His name. Any mistreatment of them is actually an assault on their God. His honor is on the line as much as theirs. Because they are His beloved people, they are His cause to defend and to promote.

May our response to their predicament never give them cause to doubt whether God still cares.

Some of us can relate with this prayer more personally than others, but all of us should join in praying it. Any attack on a part of His Temple is an attack on the whole. So we stand with the battered church around the world in praying for God to rise up and restore them. And we stand with our persecuted brothers and sisters here at home, unwilling to settle for the disgrace that has been heaped on them.

May our response to their predicament never give them cause to doubt whether God still cares.

Sweeter than Revenge

nail-in-handWhat’s wrong with wanting revenge? Isn’t revenge merely the fair response to injustice, a way of affirming the value of the person who has been wronged? When our dignity has been violated, we need something to restore it. Without revenge, we are left with the message that we are worth no more than the way we were treated.

And yet Jesus calls us to forgive.

For the longest time I have been struggling with how to hold these two together. Asking a woman who has been beaten or raped to forgive her abusers seems to me to add insult to injury. Requiring a man who has been maligned or berated to turn the other cheek seems to me to reinforce his degradation. What happened to affirming the dignity of the image of God within each person? Isn’t it right to defend that image?

And yet forgiveness means giving up our right to revenge.

Heartfelt forgiveness is no more a matter of one-time, personal choice than emotional healing is.

I suppose my hang-up over the common Christian assumptions about forgiveness is that they seem to deny the value of the person who has been hurt, to overlook the need for their worth to be reaffirmed. Having personally struggled with the profound shame that follows abuse, I can’t accept the trite answer that forgiveness is simply choosing to forget about the hurt. If only it were that simple! But heartfelt forgiveness is no more a matter of one-time, personal choice than emotional healing is.

So I am left with the question: How can a damaged person forgive while still holding on to any scrap of self-worth? In my heart I’ve known that revenge isn’t really the best way to re-establish damaged dignity, but at least it is a start. Revenge solves the problem with corresponding negativity. But is there a positive way to receive the affirmation we so desperately need?

And once again, Jesus leads the way in showing how it is done.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Psalm 22:6-10

Talk about a degraded image of God! At the end of a lifetime of criticism and questioning. After an eternal night of being tortured and molested. Pulverized. Victimized. Ridiculed. Rejected. In the midst of agony and mockery on the cross, He neither sought His abusers degradation nor gave in to His own.

Jesus could forgive those who tore Him down because His Father kept building Him up. Descending doves. Assuring affirmations. Repeatedly the Father had reminded Him of how valued He was, firmly establishing Him in His status as God’s beloved Son.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Colossians 3:12-13
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…
Ephesians 4:32-5:1

And these are the same affirmations embedded in the multiple texts that call us to forgive. Dearly beloved children. Cherished people. God is not calling us to let go of our worth; He is leading us to assert our position as His kids by responding to others the way He responds to us. Forgiveness based on our relationship with Him is not further degradation; it is proof of our glorification.

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:19-21

And lest we worry that in embracing this higher call our abusers will somehow get the message that the way they treated us was OK, our Father reassures us. He will make sure we are avenged. In the meantime, we get the pleasure of exercising our freedom from being defined by how others treat us. We get to repay their evil with good, their cruelty with kindness, because we know who we are to God.

Forgiveness based on our relationship with God is not further degradation;
it is proof of our glorification.

Healing from emotional wounds takes time. Forgiveness does not come easy nor is it achieved overnight. But I have found that as I grow in my security as a treasured child of God, my need for revenge is steadily dropping away. Instead I find myself increasingly consumed by a greater desire: to receive and reflect my Father’s love.

Sweet revenge. Sweeter love.

Beyond Abuse: Becoming the Bride

Faced with a world full of ugliness and abuse, I want to run home to the garden. I want to recapture that time when the man and the woman existed lovingly with each other, at peace with God and with all of His beautiful creation.

God isn’t returning us to life in the garden. He is grooming us to live as His bride in Heaven.

But we left that garden behind long ago, and the way back has been barred ever since. Cut off from our Life-source, our former beauty has faded. The image of God within us is tarnished almost beyond recognition, its dim remains further broken down by the destructive ways that we treat each other. Abuse denies the remnant of God’s image within us, screaming to our souls that we are worth nothing more than the dirt from which we were created and to which we will return.

Abandoned. Beaten. Violated. Accused. We quiver and cringe, cut off from God, isolated from each other. Hagar weeps by a well in the desert, longing to be loved. Tamar rips her clothes, lamenting her lost purity. The concubine clings to the doorframe, pleading for protection.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Colossians 1:15, 19-20

And God draws near. His glory puts on flesh and walks among us. He sees the unwanted Samaritan woman alone by the well, and He loves her. He defends the accused adulteress standing before Him with her purity in tatters, and He restores her. He delivers the Magdalene woman from a horde of spirit attackers, and He opens the door for her to stay right by His protective side.

But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation …
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Colossians 1:22, 27

But His redemptive work doesn’t stop there. He isn’t content to merely fix the problems and right the wrongs. He doesn’t want to simply return us to the garden. He has been planning something much better from the beginning, a surprise that surpasses the goodness that we started out with. He is in the process of putting His glory into us, reversing the decay of our souls and raising us up to a life that is better than ever.

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
Revelation 19:7-8; 21:2-3

Unlike the king in Esther’s story, our King picks up the basin and the towel to wash away our impurity with His own hands. He then proceeds to oversee our beauty treatment, dressing and bejeweling us until we radiate with loveliness. And with a crowning touch, He will present us to Himself as the bride of His dreams, the helper suitable that He has been waiting on since there was none found for Him in the garden.

“Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he … showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
Revelation 21:9-11

And we, with unveiled faces, will stand eye-to-eye with our Kingly Groom. We will perfectly reflect His resplendent glory, and He will adoringly gaze on our radiant beauty. We will dance and sing in His presence, bold, beautiful, and confident in the love of our Husband. Our home will be a place of healing and joy, of comfort and safety, of security and peace. And the best part is, we will live there happily ever after with Him.

Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints. …let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.
Psalm 149:1-4

The Gospel for the Abused

What is the good news for a world full of battered women and traumatized men, molested girls and bullied boys? Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins reassures us that one important problem has been taken care of, but what about our other pressing needs? Every day we grapple with our desperate need to be rescued and sheltered, comforted and healed. Does the gospel cover that, too?

“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” …
Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Psalm 2:6, 11-12

At first glance, the idea of a king coming to conquer and rule doesn’t seem very reassuring. After all, we have already experienced what powerful people do. The mess we are currently in has been caused by their selfish ambition and arrogant oppression. How is one more violent, controlling leader going to solve our problems?

This ruler measures the glory of His kingdom by the way He cares for its weakest members.

Somehow the less intimidating images of God as a tender shepherd or a sheltering hen seem more comforting. We latch on to the idea of Him holding us close, wiping away our tears and whispering sweet words of love into our ears. And indeed, this is precisely what He does with His wounded children. But that is not all that He does, because that is not all that He is.

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zechariah 9:9

The news that Jesus is King may not initially strike us as good, because our experience of corrupt, abusive leaders has left us broken and terrified. But considering the kind of king that He is, it is the best news we could hear.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.
Isaiah 52:7, 9-10

For Jewish captives living under the cruel, tyrannical rule of the Babylonians, this news gave cause to lift their heads in hope. Despite their oppressors’ ruthless power, despite their own trembling helplessness, they had a King who was coming to rescue them. His military might was not limited. His political clout was not inhibited. He had heard their cry and was determined to do whatever it took to take down their abusers and to set them free.

But what would He do with them after that? Become yet another domineering, self-promoting leader who used them up to accomplish His own empire-building ends?
How could they know that He would use His power for their good instead of just His own?

Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. …
All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.
Psalm 72:1, 11-14

God reassured His people of the kind of King He would be. Sensitive to the needs of His people. Tuned in to the silent cries of the abused. He would use His power to rescue and defend them because He valued them. He would be strong enough to protect, loving enough to care, and faithful enough to follow through.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
Psalm 145:1, 13-16

And when Jesus finally showed up to establish His kingdom on earth, He fulfilled every one of those promises. He rode a gentle donkey instead of a raging stallion. He confronted the corrupt religious leaders who marginalized His messy people. He exerted His power to drive out spiritual oppressors and to restore traumatized victims. He focused His eyes on the needs of His people. He extended His hands to feed and heal, touch and wash them. And in an ultimate act of servant leadership, He laid His life down to lift their lives up.

As terrifying as it can be to come under the leadership of a powerful king, this King makes it easy. He measures the glory of His kingdom by the way He cares for its weakest members. He satisfies the desires of each of His people because He delights us. In the face of cruel abusers and terrorizing bullies, His superior strength becomes our sure hope. We may feel powerless, but the good news is that our God reigns!

Voiceless.

Pleading hands stretch out on a wooden doorframe. Crimson blood stains its lintel. A woman’s life slips silently away as the members of the household sleep in peace, safe on the other side of the door. Do they not care that she has spent the night in indescribable torture? Does it not matter to them that she has been raped and beaten beyond recognition? But they sleep on, undisturbed by her plight. And she breathes her last, voiceless in life as in death.

In those days Israel had no king. Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her father’s house in Bethlehem, Judah.
Judges 19:1-2

What voice did she have in leaving home and becoming a concubine? Bethlehem was her birthplace, and yet her father had handed her over to this hill-country Levite to be his second-rate wife, a sex servant with benefits. But even concubines had the right to leave their husbands and go back home if they were being mistreated. And for whatever reason, that was exactly what she chose to do.

After she had been there four months, her husband went to her to persuade her to return. … She took him into her father’s house, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him. …so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there. … But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine.
Judges 19:3-4, 10

Who asked her if she wanted to return to her husband? Four months later when he turned up at her doorstep, she took him in. But the next four days were full of her husband and her father eating, drinking, and partying together while she stood silently by. In the end she was packed off along with the servant and the donkeys, little more than a possession to be claimed and controlled by the men in her life.

While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”
The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. …Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish…”
But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.
At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer.
Judges 19:22-28

What choice was she given in being shoved out the door into an angry mob of violent, degenerate men? Her husband had made the choice to leave late and to stay overnight in this town. Their host had made the offer of sex with his unmarried daughter and herself to the locals who were after her Levite husband. And her husband had sent her out to them, sacrificing her body in place of his own.

Cruel blows. Ruthless piercing. Throughout the night she was tossed from man to man, used and abused as her husband and their host had given permission. When they were finally finished with her, she crept back to the house she had been thrown out of and fell down outside the door, a heap of discarded leftovers.

As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.
Psalm 123:2

The woman’s hands said what her voice could not. They reached for the threshold of the doorway, grasping hold of it in a silent plea for sanctuary. Upturned eyes implored to be noticed. Outstretched hands begged to be received. Silent screams pled for mercy.

The night remained silent. The door remained shut. And her life ended.

The abused may be voiceless, but we are not forgotten. We may be silent, but we are heard.

But her story didn’t. The voice that went un-heard by men was compassionately listened to by God. The life that had been trashed by men was tenderly honored by God. And though He took His time in doing so, He came down to personally enter into her suffering.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions…
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
Isaiah 53:3-5, 7

Pleading hands stretched out on a wooden cross-frame. Crimson blood staining the beams. The Bethlehem-born Son of God, rejected by His family and tossed out by the Levites to an angry mob. Beaten, molested, pierced, and marred beyond recognition. Silent voice. Upturned eyes. A sacrificial lamb, life laid down in the place of others.

But God did not abandon Him there. Nor did He abandon her, or the many others like her. As gruesome as her story is, it is still being experienced by countless women who live at the mercy of merciless men. Social systems may silence them. Men may ruthlessly control or selfishly use them. But God hears their cry and draws near. And the end of His story brings hope into theirs. He will not leave them in this hell. Resurrection is coming!

Abused but cherished. Isolated but not alone. Voiceless but heard.

I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave…
Psalm 16:8-10

When God Doesn’t Show Up on Time

If you are the defender of the oppressed, then where are you now?

“Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,” says the LORD. “I will protect them from those who malign them.”
And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.
Psalm 12:5-6

I love that you are a God who cares about each of your creatures, who takes special notice of the ones whom others belittle and degrade. I love how you commit yourself to the abused, to listen to them and stick close by their side. I believe your promises to protect the vulnerable and rescue the victim. So what are you going to do about these 200 abducted girls in Nigeria?

Why, O LORD, do you stand far off ? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent, watching in secret for his victims. …His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.”
Psalm 10:1-2, 8-11

Why do you hang back and not take action? Why do you allow evil men to use their power to terrorize, brutalize, and take advantage of women and children? Because of your inactivity, they think that they can get away with this. Because of your silence, they act like you don’t notice their ruthless methods or care about their devastated victims.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
John 11:21-22

Like the sisters at Lazarus’ graveside and the disciples in the storm-tossed boat, we cry out the question that burns on all our hearts: Lord, where were you? If you would have been here, this wouldn’t have happened! If you would have shown up sooner, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Don’t you care that these girl’s lives are being destroyed?

The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Mark 4:38-40

And as you did in reply to them, you gently call us to a greater level of faith. You bring us face-to-face with the impossibility of our circumstances: the overpowering force of renegade seas, the irreversible damage of death, the life-altering trauma of kidnapping, captivity, and violent, sexual assault. As we stare into the hopelessness, you call us to hope. As we weather our worst storms, you ask us if we trust you.

Your intervention is not a matter of if, but when.

I am tempted to withhold my trust until you prove yourself faithful, to doubt you until you come through for these girls. But you don’t afford me that luxury. You won’t let me off the hook of true faith. You leave me no choice but to either walk away from you in disbelief, or to turn towards you in desperate expectation.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless. Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, “He won’t call me to account”? But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits (herself) to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out.
Psalm 10:12-15

I’m asking you to intervene on their behalf, because I believe you are who you say you are. You are the God who sees what is happening to them, who feels what is being done to their bodies, who weeps over what is being done to their souls. You are the God who calls evil men to account, who snatches their victims out of their hands and breaks their regime of terror.

The LORD is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
Psalm 10:16-18

So come on! Do your God-thing! Tame the sea. Raise the dead. Rescue these girls! Send in your ambassadors to fight for them. Go yourself and protect them. Hold them close under the shadow of your wings, that they may experience your peace in the midst of trauma, your safety in the midst of danger, your love in the midst of abuse. Show their captors what you do when people think they can treat your cherished image-bearers however they like. Show all the others like them that you don’t tolerate terror and abuse.

You might not handle things according to our expectations or show up according to our timetable, but you will act. We believe that you are strong enough and that you care enough. We believe that you can turn this hell into a haven, this crisis into a miracle. We watch to see what you will do for these girls, trusting that your intervention is not a matter of if, but when.

We take you at your word. Prove us right.

A Healing Friend

“I know it’s a lot to ask, but I need you to believe me. My experience is real. It has redefined my life. I feel alone, because no one else sees it. I feel rejected, because no one else will risk facing it. I need you to take me seriously. I need you to walk this with me.”

David was still struggling to believe it himself. Saul, his beloved mentor, his idolized king, was also his manipulative abuser. After years of living in Saul’s home, fighting his battles, comforting his spirit, and being part of his family, the realization was just starting to sink in that David’s perception of their entire relationship had been a lie. Saul didn’t love him. Saul didn’t care two wits about him. Saul had only kept him close so that could control him, use him, and when that was finished, eliminate him.

A friend’s denial of abuse adds insult to injury.
The blow of not being believed re-opens the wounds of abuse.

This was such a radical paradigm shift that David was still wrestling with his own voice of denial. Hearing the same doubts reflected in his best friend’s voice sent him into an emotional tailspin.

Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to take my life?”
1 Samuel 20:1

As soon as possible, he had come to Jonathan for support. He always felt safe with Jonathan, secure in their friendship and confident that they saw eye-to-eye. In fact, Jonathan was the one who had first warned him that things weren’t right with Saul. If anyone would believe him about just how bad it was and be willing to stand with him through the mess ahead, it would be Jonathan.

“Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without confiding in me. Why would he hide this from me? It’s not so!”
1 Samuel 20:2

Jonathan’s quick denial caught David off-guard. It was the last thing he had expected. Then again, everything in David’s life was turning out to be the opposite of what he had expected. Had Jonathan’s friendship been a lie, too? How could he not see what was now so painfully obvious to David? And yet David recognized his friend’s predicament. The abuser that he was naming was Jonathan’s father. For Jonathan, believing his friend would cost him his father. Accepting David’s veracity would mean affirming his father’s depravity.

But David took an oath and said, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”
1 Samuel 20:3

David could hardly control the hysteria rising in his voice. This was a matter of life and death. He had never imagined that his best friend would doubt his word. The wound of being unbelieved would only add to the agony of the wounds from his abuse.

If I am guilty, then kill me yourself ! Why hand me over to your father?”
“Never!” Jonathan said. “If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?”
1 Samuel 20:8-11

Jonathan was uncertain. He knew his father wasn’t perfect, but it was hard to believe that he was capable of such atrocity. Surely there was some other explanation, some other way to reconcile David’s testimony with his father’s. But he recognized that if he really loved his friend, he would have to consider the possibility that his painful story was true. To deny David’s experience would be to deny their friendship.

Then Jonathan said to David: “By the LORD, the God of Israel, I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! … But if my father is inclined to harm you, may the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away safely. May the LORD be with you as he has been with my father.
1 Samuel 20:12-13

Jonathan started listening to David. He quit trying to smooth things over, quit trying to explain them away, and started seriously listening to David’s terrified, trembling report. He would do whatever it took to verify David’s claims. He would help however he could to get David out of danger, despite the cost to himself.

Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he must die!”
“Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father.
But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him.
1 Samuel 20:30-33

And, as Jonathan would soon experience, uncovering the truth about David’s abuser would cost him greatly. Probing deeper into his father’s relationship with David would reveal the true nature of his father’s relationship with himself. Manipulative accusations. Violent reactions. Now it was Jonathan’s turn to experience pain, terror, and disillusionment. The solidarity of Jonathan’s love for his friend deepened as he shared in his sufferings.

So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD call David’s enemies to account.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.
1 Samuel 20:16-17

David was blessed to have a true friend like Jonathan who would walk with him through the messy aftermath of abuse. So many friendships fail to survive this difficult test, disintegrating at the very moment when they are most needed. But a friend who recommits his love in the midst of crisis is a healing friend.

Healing love manifests itself through willingness to share in the sufferings of an abused friend.

True love manifests itself through willingness to share in the sufferings of an abused friend. But when friends and family fail to step up and acknowledge the full horror of abuse, then where else can a desperate, trembling survivor turn?

…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24

His name is Jesus.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends, if you do what I command. John 15:13-14

What Can Wash Away My Shame?

“How can I go on living in this defiled body? If my body is the temple of God’s Holy Spirit, how can He bear to dwell in it, either? I am ruined, and I can’t escape. My dwelling place is tainted, but I can’t leave it. So here I am, desolate, defiled, and trapped. Is there no way out of this perpetual nightmare for me?

O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
Psalm 79:1

Strangely enough, the cries of the Israelites following the invasion of Jerusalem mirror the cries of the raped or sexually violated following the invasion of their bodies. Their city had been their holy refuge, the place where they could freely meet with God. They had guarded its purity and celebrated its beauty. But now it lay in ruins, devastated by forces that they had been unable to resist.

Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs. They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees. They smashed all the carved paneling with their axes and hatchets. They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
Psalm 74:4-7

With their status so fundamentally altered, they were left with no other recourse but to cry out to God, narrating the details of just how awful it had been. Enemies had invaded their sacred space. Dirty men had come pushing in, taking what they wanted and leaving behind nothing but a desecrated wreck. Their beauty was tarnished. Their purity was ruined. Their glory was gone. And there was nothing they could do to bring it back.

We are given no miraculous signs; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be.
Psalm 74:9

Could God even want them anymore? Would the Holy One turn His back on His spoiled inheritance? How long would they be left like this, a ruined, has-been heap?

God doesn’t plan to restore our former glory.
He is at work to increase it.

But God’s unconditional love was not repulsed by their ugliness. His great compassion was not hindered by their impurity. He didn’t pretend like everything was fine, nor did He cast them off as tainted goods. Instead, He acknowledged their desolate condition and came near to restore them.

“Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. …You will forget the shame of your youth …
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. “O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.
Isaiah 54:4, 10-12

In time He moved the hearts of foreign kings to help them rebuild their city and its temple. The healing process was long and arduous, with plenty of setbacks and obstacles along the way, but with God’s help they persevered. Brick by brick the walls took shape. Stone by stone the temple rose out its rubble. But even with their external beauty restored, their internal glory was still missing.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
Isaiah 61:2-3

Finally, God Himself showed up. For years His defiled city had carried on, physically functional but spiritually a shell of her former glory. Now it was time for His Spirit to return, to cleanse her of her shame and to fill her with glory greater than she had to start with. He entered her gates riding on a donkey. He cleansed her temple with zealous intensity. He healed her wounded, comforted her mourners, purified her unclean, and honored her despised. And in the end, He gave Himself as a cleansing sacrifice, His blood as a purifying flood.

You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.
Isaiah 62:3- 5

Though that city has been remodeled as the Kingdom of God and its temple rebuilt with the living stones of His Church, it stands as a testimony of hope for all who have experienced the desolation of sexual defilement. The story does not end with us in a ruined heap, desecrated, broken, and abandoned. Though the healing process is long, painful, and at times so slow that it seems to be moving backward, God is at work increasing our glory. He is purifying our desecrated bodies and rebuilding our devastated souls. As hard as it is to believe at times, He will one day rejoice over us as an integral part of His beautiful bride. Where we end up will be better than where we started.

Beauty for ashes. Robes of righteousness for rags of shame. This is our inheritance, because He is our God.