Abuse. Though we read about horrible, twisted, terrible abuses happening all over our world, for most of us, to some degree, abuse has hit home with us personally. Maybe you are one of the few that have escaped hard and difficult abuse, but each one of us has been impacted in one way or another by abuse going on around us.
It is unremarkable, but the Bible speaks directly and often regarding abuse. I say it is unremarkable because the Bible speaks to all issues regarding the souls of people. Abuse is certainly a soul level issue. It shouldn’t surprise us that the Bible speaks so much about abuse.
Abusing is sin. Being abused is being sinned against.
Unfortunately, sin and being sinned against can both be quite complicated by our own sin natures as we process guilt, retribution, vengeance, fear, anger, and bitterness. Both fact and feelings can get twisted up in our souls and often further sin is the result. That sin spiral often defines who we are; we are abusers, or we are victims of abuse.
God gives us hope in His power by showing us examples in the lives of His people in Scripture and by explaining His plan for each of us as we endure His sin-cursed world.
God has given us many accounts of abuse in the pages of Scripture. The account of Joseph’s life broadly covers a life of abuse. In Genesis 37 we read of his siblings hatred and his imprisonment in a pit, threats of death, and ultimately his being sold into slavery. His dad was told he was dead, ripped to pieces by a lion. Genesis 39 picks up with Joseph being sexually harassed and ultimately assaulted by his boss’ wife. His upstanding character was maligned in that situation, which lead to him being thrown into prison for years. This account of mental, verbal, physical, and sexual abuses would lead us to expect a basket-case of bitterness, low self-esteem, and sinful/destructive coping habits. Most self-respecting psychologists would expect very little success dealing with at person with such baggage. Providentially, we have Chapter 40, which shows us a definitive resolve to all the abuse. Joseph is given power and authority over his sexual abuser and faces his brothers with absolute power over their lives. He literally has the ability to do as he wishes, being the second in command in the land of Egypt. Joseph’s worldview shined brightly as he faced his brothers with brokenness and kindness. Because he saw God as sovereign and good, he could see His hand in the details of his life, carrying him through the years and years of difficult trials for a greater purpose that was far outside of his earthly vision. There was something about his faith in The Great Creator God that allowed him to interpret the abuses in ways that refined him into a lover of God, strengthening his faith and trust, regardless of the situation. Joseph didn’t allow the abuses to define who he was and thus his future. Though we don’t have record of all the anguish and struggle of soul that he went through as he endured the years between the pit and the palace, we know the outcome. It is crystal clear. The abuses didn’t define him. They refined him. We see him successfully choosing to live God’s way, with excellence, honesty, and diligence toward all, including his abusers. He finished well, something we would never expect, considering the abuses he endured.
The Apostle Paul shows us how God can rescue an abuser and turn him into a man that lives with an effervescent love for the people of God. Acts 8:3 talks of Paul “ravaging the church, and entering house after house,” dragging men and women off to prison. In chapter 9 he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Paul had a lifestyle of murder and persecution. He hurt a lot of people. He was defined by abusing. He had a reputation that even after three years away from the public he was still not trusted. People were scared of him and rejected him (see Acts 9 and Gal 1:11-24). But God stepped in in Acts 9 and we see a miraculous enlightening of Paul’s eyes to the truth of who God is. At that point, Paul could have crawled away into depression and despondency or he could have pressed on, rejecting God and hurting people (if God would have allowed that, which Paul preached concerning God’s limitations on our lives in Acts 17). While we might like a blinding light in the road and a voice from heaven, we have been given the amazing, enlightening Word of God in the Bible and an army of ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Co 5:10ff) that God has empowered to share the Word with us as we go through the abuses we face. With the power of God convicting him and cleansing him, Paul was able to move past the abusing and become refined into one of the most passionate and loving men of the Bible, impacting thousands throughout the regions of the Mediterranean.
The key to breaking the defining cycle and allowing God to refine us through the fires of abuse is three-fold. The first is to run to the foot of the Cross. Each of us must submit to Christ and cry out to Him for protection and wisdom. Considering our weakness, we really have no hope in ourselves. King David wrote Psalm after Psalm depicting his trust in God for protection and rescue from abusive people that were out to malign and kill him (Psalm 2, 3, 4…). Romans 8 is a great chapter to study out on the freedom we have in Christ. It culminates in verses 38 and 39; “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We must learn to put our hope in Christ whether we are in the pit or the palace. We need to be refined in the hard times, understanding that He alone can be the security and peace that we so long for.
Second is to immerse yourself in the Word. There is no substitute. Our minds are traps, trapping in all sorts of pieces of information and then processing that information, putting value and priority on each piece. Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 lay out the power of the Word to impact our thinking and our actions. The Word is a light to our paths regardless of how dark they are (Ps 119:105). Proverbs 4:23 commands us to guard our hearts (souls) with all diligence. We need to filter out the stuff that clogs up and degrades our thinking. Psalm 119:9 and Ephesians 5:26 talk about the cleansing effect of the Word. Without the Word flowing often and deep in our thinking, we are prone to believe things that aren’t true and make decisions based on our feelings. Believing lies and making decisions based on feelings are two cardinal, entrapping flaws that too often dominate our lives. The Word illuminates truth and lies and provides wisdom to know what to do in the situations we face.
Third is to connect with biblically solid people that will speak into your life. Second Corinthians 5 teaches about the ministry of reconciliation that God has given to all true believers in Christ. As ministers of reconciliation, we are to be at the work of urging others to live with clear, clean relationships with God and others (2 Co 5:18-20). Two things happen when we connect with biblically solid people. They challenge and sharpen us with encouragement and admonition and we challenge and sharpen them. Romans 15:14 reminds us that each of us are able to minister Truth to one another. A study of the One Another commands is revealing and convicting as they paint a picture of people ministering to (caring for) one another. When we look at the church we should see people caring for one another, connecting with one another to encourage and admonish each other. For those involved with abuse, the church should be a group of people that connect by taking time with each other, talking biblically together about real issues, praying together, and walking through the hard things together.
Run, Immerse, Connect; the three-fold key to breaking the defining cycle of abuse and experiencing freedom in the refining process God has orchestrated to prepare us for His glory in the Kingdom of Heaven that is to come.
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