Living Confidently in the Sick Society

The following photograph is one that I took at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Cincinnati Museum Center in February 2013 with their permission to display it on a blog for personal use. This is a series of small idols which were found in the outlying towns of Israel and Judah during the time of the Old Testament prophets, and it corroborates their declarations about what was happening in their times. In their day it was literally a ‘build your own god’ movement out of wood, stone and clay, and their choices were for a Yahweh with the characteristics of a pagan god and only the name of the one true God. Or the idols show that they would make their preferences for one or more of the pagan gods around them who wasn’t as picky on matters of personal morality and integrity as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

IMG_1954

The prevalence of idolatry in ancient Israel and Judah during the time of the Old Testament prophets is a factor which is often rightly mentioned in current preaching and teaching as the reason for the judgment of ancient Israel and Judah. This judgment of God culminated in the destruction by the Assyrians of the northern kingdom of Israel, centered in the city of Samaria, in 722 B.C.E., then in the destruction of Judah in two phases, in the judgment from the Assyrian emperor Sennacherib which destroyed the outlying cities and towns but which God stopped short of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E., and then in the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under their emperor Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. And certainly idolatry was at the heart of God’s indictment against Israel and Judah during these years.

There was, though, another count in the indictment which often goes overlooked: the decline in personal honesty and trustworthiness and the pervasive cheating and deceit in business matters and personal matters among his people. These were indications of how far they had departed from the one true God, and their society became more and more sick as a consequence.

The prophet Micah saw the decay of devotion to God around him and the decay of his society, and spoke strongly to the people in his day about the consequences that would come because of it. He lived about seven hundred years before Christ, and he spoke to the people of Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom of Judah, which had become a house divided and a society at war with itself. The root was that they had neglected and then abandoned God. The consequence was that sins against God had infiltrated into all aspects of their lives, and this was defiling and destroying civil institutions and families. And to those in the midst of this situation, Micah gave them guidance on the need for godly wisdom that their circumstances made more necessary than ever. Their times were difficult, and growing more difficult, but the times were certainly not hopeless. The greatest reason for hope always remained, in the almighty, all loving and all wise God of Israel, the God of the Bible. So in all that they were experiencing as their society started to crumble around them, what was called for was not despair and despondency but rather a continued faith and a confident expectation of the mighty intervention of God himself.

These words of Micah still speak to us today, because we see the same kinds of conflict happening, and the same kinds of sins still infiltrating our society and causing decay and rot throughout. While many cast off restraints in their self centered definition of freedom, there is still the same hope in the God of the Bible for each one who has been born again of the Spirit of God through faith in God, and that means that there is always good reason to remain steadfast in faith in God. Even though scripture does indicate that society will become sicker to the point of terminal illness as the end approaches, there is still every reason to remain confident in God. This is the direction for the attitude and actions of the people of God in all ages, from the encouragement of the prophet of God to remain faithful to god, and from the personal declaration of the prophet himself of his own abiding faith and expectation in the God of the Bible.

“How much heartbreak is mine!
I am like someone gathering fruit in summer, like someone picking the last few grapes of this year’s vintage,
There are no grapes to eat, no early figs for the longings of my soul.
The people who were serious about God have been obliterated from the land, and there is no one left with a modicum of honesty.
Everyone left waits in murderous ambush, each one waits for his brother with a net. The highest bureaucrat expects favors,
The judge wants bribes, and the political bosses dictate their own whims,
They all make their little plots and schemes together. The best one among them is like a briar, the most honest one like a prickly hedge.
The day your watchmen predicted, the time of God’s judgment, has come, now is the time that they all get lost in their own confusion.
Do not put your trust in a neighbor, do not even trust someone that you may know well.
Even with the wife who is in your close embrace watch your words.
Because a son shows contempt for his father, and a daughter places herself above her mother
And a daughter in law places herself above her mother in law, and so a man’s enemies are the people in his own dwelling.
And so I am looking for the LORD, I am waiting for God my Savior!
My God will hear me!”

(Micah 7:1-7, Dale’s translation).

The people of God must live wisely in the midst of the sick society. Dissatisfaction with the circumstances can mean an honest lament over where things have deteriorated, but still there is wisdom from God available, even when there is disappointment and disillusionment with other people as we live our lives in the middle of the sick society. The people of God can look out upon all the deterioration and depravity and yet find that there is a path of wisdom from God for them in the midst of all that. The circumstances are heartbreaking, though, to the person who knows God.

The deterioration of society to become the sick society is one where even the institutions intended to restrain evil and wrongdoing become accessories to the performance of evil. Rampant sin means the perversion of justice in those offices which were intended to preserve justice. While there has always been some injustice in human society, something can happen where someone realizes that he or she is living in the sick society, and this realization breaks the heart when it comes. All that is left is a lament for civil society as it is. 

The prophet begins with a lament, about how it seems like all the good stuff is all used up and all the good times are gone, and that he is left with nothing around him that gives him hope:

 “How much heartbreak is mine!
I am like someone gathering fruit in summer, like someone picking the last few grapes of this year’s vintage,
There are no grapes to eat, no early figs for the longings of my soul.”

The prophet is feeling like everything good has been sucked out of life. His ministry began in the time of Jotham, one of the godly kings of Judah who reigned in Jerusalem as his capital city, continued during the long reign of Ahaz, who was one of the most ungodly and incompetent kings from the line of David to reign in Jerusalem, and concluded during the time of Hezekiah, who was one of the most godly kings from the line of David. He seems to lived and prophesied roughly about the same time as Isaiah, but may not have lived until the time of the invasion of the Assyrian king Sennacherib that Isaiah 36-39 describes, and which happened in 701 BCE. This description of his disappointment may reflect the realization that the good times for the kingdom which happened in the early years of Hezekiah were going to come to an end, that the restoration and revival which had come with Hezekiah would give way to the judgment on the outlying cities and towns of the nation of Judah.

This description is of his emotional reaction to the sin of his people and the coming judgment of his people. He expresses this with the traditional poetic form known as lament. Earlier he had begun this book of prophecy with a lament and the lament in this current passage is reminiscent of lament of 1:8-16. Though his lament was a traditional poetic form, it is nevertheless heartfelt, and with it the prophet shows the scriptural response to heartbreaking circumstances that he was seeing. In his own society he was seeing a sick defiance of God which was daring God to take action and do something. In fact he shows us that for a godly person, witnessing a decline in personal morality throughout one’s own society is something well worth mourning over, and it is something that is worth giving one’s own heart into grieving over the evils that must provoke the holy God of the Bible as well.

We always want the joy and happiness in life, but if we look at the world and our times with the lens of scripture, we may find great reasons for sadness and sorrow. That’s why there is such a strong current of lament in the Old Testament Psalms and prophets, and why you also see lament in the New Testament also. It’s the appropriate emotional and spiritual reaction when a godly person looks out and sees a decline in godliness around himself or herself. And certainly there will be times when churches and societies increase and decrease, prosper and decline, as time goes on. So the reaction of disappointment and grief to the decline and impending judgment of God is as appropriate to godly people as satisfaction, peace and joy when the gospel spreads, people come to Christ and the church is built up. Somewhere some people get the idea that following Christ means nothing but joy, peace and happiness and that there’s something wrong with us if we experience disappointment and grief in this world. But that’s looking for the cause in the wrong place often enough – for a godly person looking out at this world the disappointment and grief may well be the sign of something really right with himself or herself – the growth in personal holiness and being able to look out at this world with a focus based on and guided by the absolute holiness and righteousness of God himself.

”The people who were serious about God have been obliterated from the land, and there is no one left with a modicum of honesty.
Everyone left waits in murderous ambush, each one waits for his brother with a net.”

Micah lamented the loss of the people who were serious about God from those who were supposed to be the people of God. His contemporary Isaiah lamented the same thing (Isaiah 57:1-2 59:1-12 for the lament). They may have been thinking about the loss of faithful, believing Israelites such as Barzillai the Gileadite (II Samuel 17:27-29, 19:31-39). What they were seeing were that the generation which had remained faithful from the days of Jotham through the reign of Ahaz to the reign of Hezekiah were dying off, and the generation which had grown up during the reign of Ahaz were gaining ascendancy. They were seeing the generation which had known previous security was giving way to a much more self concerned, self seeking and rapacious generation – those who were the children by relation shared little of the faith of their fathers. While there will always be such individuals in families who do not follow the faith of their parents, the prophets of God realized that some kind of line had been crossed in Israel and Judah during their lifetimes. And soon the judgment of God fell upon Israel and Judah: first upon Israel in the days of Hezekiah, in 722 BCE, and then upon Judah through the Assyrians later in the reign of Hezekiah, in 701 BCE.

The tripwire for the coming judgment was given as the withering of personal morality and trustworthiness in comparison to the standards of God which were held up in the Word of God. The judgment would come not just for the rampant idolatry and the attendant sexual immorality which had grown in the past generation (the connection in the ancient world between idolatry and sexual immorality was well known throughout the Old and New Testaments). The judgment would come for the cheating lifestyle: the person who is trying to cheat God out of his due glory under the Word of God that “You shall have no other gods before me,” his family out of their due honor and loyalty under “You shall not commit adultery”, and fellow human beings out of due honesty and fairness under, “You shall not murder . . .  you shall not steal . . . you shall not bear false witness . . . you shall not covet.” It would not be too much to say that one of the greatest generations had become the cheating generation.

This is a common and pernicious delusion that can take hold of a person, a family, a generation, a nation: that God doesn’t care about my personal integrity. From this delusion even the people who may claim to know the holy and righteous God of the Bible may descend to taking unfair and immoral advantage of others and using others for one’s own benefit at their expense. Yet this does come from idea that a person can build your own God. The people of Israel and Judah had come to the point where they thought that they could building a God for their own tastes from bits of the God of the Bible and the pagan gods from the people around them. So they came up with a God who looks the other way and doesn’t care about sin – not a holy God who cares about the holiness of his people. And unfortunately, this has been the same delusion that has infected believers throughout the ages, from professed believers in the USA around the late 1800s and early 1900s, to the late 1960s to the late 1970s, and now since the past decade as well.

The prophet then went on to expose how the decline in personal morality among those who were to be the people of God in Israel and Judah was corrupting the institutions of civil justice. The corrupt ruling class would lead the way for the nations which were heading insanely into the judgment of God.

“The highest bureaucrat expects favors,
The judge wants bribes, and the political bosses dictate their own whims,
They all make their little plots and schemes together. The best one among them is like a briar, the most honest one like a prickly hedge.
The day your watchmen predicted, the time of God’s judgment, has come, now is the time that they all get lost in their own confusion.”

Micah was describing what was happening with corrupt ruling class over the people of God and how they were daring the judgment of God. Isaiah also decried this, and and spoke about the coming time of judgment from God (1:23, 10:1-4). Micah’s words echo of his more graphic indictment of the predatory leaders earlier in his prophecies, in 3:1-12.

“And he says,
“’Hear now, you leaders of Jacob, and you judges of the house of Israel,
isn’t it proper for you to know justice,
you who hate what is good and love what is evil?’
. . .
‘Hear this, heads of the house of Jacob and judges of the house of Israel,
who detest justice and pervert all that is right,
who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with injustice?
Her leaders render judgments for a bribe, and her priests pontificate for profit,
her prophets read tea leaves for money.
Yet they still rely on the LORD as they say,
‘Isn’t the LORD in our midst? Nothing bad will come upon us.’””

(Micah 3: 1-2, 9-11, Dale’s translation)

The ruling class of ancient Israel and Judah, the corrupt officials whom Micah and Isaiah addressed, did not have just a secular responsibility to the nation. While in the Old Testament there is some sense of the consent of the governed, but also the ultimate responsibility of the government and the ruling class in particular was their responsibility to God and the Word of God. In the most real sense the only true theocracy the world has ever seen as was ancient Israel, especially under the godly kings, and the times of godliness were the times that the nation looked back to as the golden ages, especially the times of David and Solomon. What happened was their sense of responsibility to God and their people gave way to a cynical ‘What’s In It For Me?’ mentality, where doing anything at all in connection with their responsibilities for honesty, fairness, justice and mercy under the Law of God gave way to not doing anything except what was in their own personal advantage. But the judgment of God would come upon them, and the mark of the judgment would be their own cluelessness and their own confusion as things started to turn against them.

This abuse of human institutions meant to protect the weaker from the stronger came through the disappearance of godly and honest people from the ruling class as it became more and more corrupt. Those who were in the place of judgment and enforcement of justice themselves were falling into the deceit and greed of the society as a whole, of the society which had neglected, disregarded and disdained the God of the Bible. The corrupt ruling class were using their positions for the pursuit of personal gain and cashing in, and as such were a bitter disappointment to those who were still around who still trusted and followed the God of the Bible.

The injustice in the sick society is very much the responsibility of those in authority, of the corrupt ruling class: the responsibilities of the office are discharged no better than the personal morality of the officeholder. Too often men and women even within the people who claim to know and follow the God of the Bible have shown far too little concern over the moral convictions and personal morality of public officials, whether those officials were elected or appointed. Yet the personal moral compass of those officials has a great bearing on whether the execution of the office becomes the enforcement of genuine Biblical justice and mercy in line with the God of the Bible or the enforcement of the whims, pipe dreams, folly and immorality of others. Yet compare the reason why Governeur Morris encouraged George Washington to become accept the presidency of the United States during its infancy: “The exercise of authority depends upon personal character. Your cool, steady temper is indispensably necessary to give firm and manly tone to the new government.”

This shows very much the corrupting power of sin. Sin can turn the people in the institutions, both religious and secular, intended by God to restrain sin, into the weapons of its own warfare. And this infection of sin in the cheating generation can weaponize the civil and even the religious leaders and institutions to speak and act contrary to the righteousness and holiness of the God they claim to serve. So then, even within the professing church of Jesus Christ, within the vocational ministry and denominational hierarchy, the infiltration of this subtle idolatry, to make the generation following a faithful generation the cheating generation, can defile the ministry of church leaders. This same kind of ‘What’s In It For Me?’ mentality can infect the church as an institution as well within the vocational ministry and a denominational hierarchy. And the cheating infects the professing church as well when its leaders start to follow the idolatries and follies of the cheating generation. And the decline begins as the presence of the holy and righteous God begins to withdraw from ministries, churches and denominations which once reflected his character and experienced his power to save to the uttermost.

This shows, then, another pernicious delusion that often takes hold of those who seek and attain political power: that God doesn’t care about how I deal with others in the conduct of my civic responsibilities. It is the delusion that my personal morality and integrity in the execution of my office do not matter before God. The ruling elite becomes influenced by the behavior of others in the ruling elite – they can see others of the cheating generation doing what God has condemned, and they then eagerly follow them to make sure that they get their own pieces of the pie. And indeed so many times this abuse of political power for personal gain becomes rampant simply because  those in power and part of the ruling elite see others ‘getting away with it’ and they simply want to do what they can to get their part of the undisclosed benefits. Giving and receiving bribes and working to keep on funneling benefits to myself and my family at the expense of others becomes a normal way of life among the ruling elites.

So this build your own God mentality  can come up with a God who looks the other way and who does not care about the integrity and justice of those who pursue and receive political power. It can change within one generation, when a faithful generation gives way to the cheating generation. But this politics for personal profit will ultimately be exposed, according to the words of Jesus himself in Luke 12:2: “For there is nothing which has been concealed which will not be brought out into the open, and hidden which shall not become known.”

But this is not the whole story yet — the prophet of God then went to describe how deeply the decline in personal morality was infecting the family of the cheating generation. What was happening was horrible betrayals, with family members ratting out each other, so that no one could ever be certain of the loyalty even of a spouse. In the sick society, even family and friends are of little or no support. When the loss of truthfulness and integrity penetrates a nation and a generation, it means the loss of trustworthiness, and so within the family itself there is rampant betrayal and conflict.

“Do not put your trust in a neighbor, do not even trust someone that you may know well.
Even with the wife who is in your close embrace watch your words.
Because a son shows contempt for his father, and a daughter places herself above her mother
And a daughter in law places herself above her mother in law, and so a man’s enemies are the people in his own dwelling.”

The infiltration of the trend of society into the family circle makes the family a prime area of conflict in the cheating generation. Where there should rather have been mutual love and respect, disrespect and conflict are rampant among the cheating generation. What the prophet is describing is role reversal –  where personal arrogance results in contempt and disdain for family members and ultimately the betrayal of family members. And as far as what would be expected to be normal and praiseworthy behavior – go to the book of Ruth and contrast the humility and respect of Ruth for  her mother in law Naomi with the behavior that the prophet describes here.

Yet there would be betrayal rather than support for family members among the depredations of the cheating generation against their neighbors, even to their closest earthly neighbors. Even more, the repeating pattern of deceit and aggression among the cheating generation means that family life itself becomes a bitter disappointment. The moral that the prophet drew was that even among one’s own family members the person who seeks to follow the God of the Bible must watch his or her words and be careful of what he or she says. Thus the godly person must watch his or her back even while he or she is standing for God in the middle of the cheating generation. It is a situation where love and fidelity are sacrificed, and anything you say can and will be used against you.

So this highlights another pernicious delusion that can come from the build your own God mentality: that God doesn’t care about my loyalty to my family members and how I treat them. I can still pursue my dreams and fantasies of plenty and power and personal glory despite what it means to my family members, my closest neighbors in this world. In fact, this drive to plenty and power and personal glory often builds greater disruption and conflict within families as ambitious and ruthless family members build unholy and unrighteous internal alliances for and against other family members with those who are outside the family circle. Instead of mutual love and respect within the family, having to deal with the repeated pattern of deceit and aggression means that family life itself, intended from the beginning by God to be a blessing, a source of enjoyment and happiness, becomes instead bitter disappointment and disillusionment.

And where there is lukewarm devotion to God at best among so many with only a vague kind of religiosity – the result seen in the past hundred years in the United States and the result of liberal theology that compromises and explains away Biblical truth and dead orthodoxy which fails to live out Biblical truth – it is no wonder that the restraining influence of the church of Jesus Christ wanes. Then the infiltration of tolerated and indulged sins into the family, the increase of material good without devotion to God, gives way to an onslaught of social evils. The children may only have the bad example of the mistakes, follies and sins of lukewarm parents, and they may fall into drugs, out of wedlock pregnancy, idleness and unemployment and despair and suicide. But the responsibility of each one before God remains, and he is there and he is not silent.

So the people of God who are standing for God in this situation find may this to be the way of wisdom with untrustworthy family members. They need to be extremely careful with what they say. The situation calls for guarded and carefully weighed words – to tell the truth but not necessarily full disclosure – as the shrewdness necessary for someone who has to watch his or her back in one’s own household. And even more, this is also noteworthy as one of the problems of a church that has probably grown too large, or a church which is declining, is that professed believers become untrustworthy as well among themselves. They fall into the habits and practice a lot of petty backstabbing and backbiting, sometimes with vicious little bits of second hand gossip that are decades old. But this becomes necessary in the wake of the build your own God mentality – it calls for extreme caution in dealing with those who can come up with a God who does not care if they bear false witness against and betray the members of one’s own family.

This, then, is also something especially that believers in Jesus Christ need to note. Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry as Prophet and Teacher, referred to these same verses and said that they would continue to be characteristic of times of persecution for his church afterwards:

“Do not think that I came to push peace upon the earth; I came not to push peace but a sword, because I came to divide a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother and the bride against her mother in law, and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. The person who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and the person who love son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,  and whoever does not pick up his or her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. The person who finds his life will end up losing it, and the person who loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

During the times of the sick society and the cheating generation, there is still one thing left for the person who knows, trust and follows the God of the Bible. Despite the moral insanity of the sick society and the cheating generation, God himself remains an unchangeable and unshakeable source of security. No matter what, continuing in trust and confidence in God will always be appropriate. Only through God can discouragement, despondency and hopelessness be turned to hope, trust and confidence.

The faith that is secure in God looks forward to his intervention in the sick society. The people who follow the God of the Bible can then live with confidence in his wisdom, power, compassion and justice, and they can live with the realization that however bad the situation is and however bad it may become, God is greater than that situation, and he is never at a loss.

The prophet himself held up a lantern of the kind of faith in God that the situation was calling for:

”And so I am looking for the LORD, I am waiting for God my Savior! **
My God will hear me!”

The prophet showed the people of God to look to their God beyond all the circumstances and to wait for his solution, for his salvation in the midst of the sick society. He showed them to look to God, that whatever the wrong being done in the present, that God will judge and overrule that evil. Moreover, that time of waiting will also be the time of God’s patience in offering his mercy and the opportunity for repentance before he imposes his justice upon the unrepentant. The man or woman of God in these circumstances will then imitate the patience of God as he or she waits upon God, with the expectation that God’s wisdom will mean perfect timing for the time that he intervenes in the world that he created, which he rules and for which he takes the ultimate responsibility that justice will be served.

Note that the prophet had no schemes or resources for any changes in himself that he could do for the reformation of the sick society. The situation was so beyond the prophet and the people who followed the God of the Bible that all that they could look for was his solution to the sick society. So the prophet went on with the assurance that his prayers would make a difference since he was going to the God who would make the difference. He could say with confidence, “My God will hear me!”

As the sick society starts to unravel and disintegrate at the fringes and within, the way of the people of God has always been to trust in God and to seek him earnestly and diligently in prayer. No matter how difficult the times become, there is always an immovable basis of security in our God. He is the true and living God, the Almighty and the Eternal, who never changes. So then, he is our source of our confidence and security when we have been placed in the midst of the sick society. And the way of the godly then is to take refuge in prayer, to give full confidence to God in all the troubles of the current times. They turn to the one true God, the God of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, since he will not betray or disappoint.

And this turning to the God of the Bible will mean turning away from the gods that we try to imagine out for ourselves. The statement of confident faith of the prophet exposes the problem with the ‘Build Your Own God’ mentality: the gods we build out of our own preferences and imagination can’t hear us. They aren’t real and cannot answer us. They bring out God’s continuous taunt to those who try to build their own gods: go ahead and cry out to them and see if they can save you. And those who try to build their own gods find out quite quickly that made up gods cannot save them in the time of trouble.

But the person who turns to the God of the Bible will quickly find that he is not like our imaginary gods at all. That person will find that the God of the Bible is quite willing to be called, “My God” by the people who give themselves entirely to him and seek to live in harmony with him throughout their lives. They will know that know that his presence gives the incentive to pray and the assurance of answered prayer, as they live with him and they grow closer to him in intimacy, love and trust. They will know that the God of the Bible is a God who genuinely hears the prayers of his people, and who trust that, “My God will hear me!” when they pray to him. They will know that there is no deficiency in his ability to intervene in our world and in our lives and in his willingness to hear and answer prayer. All that he was waiting for was the simplicity of faith that trusts him wholeheartedly, to receive his answers for our lives and our world. And this will then mean actual prayer to God who hears, in response to his many invitations to pray. It will mean that our prayers are not vague expressions of hope but the actual expression of our genuine faith and reliance on what God can do and is willing to do and will do. As A. C. Dixon once said, “When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do; and so on. But when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.”

So the times of disintegration in the sick society are the times which simply call for continued confidence in God. Because of the eternal, almighty and faithful God, there is never a reason to give up any hope when we look out at the situation we see in our world. When we experience bitterness and disappointment because of what we see around us, it rather calls us to seek his intervention in our lives and in our world. The need is to continue to  be in prayer to the God who truly hears and answers prayer. No matter how difficult the times become, there is always an immovable source of security in our God. He is the true and living God, the Almighty, the Eternal, who never changes. Therefore he is the source of our confidence and security, and he becomes the one to whom we turn as well to change the sick society around us.

Then let us continue to pray to our God for a revival in our churches, that our generation and the generations to come may come to a full experience of God the Savior through his Son Jesus Christ. Let us ask for the transformation of our sick society through the mighty working of the Holy Spirit, first among the believers in our churches, and then among those who have not received his salvation in our society. Let us have that reliance upon God for his work of conviction, of cleansing and of reconciliation between God and man. Let us seek for the revival of the love of Christ among us to where we see the reconciliation and restoration of families. There are known cases of people who prayed for thirty and forty years for revival, and God did answer them and brought transformation. I would hope that we would not have to wait that long, but still we can persevere with the assurance that our God will hear us.

The God of the Bible remains the same despite whatever happens in the society around us. Thus his people can remain confident in him no matter what occurs, because he is faithful and mightier than every situation. And this calls us in our day, in our sick society, to continue to in faith and prayer in our day, to wait upon God because God will hear us.

So remain in prayer, and in the way of faith in God in the midst of the sick society. Continue to look for change to happen, from the God who know and changes the human heart, hardened and sick as it may be and as it may become in the sick society. Look for his revival and spiritual awakening to come upon our sick society.

And finally, each one of you, make certain that you have taken the most urgent and necessary step to place your deepest confidence and ultimate security in God alone. I mean make certain of your own eternal salvation before God  through Jesus Christ. Enter the reconciled fellowship with him through repenting of your sins and placing your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior now and for all eternity. Make certain that you can stand before God not because of anything that you have done but solely and entirely upon the death of Christ upon the cross for you, for your own eternal salvation. The security in God for all eternity is for those who have been reconciled to him through Jesus Christ. If you don’t know how to do this, simply take every word I have written in this paragraph and address it back to God in prayer, that that is what you want from him – eternal pardon and acceptance with him through faith in Jesus Christ alone – and state to him that you are now, at this very moment, repenting of all your sins and placing your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation.

Advertisements

What They Don’t Teach You in Seminary

Simply awesome explanation of how to minister the gospel to the most hardened criminals possible.

MINISTERING TO ADULT SEX OFFENDERS: TEN LESSONS FROM HENRY GERECKE

The Non-Using Alcoholic Or Addict

Updated!

Today I came across an article in my files on, “The Dry Drunk”, the alcoholic who has stopped drinking for the moment. The non-using alcoholic (or addict) tends to retain a set of habits, attitudes and behaviors that persist even when not using the drug of choice. It’s noted that these habits often precede a relapse into using again.

Here is the list:

  • Exaggerated self importance: alternating between “having all the answers” and playing “poor me.”
  • Harsh judgments of both the addict and of others.
  • Impatience.
  • Pursuing whims and impulses rather than clear, ethical, sensible and attainable goals.
  • Fantasizing, daydreaming, wishful thinking, self delusions.
  • Blame-shifting and projection: blaming others for one’s own shortcomings, either real or suspected.
  • Dishonesty in little things proceeding to dishonesty in big things.
  • Impulsive behavior which ignores what is genuinely good for the addict and especially for others.
  • Inability to make decisions.
  • Mood swings.
  • Trouble recognizing and expressing emotions, good or bad.
  • Detachment, self absorption, boredom, distraction, disorganization.
  • Nostalgia for the life under the influence.

Here’s what this means for pastoral ministry: these behaviors, characteristic of early adolescence as well, will most likely remain even in those whom God has granted deliverance from the addictive substance (alcohol or drugs) or behavior (anger, power). For some this may mean being a part of a Christ centered recovery group, such as Recovery in Christ – and I would encourage any pastor to be willing to lead such a group confidentially and to be familiar with a book like Jeff VanVonderen’s on addiction and recovery from a scriptural perspective.  Moreover, these kinds of habits of thought, word and action often creep into the lives of the family and friends of the addict – the ‘dysfunctional behaviors’ of the ‘dysfunctional family.’ I don’t find any New Testament authority that coming to Christ will automatically free anyone from all of these at once. Rather, these are the kinds of attitudes, habits and behaviors which are purified from a believer in the process of sanctification and discipleship – the lifetime of faith in Christ as Lord and Savior and following him as Lord and experiencing him as Savior through the power of the Holy Spirit – the process of “putting off the Old Man”, “being renewed in the spirit of your mind,” and “putting on the New Man” (Ephesians 4:17-24). For pastoral ministry, this will mean praise and thanking God for his deliverance from the substance or behavior, and guiding people into the path of sanctification to spiritual maturity.

Even more, in some ways these kinds of behaviors can creep into the lives of those who are not addicts or who have not come from what could be a ‘severely dysfunctional’ family.* Jesus said, “That which comes out of a man or woman defiles a man or woman; for from inside out of the hearts of men and women come evil thoughts, all sorts of sexual immorality, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, malic, wickedness, deceit, depravity, the envious and begrudging disposition, slanders against God and man, pride and foolishness. All these things come from inside and defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). There is nothing in an addict or a person who has grown up in a dysfunctional family which does not already exist in the heart and fallen human nature of the finest Christian or the most esteemed and godly Christian from the finest Christian family in the world, since ultimately, apart from the salvation of Jesus Christ, we all are from the same dysfunctional family – the human race descended from Adam (Romans 5:12-14). Ultimately, the reality that “. . . we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . .” (Romans 3:23) and that “. . . all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags . . .” (Isaiah 64:6) means that we all are ‘damaged goods’ as far as having any righteousness of our own, any ability to save ourselves from our sins and to live a life or righteousness, and any ability to bear fruit in Christian ministry and service apart from Christ.

But it certainly must be strongly asserted that there is nothing about one’s past as an addict or background in a dysfunctional family which ultimately means that a person is ‘damaged goods’ as far as serving Christ, being in a church fellowship or even serving in pastoral ministry or missionary service, since we can “ . . . have such a confidence through Christ toward God – not that we are considered to be sufficient in anything fro ourselves – but our sufficiency is from God, and he has made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit – for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (II Corinthians 3:4-6).

So, these kinds of questions need to be asked of anyone who would try to bring up someone else’s past as an addict or as being from a dysfunctional family as being ‘damaged goods’ and precluded from any kind of Christian service.

  • How do you know this? Is this personal knowledge of the person in depth and over a long period of time or it is something which you have heard from someone else? If it’s something you’ve heard from someone else, why isn’t that person taking responsibility for sharing it openly and forthrightly?
  • Are you breaking any confidences in sharing this? My plan is to ask this person directly if you have permission to share this with me, and to bring up your name directly; would you wish to withdraw or retract anything you are now saying or about to say on that basis?
  • Are you willing for this person to know that you are sharing this about him or her? If so, would you have any hesitation for me to contact him or her right now and bring him or her into the discussion with you present?
  • Are you giving due credit to God’s ability to cleanse someone else’s life through the power of his Word and through his Spirit? If these things that you are saying are things that happened in the past, what gives you the right to say that this person has not or is not being saved from them by Christ through the power of his Word and through his Spirit?

I cannot say what a tragedy and deep injustice it would be if anyone were ever blackballed from Christian ministry and an honored position in a church as a brother or sister in Christ because of whisperings about problems which God may have resolved or is resolving. Some years ago I heard a denominational leader who made a public pronouncement about people from dysfunctional families not being ready for preparation for pastoral ministry – and he himself was from a home broken from divorce. In all of this there must be extreme care to give God his due credit and glory for what he can do through anyone’s life through his saving grace in Jesus Christ.

* Some years ago I took the quiz in a book on dysfunctional families on determining whether you are from a dysfunctional family. It was part of my pastoral ministry after I found myself in a long term problem church where 2/3 of the Governing Board members admitted to having grown up in homes where at least one parent was an alcoholic. My family counted as ‘mildly dysfunctional’ on that scale that was in that book. As it turned out, the scale was weighted too heavily on the side of dysfunctionality, and pretty much 60% of those who took it would find that they were from a ‘dysfunctional family’. I don’t doubt that many, many of those from fine Christian families would be surprised to find themselves in that category if they took the same test, since I noticed that the scale would categorize a family as ‘dysfunctional’ if the family had someone who had been the proverbial ‘prodigal’ in the past four generations. The scale was later revised, according to a magazine article I came across several years later, to concentrate on those who came up in the scale as ‘moderately’ to ‘severely’ dysfunctional. A good part of the reason for this was that the scale was resulting in a number of people seeking or being encouraged to seek treatment who didn’t really need it nearly as much as those whose scores came up in the ‘moderately’ to ‘severely’ dysfunctional’ range. I shared this with maybe three or four people, and primarily in a context where I would be trying to encourage someone else not to let his or her background stand in the way of seeking to be as useful as possible to Christ. I definitely would have avoided sharing this in a context or situation to avoid an unnecessary besmirching of my own family’s reputation. But I’ve had some indication that this went through someone else’s malicious editing to where it became a creepy rumor that ‘Poor Dale is from a dysfunctional family.’ So this is the whole story, and not the edited version.

Characteristics of the Addict, the Codependent and the Addictive Relationship System

The following list was compiled from a number of sources and embellished with personal observations.

Codependent: Addict:
Uses others’ problems to avoid facing own problems Uses substance as self medication to avoid facing own problems
Protects addict from consequences of behavior Relies on codependent for cover for behavior
Emotionally manipulated Emotionally manipulative
Enmeshed with addict in exploitative relationship Enmeshes others and exploits them
Denial of abnormal situation Denial of own abnormality
Self centered perspective Self centered perspective
False agreement/cooperation Extreme dishonesty and deceit
Perfectionism Perfectionism
Illusion of control over self and others Illusion of control over self and others
Life centered on problems and crises Life centered around problems and crises which are often deliberately instigated
Dualistic evaluation of self and others as all good or all bad Dualistic evaluation of self and others as all good or all bad
Fabricates and instigates personality conflicts Fabricates and instigates personality conflicts to keep others off balance
Difficulty, often extreme,in listening to others and communication with others Forgetfulness and memory loss: does not learn from own mistakes or from others
Fearful Self centered fear of loss
Externalization of problems on others; the ‘selfless victim’ of abuse Externalization of problems on others: projection, scapegoating, blameshifting, isolation/abuse paradigm
Emotionally stifled Emotionally frozen when sober
Prefers excited misery to calm, growing, collaborative relationship of equals Instigates conflicts through triangulation, covert aggression
Unsure of and guesses at normal behavior Whitewashes own character flaws as being actual virtues and not harmful to others; claims of ‘good intentions’ justifies anything

Interpersonal Rules of the Addictive System

  1. Do not talk about problems; deny that they exist.
  2. Do not express feelings openly; do not feel pain, sadness or joy.
  3. Communication must be indirect, through third parties (go betweens and buffers). Technical term: triangulation.
  4. Show no weakness; nothing must threaten the image of being good, right and perfect.
  5. Appease and make those in control look good at all costs.
  6. Those in control have the right to be selfish but no one else does.
  7. Do as I say but not as I do; follow the words but ignore the example.
  8. Do not play or be playful; spontaneity and humor is childish.
  9. Do not attempt to change the status quo.
  10. Those in control follow no rules and are responsible to no one.
  11. Everyone must anticipate, follow and cater to the moods of those in control.
  12. What matters the most is personal relationships is control. Might and position makes all things right.
  13. Those in control know it all; those not in control know nothing.

Seven Characteristics of Addictive Relationships

I do not know the source for the following list. It is in my personal notes. Its relationship to the above is obvious.

  • Magical and Unrealistic Expectations

    The fantasy is primarily that the relationship with the right person will fix me and my problems. It is not companionship with someone to share mutually satisfying activities.

  • Desire for Instant Gratification

    The relationship with another person is treated pretty much as a drug to escape one’s own problems rather than as sharing love and companionship.

  • Consistent and Pervasive Dishonesty

    Key character flaws are kept under wraps rather than gradually and honestly disclosed as part of mutual understanding.

  • Compulsive Overcontrol and Coercion

    Personal cooperation and free choice are rejected even when freely given because personal control is all that matters.

  • Lack of Trust in the Other Person in the Relationship

    There is no rational trust in someone who has proven love and trustworthiness.

  • Social Isolation

    Outsiders are a threat to the special and forcibly exclusive relationship.

  • Recurring Cycle of Intense Pain and Intense Pleasure

    The cyle is described as:
    Intense pleasure in a very charming, seductive relationship ->
    Intensifying pain and anger from differences and disagreements ->
    Intense verbal abuse and physical violence ->
    Disillusionment with the other person and complete blameshifting for the conflict ->
    Fear of abandonment by the other person leading to desperate attempts to make up for the abuse and violence ->
    Intense pleasure again.

    The repeating cycle reinforces itself through the periods of painfree pleasure to where the periods of pain become bridges to more perceived pleasure and pseudo-intimacy.


Characteristics of Adult Children

I do not know the source for the following list either. Again, its relationship to the above is obvious. It lists the characteristics of adult children. Adult children are people whose maturation has been arrested, stymied or sabotaged through growing up in an addictive family system.

  • Alienation: no sense of belonging

  • Inadequate sense of appropriate public and social behavior.

  • Fear of abandonment from unreliable childhood familial connections.

  • Easily infatuated with the emotionally unavailable.

  • Continues in familiar cycle of emotional abuse and physical violence as perpetrator or victim.

  • Defiance of authority

  • Hypersensivity: takes innocuous remarks personally very easily.

  • Overcontrolled and fearful of spontaneity.

Controlling Others As Counterfeit Love

Some years ago I heard Barbara Cook share the following material. I copied much of it down on the spot, since I was then the pastor of a congregation where most had come from an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. Much of the following material is  also contained in her book, Love and Its Counterfeits.

Other than a number of the sermons of Erwin Lutzer, I cannot remember ever hearing any pastor call trying to control another person and its attendant deception and emotional, verbal, physical and often spiritual abuse, as sin. Yet Christ is the actual Lord of any believer, and each believer is actually responsible to him completely and eternally (Romans 14:4-12, Ephesians 1:21-23). Pastor Lutzer additionally called it a sign of demonic influence, and I would agree. It’s a sign of someone listening to a deceiving voice telling that person, ‘ . . . you will be like God . . .’ (Genesis 3:5). The unbelievably low cunning and determination which a controlling person can manifest beyond all reason can definitely point to the malicious and deceptive instigation of spiritual wickedness behind the controller. I would challenge all pastors to point out these sins in their preaching in the future.


Obsessions of the Controller

Biblical, Christlike love is servanthood, not control:. . . serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:14). It is seeking the highest good of another person according to the standards of the Word of God. Attempts to control others pollute love, sabotage their God given responsibility for their own lives, and may eventually destroy the relationship. Here are some of the self deceptions of the person who attempts to control others in their lives.

1. Self Deception: “I believe that a person who changes to my specifications will be a better person.”

Reality: This is a dangerous arrogance of personal authority and presumption of personal knowledge of what is best for another person. Only God can be the real judge of what is best for another person.

2. Self Deception: “I am responsible to make another adult do what he should do.”

Reality: Each adult has his own responsibility before God to follow his will, and will answer personally to God for how he has fulfilled that responsibility.

3. Self Deception: “God has given me special insight and capability to help this person make necessary changes in his or her life.”

Reality: This is mistaking the voice of obsession for the voice of the Holy Spirit, and is a rationalization of attempts to play the Hoy Spirit in another person’s life. The real agenda of the Holy Spirit is different than that of another human being, and he does not originate nor stand behind obsessions.

4. Self Deception: “I would be happier if this other person changed.”

Reality: Happiness is dependent upon your personal choice of the will of God.

5. Self Deception: “I meet my emotional needs by exerting power over others.”

Reality: God wants you to find satisfaction in a humble walk with himself.

6. Self Deception: “I am overprotective of those whom I love.”

Reality: God alone is sufficient to protect and defend his people.


Biblical Truths for Rescuers

1. “Results in another person’s life are not my responsibility.”

2. “My preconceived notions of what the end result of my helping may be far from God’s actual intentions for another person.”

3. “I cannot change another person, no matter how much I care and want to help.”

4. “No strings of control are to be attached to my gift of love.”

5. “I am not needed in the role of Messiah.”

6. “I must never underestimate my own human vulnerability.”

7. “I must never overestimate my ability to know what is best for another adult.”

8. “I am not superior. I am just a friend, a person who has chosen to love.

9.”Only eternity will reveal the fruit of love I have sown in other’s lives.”

10. “When I love another person, I offer it as a gift to Christ.”


Counterfeit Love

1. You have given another person power over your emotions.

2. You have given away control of your identity to another person.

3. You have violated your moral standards and beliefs.

4. You have assisted another person in the continuance of a destructive behavior by allowing that person to escape the destructive consequences of that behavior.

5. You have been victimized, manipulated or used.

6. You have submitted to treatment that makes you feel worthless, treatment tht ignores your Godgiven human value and right to respect.

7. You have been refusing to take a serious look at reality.

8. You have repeatedly endangered your physical health and safety and endangered your life.


Guidelines for the Chronic Victim

1. Do something about your safety.

If you are suffering physical abuse or harassment, inform the authorities, and physically separate yourself from the situation.

2. If you are suffering physical abuse, insist that the abuser get help immediately.

Do not return to live with him until he has demonstrated radically changed character and actions through moral responsibility for his behavior. Accept no apologies or promises of change as sufficient without concrete steps to change and demonstrations of change.

3. Let others help you out of your situation.

Form a support system of concerned, trustworthy friends and relatives, especially among brothers and sisters in Christ.

4. Examine your attitudes about love and trust in regard to the scriptures.

5. Go through a life pattern inventory of how your situation has affected you.

JESUS AND THE ABUSED: HIS HELP

“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18.

  • Recognize Christ alone can be the Savior from sin for both yourself and the abuser.

A sinful life pattern which often emerges is a compulsion to try to “help” the abuser out of his pattern. This pattern becomes more pronounced often if the abuser is also an addict to drugs or alcohol or sexually promiscuous. This pattern of compulsive attempts to “help” likewise is a sinful reaction to the abuse, that of presumption. No human being has either the capacity or responsibility to “help” another person out of his sinful life patterns in an unscriptural fashion.

  • Receive his forgiveness and power to overcome sinful emotional reactions to abuse.

An abused person is a victim, of course, but still remains a human being under the power of fallen human nature. A perfect victim would not react to suffering by falling into sinful reactions; unfortunately, victims who themselves have the tendencies of fallen human nature often do.

The Apostle Peter wrote the description of Jesus’s example of the proper reaction to suffering for those who suffer:

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

He committed no sin,

and no deceit was found in his mouth.

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we, having died to sins, should live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like seep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”(I Peter 2:21-25).

Peter’s description of the Christlike reaction to suffering originally was meant for Christian slaves who were undergoing abuse by cruel masters. It is, though, applicable to anyone who has undergone physical and verbal abuse.

The essence of the reaction of Jesus was that the sin of his abusers did not mean for him to react with sin.

  • First, he refused the aggressive reaction to verbal and physical abuse; he did not retaliate with insults to the verbal abuse offered to him, nor did he react with threats of violence to the violence inflicted upon him.
  • Next, he refused the passive reaction of fear to the verbal and physical abuse inflicted upon himself, by the strength of his trust in the justice of God the Father. His suffering of the cross was by no means because of any personal weakness and helplessness. Jesus was not a “wimp”; in fact, he could have avoided the cross entirely and could have left the cross at any time if he were not totally surrendered to the will of the Father to suffer and die for the sins of the world.

The suffering of Jesus was, moreover, a constructive, purposeful suffering. The whole purpose of the crucifixion was, from the intention of Satan, to destroy him. In the purpose of God, though, he turned it into good for those that he loved by making it the sacrifice for the sins of the world and the payment for eternal life for his followers. His suffering then meant freedom for his followers from the power of sin, so that they could live in the power of righteousness in eternal life. Even more, his suffering provided healing for his people; reading this passage, Christian slaves might think of their healing from the marks of their beatings by his being beaten and whipped for them.

Apart from a scriptural understanding of and Christlike reaction to suffering, an abused person can generally fall into one of two sinful life patterns in reaction to his or her abuse.

1. The reaction of fear: This can become a life-dominating fear of others that will mean further sins of unbelief and disobedience:

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare (a stumblingblock to many sins),

but whoever trusts in the Lord will be kept safe”

(Proverbs 29:25).

2. The reaction of anger: This can lead to an aggressive life pattern in which the abused becomes the abuser, through having seen and imitated his relations to others:

“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man,

do not associate with one easily angered,

or you may learn his ways,

and get yourself ensnared”

(Proverbs 22:24-25).

  • Receive the comfort of Jesus for the pain and anguish of your suffering.

The comfort of Jesus means his promise and offer of healing for a broken heart: II Corinthians 1:3-5; comfort for those who have suffered; the abused can be comforters to those who suffer, sympathetic and the avenues of the comfort of Christ to others, avoid becoming abusive, because you know how it feels

  • Allow Jesus to mold a new respect in dealing with earthly authority.

Sometimes the abused have problems with trust and dealing with earthly authorities. They may reject earthly authority and become fiercely independent. But this means becoming like sheep going astray, each one turning to his own way. Jesus is the authority who understands and who cares above all others. Trusting Jesus and his will is the first step back to a right relationship with earthly authorities.

  • Allow Jesus to guide, strengthen and fill you for a new life of loving others as he has loved you.

The abused often have problems with love and vulnerability. But caring for others will mean learning to become vulnerable to others again. This means coming close enough and trusting enough to be hurt again. Note that Jesus puts his heart on the line every moment in his relationship with us!

  • Learn how valuable you and others are to God as human beings as the basis of a proper self respect and respect for others.

Learning your personal value to God means learning also the value of others as well. This means unlearning any habits of denigration of others: James 3:9: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.”

  • Live in the new reality of who you are in Christ and the power of his Holy Spirit.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

JESUS AND THE ABUSED: HIS SYMPATHY

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus understands suffering. The course of his trial and crucifixion shows that he knows by personal experience the depths of physical and verbal abuse by other human beings. Though he is the almighty Son of God, the reality of his human nature means that it was not any less painful for him. His pain and suffering not only paid the price for the sin of the world, though; his suffering also provides perfect insight into the nature, endurance and purpose of suffering.

Death by crucifixion was especially feared and disdained because death came only at the end of an extended process that was not only physically painful but also the ultimate violation of a person’s humanity and identity. This is why the crucifixion could be called the ultimate abuse. Because he endured all that without a single sinful thought or word, Jesus demonstrates to the believer the godly way to understand, accept and transcend his own suffering, since he is the ultimate example of a totally innocent person who suffered.

Those who have undergone abuse in some way — physical, verbal and emotional, even sexual — often have a hard time facing, understanding and transcending their experience of abuse. The believer in Christ, though, has someone who understands and has experienced the ultimate abuse himself, and can stand beside and help the believer to understand his or her experience, through his own experience on the cross. Moreover, the Lord Jesus can give more than the understanding of that experience; he can give perfect sympathy, comfort, a new life and meaning to that suffering which will mean good for others out of what may have seemed pointless pain.

Considering one’s suffering may be extremely difficult. Sometimes the memories can be very deeply buried, and even when the memories can more easily come to mind, they may provoke reactions such as denial which hinder the process of proper understanding and conquest. Sometimes well meaning fellow believers influenced by teachings on “healing of memories” or “healing of emotions” will take one through semi mystical or magical sessions of visualization or prayer aimed at emotional relief, and indeed there is some temporary relief, but the deep underlying patterns are not altered. Consideration of one’s suffering in the light of the suffering of Jesus, though, may enable one to face honestly and openly what one has suffered from others. It also would provide something more than mere emottional relief, but definite answers on the proper reactions to suffering as well as the sympathy of someone who has also suffered.

Scripture definitely enjoins consideration of one’s suffering alongside that of Jesus: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). Indeed, this may be one more reason why the gospels go into the account of Jesus’s suffering in more detail than any other period of his earthly life, so that suffering believers can find his sympathy and understanding of their suffering. This consideration of the suffering of Jesus with one’s own suffering, though, is not unwarranted psychologizing of scripture; it is an application of the scriptural pattern of the comparison of the sufferings of Jesus with those of his people.

The Lord Jesus has given the believer the promise of his spiritual companionship: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21). Before you begin the process of understanding your suffering by understanding his suffering first, reaffirm to the Lord your love for him and your commitment to demonstrate this through obedience to him. Ask him, as your best and closest friend, to be with you in this time, to speak to you through his Word, to guide, strengthen and comfort you as you share together in this time of special trust and spiritual intimacy. Jesus knows your experience, not just because he knows all things (John 20:17), but through his personal human experience in the time of his betrayal, trial, and crucifixion.


  • The suffering of Jesus came through the betrayal of a trusted friend:

The betrayal of the trust Jesus had placed in a friend led to his suffering. See Matthew 26:47-50, Mark 14:43-46, Luke 22:47-48, John 18:2-9. Judas Iscariot had lived with Jesus for three years as one of the trusted Twelve. Even during the Last Supper, when Jesus offered him a special morsel, it was an offer of lasting friendship and a silent appeal for him not to betray him. But when the betrayal came it was even through an act of false friendship — a kiss. Jesus thus knows what it is like to have been betrayed.

One of the characteristics of much abuse is that it comes often through those whom we had felt some reason to trust — a family member, a spouse, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or some other friend or neighbor. Write down the names of those whom you trusted who brought suffering upon you.Ask the Lord to give you his strength to forgive each one completely, for the breach of trust first of all, and then each aspect of your suffering.

Note also that Judas acted under direct Satanic instigation (Luke 22:3, John 13:2, 27). What Judas’s real motive was in the betrayal of Jesus was is not revealed, but the fact that he accepted a bribe for the betrayal suggests that it was at least partially greed. As the treasurer of the group, Judas pilfered from their funds, and this secret sin of stealing seems to have been how Satan gained access to his heart. Often the abusive and instigators of abuse share this same characteristic, that their actions come through demonic instigation, especially if their attacks are directed against believers in Christ. Jesus knows what it means for us to face the fiercest attacks of the enemy through human agents.

Satan does not seem to gain access to the hearts of abusers through greed, though. He finds his foothold in the desires and emotions of the fallen human nature which scripture calls the flesh. There are two specific ways that this seems to come about:

1. Through anger: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). The abusive many times are holding in a great store of resentment. This seething anger may erupt in violence against the innocent or in response to mere annoyance and irritation.

2. Through a desire for power over another person: ” . . . if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts . . . Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, carnal, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14-16). Abusers often have such a desire to control their circumstances that they will resort to extremes of deceit and violence even in their own families. Moreover, this explains why an abusive person can seem almost supernaturally cunning: his human nature furnishes the footholds for demonic influence. Like Judas, an abusive person can suffer severe pangs of conscience after the suffering of their victims becomes clear (Matthew 27:3-4). In the case of Judas, the remorse was so great as to drive him to suicide (Matthew 27:5). Abusers can go through suicidal depressions as well, but they may also seek to escape their consciences through drugs, alcohol, or sexual immorality. This is why an abuser can go through tremendous psychological and physical degeneration, and can become a confirmed addict, if he or she is not one already.

Another way an abuser may try to deal with his conscience is by attempting a reconciliation with his victims. The apologies and attempts to make it up can sometimes give their victims that they really are going to change, and arouse their compassion in a desire to “help” a person with such remorse. Unfortunately these change rarely last longer than the emotions which spawned the apologies. Genuine change shows itself in a deep repentance.


  • His closest friends abandoned Jesus during his time of suffering:

See Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50. All the disciples fled, although Peter and John later came to trail the mob who had apprehended Jesus. This then led to Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus when he was confronted with the fact. All those who had said they would not abandon him and even that they would die for him failed when put to the test.

Often in situations of abuse there are those with genuine affection but no courage or strength to stand alongside the abused. Many times those who fail us are also believers in Christ as well. Jesus’s friends failed him, too. He forgave them and later restored them to useful places of ministry. Write down the names of those friends who failed you. Tell Jesus that you want to forgive them as he forgave the apostles for their abandonment, and ask him for his strength to do so. Ask him also to work it out that the relationship can be restored to stronger, more affectionate and more mutually helpful than it was before.


  • Jesus’s suffering came through injustice from the authorities:

See John 18:13-24, where Jesus, in his preliminary hearing before Annas, the “retired” but probably de facto, high priest, was struck illegally for an allegedly disrespecful answer to a question probably meant to induce him to incriminate himself. Jesus then pointed out the injustice of this treatment.

In his actual trial before the Jewish ruling authorities, Jesus faced:

  • beatings and mockings before the trial and afterwards from the Jewish Temple guards
  • an trial held at an illegal time (before dawn)
  • the acceptance of false testimony by the authorities without any cross examination
  • condemnation to death upon a direct question from the high priest, who was to remain neutral as he presided

From his trial before the Jewish ruling council Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, for the confirmation of the death sentence. Here he faced:

  • further beating and mocking from Roman guards
  • further false accusations
  • the preference of a murderer to himself
  • three separate acquittals by the governor before the death sentence was imposed

Many times an abusive situation includes injustice from the civil and religious authorities, either in failure to enforce civil and spiritual sanctions or actual collusion with the abuser. Those who were to uphold the civil law and the Word of God do not always do so. This means that the victim of abuse often can have great difficulties in trust and cooperation with legitimate spiritual and civil authorities, even those who are genuinely trustworthy and ready to help, because the others have shown themselves untrustworthy, uncooperative or even hostile; in short, unjust.

Write down the times of injustice that you have experienced, and the names of those who were responsible. Tell Jesus that you forgive them, as you trust him for the strength to do so and to make it stick. Ask him also to enable you to have a scriptural view on the civil, spiritual and family authorities that God has established in this world, so that you will not be brought into sinful rebellion against the just and conscientious in reaction to the unjust, uncooperative and hostile. (Family authorities need to be included also, because sometimes abuse comes from them also, and general infiltration of an underlying attitude of rejection of authority can disrupt family life also.)


  • Jesus’s suffering meant intense physical pain and physical helplessness:

By the time Jesus had been sentenced to crucifixion, he had already endured beatings from the Jewish Temple guards, the guards of Herod Antipas, and the Roman guards of Pilate. There was normally also a preliminary whipping with a cat o’ nine tails (Matthew 27:26, John 19:1), after which Pilate still tried to have Jesus released. The purpose of the whipping was to weaken the condemned sufficiently that death would come more quickly on the cross.

After the whipping the actual crucifixion began (Matthew 27:33-35, Mark 15:22-24, Luke 23:33 John 19:17-18). Jesus was then fixed to the cross, in a place of utter physical helplessness, by large iron nails, as big and thick as a railroad spike, through his hands and his feet. His reaction was the prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”(Luke 23:34).

Those who have endured physical abuse not only have the painful awareness of the violence upon them but often a sense of shame at their physical powerlessness to retaliate. Jesus also knows what it means to have violent blows assail his body. He knows the sense of physical helplessness before those who are inflicting such pain upon him. His reaction was not retaliation, though, but forgiveness from the heart.


  • Jesus’s suffering included sexual shame:

Jesus was forcibly stripped of all his clothes and nailed to the cross entirely naked before the crowds of onlookers (Matthew 27:35, Mark 16:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24). The depictions of the crucifixion have usually left this out by portraying him with a loincloth, and the gospels respectfully do not dwell on this, because it was a well known part of crucifixion. This would have been a tremendous violation of Jesus’s modesty: a Jewish man would have felt an unspeakable shame at this exposure before the crowds.

Many times abuse also includes the violation of sexual modesty and sexual consent. Jesus has a sense of what you have felt in his own human experience, if you have been abused in this manner. Often this violation can lead to unscriptural and dysfunctional attitudes toward sex and marriage itself, as a reaction to the shame and revulsion of this experience. The sexually abused can become either unscripturally immoral or unscripturally inhibited. The solution will then be found in careful understanding and acceptance of the scriptural teaching on romantic love, sex and marriage as the path to sexual sanity.


  • Jesus’ suffering included intense verbal abuse:

Verbal abuse was a constant part of the suffering of Jesus. All that he knew to be true of himself was constantly held up to derision (See Matthew 27:38-43, Mark 15:27-32, Luke 23:35-38, for the verbal abuse that occure while he was on the cross itself). His emotional reaction to all the verbal abuse that he suffered is not recorded, but it is clear that he did not return one hostile or derisive word to all that was offered to him. Jesus knows how it feels to be treated with such disdain, ridicule, and scorn.

In modern America there is a children’s saying that is manifestly untrue:

“Stick and stones may break my bones,
But words will never hurt me!”

Sometimes those who suffer verbal abuse are heaped with an additional shame and derision for the pain that they suffer, as if it means that they are somehow weak people. There is such a thing as oversensitivity, but it often is more on the part of the verbally abusive than the victim. The verbally abusive often blame their victims in this way for the pain that they inflict, as part of the whole pattern of disdain for another human being that underlies their form of abuse.

The Scriptures recognize the real pain that scorn, mocking, and insults inflict upon a person. In the Psalms the effects are often described:

1. Emotionally: shame, heartbreak, loneliness and discouragement:

“You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.”
(Psalm 69:19-20, a Messianic Psalm)

2. Physically: loss of energy, loss of appetite, loss of weight, insomnia: Psalm 31:10, 102:4-9

3. Shyness:

“I said, ‘ . . . I will put a muzzle on my mouth
as long as the wicked are in my presence'”
But when I was silent and still,
not even saying anything good,
my anguish increased.
(Psalm 39:1).

Shyness has been called a reactive sin; it is a pattern of learned silence and lack of assertion in response to the stifling verbal abuse of others. It can be termed a sin inasmuch as it masks resentment and hinders Christlike love and assertive righteousness.

Chronically shy people are often those who have been in an atmosphere of constant ridicule and verbal hostility. Shyness is neither a lasting nor uncommon characteristic; almost everyone is shy at some point in their adolescent or adult lives, and most do grow out of it, though it may be suspected that the most severely verbally and emotionally abused remain the most shy througout their adult lives. Unfortunately, some of the shy become verbally abusive themselves because they have never learned to express themselves courteously and respectfully to others

Often the chronically shy have been treated in such a way that they have little experience in receiving and giving positive, upbuilding communication such as in Ephesians 4:15 ( “. . . speaking the truth in love . . . “) and 4:29. There is a real ministry of the body of Christian modelling and encouraging Christlike assertion and loving communication from the shy.

One of the reasons why the verbal abuse could not have affected Jesus deeply was that it was contrary to the truth about himself that he knew from the Word of God. Likewise you can find strength against verbal abuse in what the Word of God says about you. Write down some of the ways in which you have been verbally abused. Contrast what God’s Word says to be true of you in Christ to the denigration you have received from others. Read through the book of Ephesians and write down what God says that you are in Christ.


  • Jesus had to make arrangements for the care of his family members because of his suffering:

During his suffering Jesus took care to entrust his family responsibility as the eldest son to someone else when he assigned the care of his mother to the apostle John (John 19: 26-27). He knew that he would no longer be able to carry out his human family responsibilities any longer; first, because of his suffering and imminent death, but later because of his resurrection and ascension. He knows what that physical separation from family feels like.

Sometimes an abusive situation requires separation from family members for one reason or another. Write down those from whom you have been separated. Commit each one to the care of God first of all. Write down what measures you can take to ask others in the body of Christ to care for them.


  • Jesus experienced the ultimate loneliness during his suffering:

Jesus faced the abandonment or helplessness of all his friends in the course of his trial and crucifixion, and finally even God the Father seemed far away: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). Thus Jesus knows how it feels not to have a sense of the presence of God in the moment of deepest suffering.

Jesus’s sense of separation from God the Father was due to his bearing the wrath of God for the sins of the world, but even so he knew that he was not truly abandoned by the Father. As he anticipated his suffering the next day, he told the apostles, “You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32). In his last breaths, in his expression of trust in the Father despite this sense of separation, he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). This demonstrates that the feelings of separation or abandonment may not reflect a true breach of fellowship with God.

Many believers have testified to an unusual sense of the presence of God during suffering; others have also said that they have felt abandoned by God during that time. Sometimes believers develop a bitterness against God because of this sense of emotional abandonment. The truth is that God is there and that he cares regardless of the emotional sense of his presence during that time of suffering. ” . . . God has said,

‘Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

(Hebrews 13:5)

The reality of God’s presence and care cannot be restricted to a human emotional phenomenon nor to the vicissitudes of human circumstances, but comes from the declaration of his Word of his care and presence regardless of human emotion or circumstances. Realize that God was there during the time of your deepest suffering, and that he cared when you experienced your most difficult pain. Thank him for that, and for the truth that he will always be there for you in the present and the future, because he has promised just that.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.