God's Responsibility for the Suffering of Sexually Abused Children

 

God bears some responsibility for our suffering

Unless we believe in an uncreated evil being who is equal to God, some created forces or beings, whether systemic or celestial, have perverted the good intentions of God. Toward such “spiritual forces of wickedness” our outrage can be justly put. But even though we believe that God does not intend, support or cooperate with this evil in any way, still it can be argued that God bears some responsibility for suffering in that God created the whole enterprise in the first place. It is God who set us on this path and who continues to will its existence. In this sense, feelings of anger toward God and betrayal by God are appropriate. Jesus’ own lament from the cross, in the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is just this kind of cry. Where were you?

Over the course of the prayer life with God that was opened up by my expressions of rage and hurt, I was met by God with grief, outrage on my behalf, and God’s apology to me. Later still, after years of therapy work, when in prayer I asked Jesus if he had betrayed me, he simply said “yes.” There was no intention for harm on God’s part, nor neglect, nor lack of love. But there was acknowledgment that it was a kind of betrayal to create an innocent child and then not be able to protect it in this very basic way. It was after having this truth affirmed that I could entertain the possibility that God could both love me and have failed me by not being able to stop my abuse. Children must have truth that goes all the way down before they can move to a new place with God. Platitudes about God will fail every time in terms of the real spiritual growth of the person. Besides needing the acknowledgment of God’s responsibility in order to grow spiritually, children of abuse may have pointed us toward a powerful truth.

God shares fully in our suffering

God’s taking responsibility for our suffering must be more than an acknowledgment. We are still suffering and we need a response from God. The most important open door I have found here is the life of Jesus and the Cross. God responds to the suffering that God is unable to stop by joining us in that suffering in a fully human way. I agree with Elizabeth Johnson and others that God does not will the crucifixion.[30] It was an atrocity like that of sexual violation, perpetrated on Jesus and abhorrent to God. Jesus was simply faithful to living the lives we live without escaping our pain by supernatural means. But in the story of the crucifixion we see God visibly suffering with us and for us. I believe the truth revealed in the story of the cross is that God is present in the body during all violation. Johnson says that “the suffering body of Christ includes the raped and denigrated bodies of women.”[31] (She would surely agree that it includes the grown bodies of little boys who were violated as well). Nothing less than God’s presence in the sinews of our pain can reconcile the wounded soul to God.

God continually works for our healing

But is God able to do more than suffer with us? It is the witness of many people who have been abused that the power of God’s love is experienced through the healing process itself. We must first acknowledge that most adult survivors of abuse find the path to healing more painful and challenging than they could have imagined. Long buried childhood pain and terror have to come up and be processed over time. The pain of this remembering cannot be adequately described, and no words can do justice to what survivors go through in this process. Nothing that follows cancels out the suffering of those who choose this difficult road.

At the same time, many have found surprising experiences of grace in the midst of the pain. We have mentioned this dynamic in the re-mothering that happens in some therapy. There are other ways that love is revealed in the process as well. As Bill W. discovered in coping with alcoholism, there is a healing magic that happens when two addicts get together to seek help.[32] So there is an awesome power at work when survivors of trauma come together for healing. It is more than the sum of the parts. Such gatherings are where many learn a love that they can trust. So also is grace palpable in the empowering work of safely expressed rage and the releasing flow of tears, lovingly witnessed. The expression of rage and tears does not fix the pain, but there can be in their aftermath a loving connection to what is real. Many find a redemptive power in their ability for help other victims. Those battling obsessive behaviors and addition attest to the daily reprieve given with the help of a Higher Power. That there is a force working for our healing in these and other ways becomes real to many who enter the healing process from sexual trauma. These experiences of healing may open the door to the belief that we are not left desolate (John 14:15-18), and help us to believe that there is One who is continually working for us. For some it is a chink in the armor of doubt that there is God.

Such encounters with God’s love need not wait until adulthood if intervention comes sooner to violated children.[33] One of the children with whom I have done art on two mission trips to Romania is a girl of thirteen. Her father had sexually abused her over a two-year period. She reports to her counselor that she felt distant from God during her abuse, and felt angry that God did not protect her. But it was one evening after she came to the loving children’s home where she began to get help that she felt God close to her. She continues to do the hard work of healing with a very gifted counselor. [34]

For me, as for others, there have been long dark periods of struggle and times of spiritual despair along the way of healing. There have also been moments when I have stood on the floor of my pain and I have known a silent presence of grace. I have asked for people to pray for me when I faced difficult therapy work, and the spiritual support was palpable. Many times I called on Jesus to protect me from evil when I went down for healing work into traumatic memories and I was protected. Prayerful rituals of healing brought unexpected peace and empowerment. I experienced the motherly love of Sophia God mediated through my therapist and the care of others with whom I worked. I also found loving communion in a circle of courageous survivors. The day by day deliverance from obsessive self harming behaviors, over years, has been nothing short of a miracle of God’s grace. In all these tastes of love, the work of the Holy Spirit has become more real to me. The Spirit as Advocate has given me moments of truth in the midst of lies; as Comforter has been present in the eyes of my healers and of fellow survivors; as Guide has helped me discern a way in the darkness, or simply given me the courage to stumble on.

 These experiences of God have not led to any simple sense of victory over suffering. The cost has been too great, for me and for others. And although we heal on many levels, this kind of soul wound never goes completely away. Rather these encounters with love have been a kind of glue in the midst of brokenness. I am also aware that I have had many opportunities for healing work and gifted healers. I have had the faithful support of a husband, family, friends, a faith community and good spiritual guidance. Many survivors are not so fortunate.

 

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