More Theological Ideas for Abuse Survivors from "Where Was God?"
Evil exists and our suffering is beyond human ability to create or to heal.
But what responsibility does God bear for the radical suffering of this world? Are we, in fact, betrayed by God? To answer these questions we are faced with the complex problem of the origin of evil, a problem with which theologians have long grappled. If God does not send radical suffering, who is responsible? The placing of the blame for evil solely on humanity is challenged by the witness of child survivors on several levels. First, there is the experience of evil as a power greater than human wrong. The power of a childhood incident to bring misery over the life of the victim (and sometimes over the lives of their children) strains our credulity that only human error is at play. As we have seen, the evil that infects children of abuse goes well beyond the scope of human will. It raises the question of how free their abusers were in their actions, and so on back into history. While abusers must of course be stopped by all means, still the question of the powers at work must be asked. To encompass the witness of children of sexual trauma, we must have a theology that acknowledges that evil exists and that our suffering is beyond human ability to create or to heal.
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. 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.” (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.
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