Abused

There is the name of a prison, in Iraq, which is now a name which brings shame and embarrassment. Abu Gharib prison is now known as where physical and sexual abuse of prisoners took place from 2003-2006. The prisoners were there simply to be detained before trial. No one there had been convicted of a crime, and the cruel and degrading treatment that happened to them at the hands of those assigned to detain them was not part of their responsibilities. The physical and sexual abuse of these prisoners was never a part of the responsibilities of the soldiers who had been assigned to guard them. Eventually eleven soldiers were charged with and convicted of dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault and battery. They were sent to military prison and dishonorably discharged for prisoner abuse.

The abuse of prisoners who are simply being detained is nothing new in this world due to human nature being fallen. It’s as old as crime and punishment. And it happened to Jesus, too. There’s a brutal paragraph in the gospel of Mark which describes the physical and psychological abuse of Jesus while he was being detained as a prisoner awaiting execution that same day. This apparently happened during the remaining time before the Roman guards rounded up all three prisoners that were going to be taken out to execution by public crucifixion that day.

The paragraph which describes the prisoner abuse of Jesus at the hands of the Roman guards is a very tough paragraph to read and to let it sink in. But maybe that’s part of the problem with preaching and teaching today: we may be avoiding the difficult passages for the familiar ones which don’t force us to think, pray and meditate on tough things. It seems like in the modern church we rarely deal with the passages which deal with the crucifixion except in the Sundays which precede Good Friday in the Christian calendar year. And too much of what we say about the crucifixion seems to be explaining how crucifixion worked to a modern audience rather than understanding what the scriptural narrative has to say to us today. Certainly we need to understand the historical background of crucifixion to understand the sufferings of Jesus, but I think that there’s much more that is in these passages that God has been seeking to tell his people in all the ages since the crucifixion. So the first thing is to approach these passages with a  prayerful heart to let God show us what he wants us to see in the process which led up to the ultimate victory over sin and death, and what the suffering of his Son means for his people in all ages.

First of all understand that all that happened to Jesus in this paragraph was not part of the assignment of the guards who were part of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem in the first century AD. Nothing that they did to Jesus was under orders from their superiors.  Yet the abuse which happened to Jesus was a crime – perhaps not a crime in the legal sense in that day and age – yet still a crime of opportunity and crime to which the Roman authorities, from Pilate to the garrison commander, gave their silent permission . It serves as a continued reminder of the tough times that that people lived through then, and how those in authority could let additional abuse pile on to the already brutal and cruel punishments for civil and political crimes.

Doubtless many times believers who have read these verses over the years have read these verses have found themselves in the same situation as Jesus was on that day about 30 AD, in the city of Jerusalem.  Many, many times believers who followed Jesus also have had to endure abuse like him when they were imprisoned and on trial for their profession of faith in Jesus. Too often in the North American church we seem to be unaware of the fact that many times throughout history the normal experience of being a believer in Jesus Christ has been suffering for one’s faith in Jesus. We may get very comfortable with the familiarity of sitting and singing in our pews with our family and friends and forget that for many believers in Jesus throughout history doing just that would be a rare part of their experience. Many times they have suffered rejection and abuse from friends and family members for their faith in Jesus, and abuse from the civil authorities as well. Believers over the years have been subject to fines, beatings, imprisonment and execution for their faith in Jesus And when they would look at passages like this, they could find special comfort in knowledge that Jesus himself had been treated the same way when he was detained before and after his trials before the Jewish and Roman authorities.

This passage is also a stark reminder of the cruel reality of our fallen world and  of the the brutal and abusive monsters that sin can make and does make of so many of us. It reminds us of the horrible abuse that may come upon the most innocent among us, when we bear the cross after Jesus. Even more, though, it is also part of the theme of the Bible that God brings the greatest goods out of the deepest suffering of his people. It is part of the deeply laid thread of suffering that can be traced throughout the Bible, throughout the Psalms and the Prophets, that was then fulfilled ultimately in Jesus. It is in the suffering of Jesus,  where we see the suffering of the righteous and innocent in this world, that then finds its answer in the ultimate suffering of the Righteous One, the one that God sent into our world to pay the price for our redemption. In addition, this passage gives insight not only into his suffering for us, of the price that was paid for our salvation. It also shows that the Old Testament salvation promise that was fulfilled in the suffering of the Son, who also redeems also our own sufferings which come in this world. And this passage also starkly exposes the evil of this world for what it is, as we see how the evil of this world treated the holy, righteous and innocent Son of God during this time – and then that sets the stage for his ultimate victory over all the evil that this world had to offer.

“Then the soldiers took him (Jesus) away from the courtyard, which is the Praetorium, and they called together the whole unit. And they dressed him in purple, and, after they had plaited a crown of thorns, they placed it on him. And they began to greet him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they began to beat him around the head with a reed, they began to spit on him and  they knelt on the ground and offered obeisance to him.  And when they had finished deriding him, they took off the purple garment and put his own clothes back on him. And they led him out to crucify him.” (Mark 15:16-20, Dale’s sight translation).

As it happened to Jesus, the abuse of this world starts with verbal abuse. All the mockery and degradation which Jesus received is typical of how abuse of other people starts among us in this world. And it is typical of the behavior of the people in this world he came to save. The abuse of the Savior in this world ultimately does point to the need of both the abused and the abuser for the Savior who was abused to the point of his death on the cross.

So often, the abuse of this world happens often because the authorities of this world allow it. Like the abuse of so many in our age, the abuse which Jesus suffered was a crime of opportunity. It happened like it does so often, when someone seems to be helpless to resist and isolated from the help of others – and others see that as an opportunity for cruel fun at the expense of another person. And Jesus himself experienced this – being isolated and seemingly unable – and in his case, unwilling – to resist the cycle of abuse which was poured upon him, with the silent approval of the civil authorities.

“Then the soldiers took him (Jesus) away from the courtyard, which is the Praetorium, and they called together the whole platoon.” (verse 16) This is how the prisoner abuse of Jesus started: the soldiers of the Roman garrison received their assignment to keep Jesus in custody until the time came for the bizarre crucifixion parade. So this would have happened after the official scourging that usually took place before the crucifixion. So when this happened Jesus would already have been bloody and physically traumatized just short of dying. And so the guards saw  the helplessness of this whipped, bloodied and beaten man  as an opportunity for some extremely cruel fun. They then called together anyone who was available and off duty to deal with this prisoner.

Again, as far as it went for the Roman guards, it was not part of their duty as guards to do what they began to do with Jesus. But neither did those in authority over them try to restrain them at all. The guards simply had a helpless, isolated, already bloodied victim on their hands to torment for sadistic pleasure – and while this happened, the civil authorities looked the other way. It’s very probable that what happened to Jesus happened under the eye of the Roman centurion who later presided over the crucifixion. It’s entirely possible that Pontius Pilate also was in a place to witness what happened to Jesus. Each of them could have put a stop to what was happening with a simple order. Maybe they thought that they couldn’t bother with it. Maybe they thought that they couldn’t afford to irritate the guards by putting a stop to their cruel fun. But in any event they did nothing.

Even more, though, when Jesus went into Roman custody, as a Jewish man there was no protection for him under the Law of God from the brutality of the Roman guards. When the Jewish leaders gave Jesus over to the Romans, he had entered the arena where the civil authorities were not restrained by anything in the Law of God. The Old Testament had a number of regulations and limits on civil punishments, on fines and physical punishment and  even on execution as a punishment for civil crimes, notably premeditated murder. If Jesus had been under Jewish custody where the Law of God was respected, this treatment would have been illegal. But when Jesus came under the custody of the Roman guards, he came into a place where the Law of God was not respected and where the civil authorities offered him absolutely no protection against the worst that the sinful hearts of the Roman guards could offer at that time. There was no hint of any kind of even common decency that was shown to Jesus as he was a prisoner under guard awaiting execution within a couple of hours.

So now we can look back and recognize that this is the way of the abusers in this world:  the opportunity for them to practice their abuse is simply a soft target, as Jesus was.  And Jesus allowed this to happen to him. This was part of his journey to the cross to which he went willingly and with full understanding of all it would mean to him. And yet when Jesus allowed himself to be subjected to this kind of abuse, Jesus was not sanctioning or excusing what happened to him. It was as evil then as it happened to him as it could be, since this was, in his own words, the hour of darkness. He took it all upon himself as he served the Father in this world, as part of the suffering of his mission.

Even more, Jesus endured this time without a single angry word, look or thought. With all his experience of the terrible things that happen in this world, and especially those that happened during the last few hours of his earthly life, he still remained without sin. “For we do not have a High Priest who is not able to sympathize with our weaknesses, , but one who was tempted in all the same ways, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). See how this description of the brutal abuse of Jesus at the hands of his guards is striking not for what Jesus had to say, but for what he did not say – or do. Nothing that happened to him resulted in him saying or doing one little thing contrary to the will of God the Father – not one insulting, resentful or vengeful word slipped through his mouth.  And it is ironic to consider what a great reversal that will happen when his abusers fall into his hands of utter justice, on the day that they face the justice of God with Jesus as their judge as well – but that’s something to consider for another time. Jesus still expects, though,  that his followers will be treated no differently in this world, and that his followers would behave differently than the abusers of this world. He has already set the example on how his people are to act when faced with abuse: they are not to return the abuse.

So what happened to Jesus is the common way that an abuse cycle starts. It’s a crime of opportunity, where the perpetrator finds a helpless and isolated target for cruelty. Or it’s a situation where a little authority in the hands of an angry and deceitful person may lead to a lot of abuse. A person who already has a mean streak and a cruel disposition will often be especially alert to these opportunities. Prisoner abuse is a continued reality of prisoner abuse for the imprisoned throughout the world – and often enough those who are abused are fellow believers in Christ who are suffering for their faith in Christ. Still, though, speaking out and against prisoner abuse has been a part of the ministry to the prisoner which has been a part of the ministry of the church as a whole for over 2000 years. During the Wesleyan revival of the 1700s which gave rise to the Methodist church, John and Charles Wesley often risked themselves often enough in evangelizing and ministry to prisoners. There were often times that they would be locked into prison and spend the night in ministry to men who were to be executed the next day. While the Wesleys were also strong advocates for the abolition of slavery, their work on prison reform was also exemplary of the ministry of the church to prisoners as they spoke out against the abuse by neglect and degrading conditions which prisoners faced then.

So the abuse of this world starts with verbal abuse. It so often begins with the avalanche of ridicule and mockery intended to degrade another human being and grind the soul of another down into the ground. This is too often part of  what men and women do to each other in this world, and it naturally happened to Jesus as well during the hours of his own suffering. It became the acting out of a sick attempt at comedy in the Roman garrison.

“And they dressed him in purple, and, after they had plaited a crown of thorns, they placed it on him. And they began to greet him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (verses 17-18). This whole charade, this mocking of Jesus, was a grotesque vaudeville of the homage given to the emperor. That’s where they got the idea for what they were doing. They were mocking Jesus as if he were a fake Caesar. What they used as an ersatz purple cloak was probably just a faded scarlet rag of a cloak – something too worn to use as part of a uniform, but just happened to be on hand for this purpose. The crown of thorns was a vicious and painful mockery of the wreath of Julius Caesar. They made him sit down so that it was as if he were seated on a throne. Then their greeting,  the “Hail, King of the Jews” was just a mockery of “Hail, Caesar!” the clichéd greeting that is common in films depicting Roman times. So this whole hideous masquerade was treating Jesus as a fake Caesar, as a Jewish emperor. It may have in fact been the way they had treated a Messianic pretender or two previously who tried to stir up violent revolution against the Roman government. 

Again, as throughout the entire Passion narratives, it is striking is not only what Jesus did say but also what he didn’t say. When this whole sick parody was going on, he didn’t reply with mockery and verbal abuse on his part. He did not treat them as they were treating them. If we were in that same place, do you think that we would find it easy not to let out one retaliatory insult? Do you think that it would be easy for us not to sneer and mock them back? He lived out the Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah  who was silent as a lamb.  And again, this is what he expects from us when we face the same kinds of things. “For to this you have been called, because Christ has also suffered us and has left behind a scripturally recorded example, that you might follow after his footsteps, ‘ . . . who committed no sin, nor was anything deceitful found in his mouth . . .’. He was verbally abused but did not return that abuse, he suffered but did not answer back with threats but surrendered himself to the One who judges righteously . . .” (I Peter 2:21-23, Dale’s sight translation).

In our modern world, the verbal abuse seems to be something that the abusers find necessary to continue their abuse. This kind of degradation of the soft target seems to be something that they find they need to do, to dehumanize the target for continued abuse. All this verbal expression of contempt for the target seems to be something that they find necessary to go into this kind of abuse. 

So let’s note one of the promises of scripture that few believers want to name and to claim for themselves: “ . . . that through many afflictions it is necessary for us to enter the kingdom of God.”  (Acts 14:22). With the promised afflictions in this world, we can expect deliberate misrepresentation, slander and contempt, mockery and ridicule. Throughout history often enough this kind of treatment may even become a hideous public show that is a part of the severe public persecution and possibly martyrdom of believers in Jesus Christ. But again, here the example of Jesus is the expectation of Jesus. Often we are given smaller challenges and provocations throughout our life as he prepares us for bigger ones, but some may find themselves in the more difficult ones from the start in their Christian lives. His expectation is that we face these challenges and provocations as he did. And something that we need to recognize is: the abuser is not in the place of Jesus but in the place of the Roman soldiers who were doing the abuse. And more on that later. 

One of the biggest challenges for any church, whatever its size and reputation, then, is what believers in Christ do if this same kind of verbal abuse starts to happen among believers in Christ. It does. Too often one person may  become embittered and begin to spread insinuations and mockery about another believer. The challenge is the reaction that the church must have when the slander and contempt start to infect and ensnare other believers in the sticky slime of one person’s hatred. I’ve seen too many times over the years when other believers in the fellowship of Christ then take on and participate in the aggression, contempt and hostility from someone with a deep grudge and a greasy story. Yet where is the repentance when they come to their senses about taking on the grudges and slander of others? We hear about church bullies – but aren’t they suitably described as abusers as well? And when one professed believer takes the place of an abuser against another believer in Christ – there is a real sense in which that professed believer is acting out the same kind of behavior that the Roman soldiers showed toward Jesus.

The silence of Jesus before the verbal abuse he was subjected to has given way to the silence of the church about verbal abuse in our day and age to the great loss of witness within our world. The church for the past generation at least has been embarrassingly silent about verbal and physical abuse as it has happened throughout that time. It was not always that way! If you look at the preaching and teaching of previous generations, they expected more from believers in Christ: they expected believers to be redeemed and transformed out of abusive ways and to be ready to correct and rebuke abuse of other people around them. Even Billy Sunday, a figure whom many might find risible in this day, confronted spouse abuse strongly in his day. And while previous generations did confront abuse more in their preaching and teaching,  they expected little else from the world without Christ, even as they expected much more from the people who claimed to have received salvation, to be followers of Christ. They expected them to grow in Christlikeness under the most challenging and trying circumstances and to live out Christlikeness before a cruel world.

Though the followers of Jesus often deal with degrading words that escalate in their hostility and aggression, it often does not end there. The abuse of this world continues with physical abuse. What begins with the degradation of the soul of another human being with words often continues with the degradation of the body of another human being. And this is also something that Jesus experienced while he was being detained for execution.

The degradation of another human being often continues with physical torment.  The torment intended to cause physical pain shows the almost demonic cruelty of human nature unrestrained by conscience or the Spirit of God. This is what also happened to Jesus, as the gospel describes in verse 19: “And they began to beat him around the head with a reed, they began to spit on him and  they knelt on the ground and offered obeisance to him.”  This mock homage to Jesus as if he were a fake Jewish Caesar went on and continued with the beatings with the stick and fists. There came spitting instead of the kiss of respect and submission;. So this was part of the mockery that the Roman guards gave to the supposed royal pretensions of Jesus.; fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah in what he received;

something which the soldiers would never have realized themselves that they were doing; the foreknowledge and foreordination of God to use their cruelty as part of the signs of the Messiah who was to come, to give it a meaning far different than their own intentions could have ever done; note that there was nothing that Jesus said or did to them that brought on this torrent of verbal and physical abuse: the utter innocence of the sinless Son of God

So then, physical abuse is often the follow up to verbal abuse. Often enough a  little bit of power and isolation may lead to physical assaults shocking when they come light later. And just as shocking is often the utter innocence of the target who may not have done the least little thing to provoke the abuse nor even be retaliating at all.

One thing that we must emphasize over and over is that the abuser is not in the place of Jesus in the world. Rather, in terms of this passage, the abuser is in the place of the Roman soldiers who were doing the abuse –the cliché for a  professed believer taking out his or her frustrations on another believer is that person is, “Beating Up on Jesus.” And since Jesus identifies himself closely with his people and the way that they are treated, we can see that it’s a kind of continued abuse of Jesus with the mocking and beating when this goes on  even by a professed believer. The professed believer that is beating up is actually standing in the place not only of the Roman soldiers beating up on Jesus but also of the fellow servant in the parable who beats up on the fellow servant (Matthew 24:48-49:  “But if that wicked servant says in his heart, ‘My master is taking his good sweet time in getting back,’ and he begins to beat up on his fellow servants . . .’” So what is more unChristlike for any one who names the name of Christ to take such pleasure in unrighteousness as to enter into verbal and physical violence against a neighbor whom he or she is bound by scripture to love as himself or herself?

With all that Jesus went through and with all that the Bible has to say about the Christlike character that Jesus expects to develop from within his people, there is an absolutely shocking amount of physical abuse in Christian families and marriages. And yet  there is very little confrontation of it in the preaching and teaching and teaching of the church nowadays. I cannot remember one time over the over forty years that I have followed Christ that I have ever heard one time that a pastor or Christian leader has ever explicitly confronted and rebuked an abusive husband, wife, father or mother from the pulpit.

And often enough it there are other places, such as schools, where physical bullying (legal assault) may follow the verbal abuse. When it happens in schools, it’s called bullying, and the victims and targets are rarely comforted in the ministries of our churches. Yet how much would it mean to a child who is being bullied in school to hear it  mentioned once in sermons and youth groups as a real evil? And in the days of school shootings, when children in early and middle adolescence have felt it necessary to take up guns because of their experience of bullying, what would it have meant to them to have heard in church that the Savior himself had been picked on, mocked and ridiculed and beaten up? The dehumanization of peer abuse – often physical assault that is illegal when it happens between adults — takes place on an almost daily basis for many in our schools – and too many adults seem to see it just as harmless fun and a part of growing up. Indeed, some, who are not themselves experiencing the abuse,  even say that the abused in these situations simply need to suck it up and toughen up. A friend of mine who was knocked unconscious by three bullies in school during his early adolescence has written that the last thing that a bully wants is a fair fight. So there’s no amount of toughening that can deal with the real and continuous escalation that often happens where the instigation comes from a determined bully or group of bullies – or abusers in training.  And  to understand what this kind of abuse can do to an intelligent and accomplished child, Jodee Blanco told the story of her own years of abuse throughout high school in her book Please Stop Laughing at Me. Her experience was corroborated later by someone who had been a high school classmate of Jodee Blanco: “It was almost like Jodee wasn’t a real person. People could constantly pick on her and maul her, and that was the norm to do.”

So what’s the way out when this comes between believers and into churches? It’s not only for the abused to forgive abusers, but for abusers to become former abusers. And this is possible through Christ, and this should be 100% expected for anyone who comes to Christ. It’s a part of the real transformation that the gospel brings. Abusers love to put the burden of forgiveness on the abused but to take no personal responsibility for deep gospel transformation in their own lives. And anyone who is not willing to undergo the transformation that Jesus brings from the counterfeit love of the abuser to become the genuinely loving person who is being transformed into the image of Christ through the power of Christ renders the credibility of his or her conversion suspect. But this is possible. I can remember a time when I heard a brief testimony of man who had become a former abuser. He had to learn to see Jesus standing between him and his wife. He had to understand that she was his and responsible to him first. And believers in Jesus, men or women, who find that they suffer abuse in such a way may well consider that Jesus suffered in this same way.

The hour of the power of darkness continued on with further official abuse. The horrid abuse and personal degradation of the crucifixion procedure followed his brutal experience at the hands of the Roman guards. What followed was the continuation of the suffering of the totally innocent and Righteous One from the hands of an ad hoc group of abusive soldiers to a degrading and torturous and utterly undeserved death from the ruling government itself.

So this paragraph on the abuse of Jesus while a Roman prisoner concludes in verse. 20: “And when they had finished deriding him, they took off the purple garment and put his own clothes back on him. And they led him out to crucify him.” The unofficial abuse, the cruel waiting game in the morning,  is brought to an end as the official abuse of the official crucifixion procedure began. This transition required him to be given his own garments, which would probably be taken away again within the hour. The unofficial mockery and ridicule would give way to the official mockery and ridicule of the bizarre crucifixion parade to the place of execution. All this demonstrates how hateful and cruel the world Jesus entered was. And yet we so often fail to understand how the recognition of the hatefulness and cruelty of this world for what it is depends so much on the fact that Jesus came and exposed it for what it is;. It is because of him we can recognize the abuse of the innocent for what it is. Because he came and lived out the prophecy that marked him as the Messiah, as the sheep who was silent before it was led out to slaughter, we see the cruelty of this world for what it is.

It is a harsh and cruel reality that the abused often face that the authorities may condone and perhaps even sponsor further abuse and degradation. In our world the wheels of earthly justice no better than the fallen people of this world, the people who are in places of political and often religious authority. So what should have been a protective and corrective responsibility of religious and political authority often goes tragically cruel and becomes a partner in the crimes of abuse. So this highlights the need to hold civil and religious authorities accountable when they are exposed as neglecting their protective responsibilities, and to work for legal justice in our world.

We also need to recognize and grieve over the times that we have discovered that physical abuse has too often occurred in Christian ministries as well. There have been over the past few years a growing number of testimonies of physical abuse in ostensibly Christian ministries and churches. This seems to be due in part to unbiblical understanding of submission, as enforceable by aggression and violence, to use any way they can to change someone else to their whims and desires. I personally had the experience years ago of an older pastor trying to shove my face into an open Bible and yelling at me to read a scripture on submission. For further examples, just to take two, there have been also a number of more egregious stories of the abuse of both young men and women under the Bill Gothard ministry that have been coming out over the past few years and the Mark Driscoll ministry and Mars Hill Churches. Unfortunately these kinds of abuses that happen in ministries purportedly for the gentle and loving Savior definitely mar the witness of the church as a whole when abuse is given a  justification from misrepresented scriptures.

Unfortunately, the silence of Jesus before the physical abuse he suffered has too often in our day given way to the silence of the church about physical abuse in our day and age. Earlier generations did confront physical abuse within marriages, families, workplaces and prisons with prophetic preaching and teaching. Moreover, they often dealt with individual believers and often civil authorities when it came to the abuse of human beings by other human beings. But when it comes to many church leaders and believers today – silence. Crickets chirping. So it’s time for the church to end its silence over abuse – even if it’s been shown to be committed by those who some consider heroes, examples and champions of the faith.

THE CUP OF SUFFERING WHICH THE SON OF GOD DRANK MEANT ALLOWING HIMSELF TO BE TREATED WITH ALL THE HATRED AND CRUELTY THAT COMES FROM OUR WORLD OF HATRED AND CRUELTY. THE SUFFERING OF THE SON OF GOD WAS THE ULTIMATE IN THE ABUSE OF AN ENTIRELY INNOCENT PERSON IN A WORLD OF ABUSE. MAKE NO MISTAKE, WE LIVE IN A WORLD IN WHICH PEOPLE GIVE THEMSELVES, TAKE FOR THEMSELVES PERMISSIONS TO ASSAULT OTHERS WITH WORDS, HANDS , FISTS, FEET, STICKS, STONES, AND OTHER WEAPONS WITHIN BONDS OF MARRIAGE, OF PARENTHOOD AND IN THE COURSE OF THEIR WORKPLACE AND CIVIC DUTIES. TOO OFTEN ALSO THE RELIGIOUS AND CIVIL AUTHORITIES TURN THEIR BACKS, PROVIDE NO HELP OR PERHAPS EVEN ENCOURAGE AND PARTICIPATE IN ABUSE. PART OF THE REALITY THAT THE POLITICS AND RELIGION OF THIS WORLD IS NO BETTER THAN THE HATEFUL, CRUEL, SINFUL HEARTS OF MEN AND WOMEN. BUT THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS KNOW THAT RETALIATION TO ABUSE WITH ABUSE IS NOT THE ANSWER FOR ABUSE. BECAUSE OF JESUS, BECAUSE HE WAS THERE ALSO, IT IS POSSIBLE FOR HIS PEOPLE TO BE LIKE HIM AND STRONG IN HIM BEFORE HIS WORLD AS WE RECOGNIZE WHAT THIS WORLD IS AND WHAT IT DOES TO PEOPLE, BUT EVEN MORE, WHAT GOD IN HIS GOODNESS BRINGS FROM IT IN HIS SALVATION, WHAT SACRIFICIAL LOVE REALLY IS. THE SUFFERING OF THE SON OF GOD MADE IT POSSIBLE FOR HIM TO BE THE SAVIOR OF BOTH THE ABUSED AND THE ABUSER.

For the abused, then, the invitation comes from Jesus himself to come to him as the healer of broken hearts, broken spirits and broken bodies. Because he was broken himself, he knows what it is like to be broken and he can help those who have been broken and those whom others are trying to break. He understands and sympathizes beyond all others, and he brings healing beyond all others, to where what you have experienced can become past history and not present trauma of the heart, spirit and body.

For the abused, also, take up the place of forgiveness to the abusers. Not because there was anything excusable about it, but because it was inexcusable, and not because they have done anything to deserve our forgiveness. Yet forgive simply because the Son of God who forgave his abusers expects us to do so also. His strength to love and forgive still available to us when we cannot do it from ourselves, and he provides for us to learn and demonstrate genuine Christlikeness in our sufferings.

Then, for the abuser: recognize your own serious sin in verbal and physical abuse. Refuse the excuses and minimization that come from your own habits of self deception and deceit toward others. Seek forgiveness and conquest of your abusive habits and past through Jesus. He can provide the path to replacement of your past of Satanic cruelty with Christlike love and gentleness. He can transform you into what the Word of God calls for, in whatever place and role in the past in which you may have found an opportunity for abuse. He can enable you to be like Christ in that situation instead of a cruel enforcer of your will upon weaker people.

For the church as a whole: recognize the need to recover the voice of the church as a prophetic rebuke and correction to the abuse that takes place in our world. Recognize the call to recognize it, tell it for what it is, work to reduce, eliminate abuse of others in our world. Recognize also as a reason for church discipline when it happens among professed believers, and for the need for removal from office and leadership responsibilities of those in official leadership. Recognize also the need to recognize the need for care and compassion for those who have been abused. Very often enough the target is the forgotten person in these situations; too often the church may deal out some kind of punishment of abuser without compassion or help for the target. Make your ministry for abusers not something for show or gossip but rather a faithful prayer group of 2-3 who can pray with confidentiality and conquering faith for the abused and the abuser.

For all: recognize that this suffering of Jesus was the price of a most precious salvation. This most precious salvation is not something not to underestimated, but cherished and received for the great price that was paid. So love the one who went through all this for you. And if you have not received the salvation which he has provided for you through his death on the cross for you, put your faith in him now.

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Are Our Churches Reaching Out to Working Class Men?

A few years ago I asked the question on my personal blog on, with all the complaints about the secular universities, what the white evangelical churches have done to evangelize and disciple on major university campuses over the past generation. But now let’s consider something else:  have evangelical churches sought to evangelize and disciple blue collar, working class men over the past generation? Consider the spiritual darkness and despair that you’ll see in the following article:

The Privileged vs. the White Working Class

For the past generation we’ve been accustomed to look for answers in politics and government, and I don’t think that the answers here are primarily political or have much to do with government. And I don’t think that things are any easier for a black, Hispanic or Asian working class man. So, again, have evangelical churches sought to evangelize and disciple blue collar, working class class men over the past generation?

Do working class men see us as trying to do something besides trying to pull the beer and cigarettes out of their hands, to stop swearing and watching porn, and to act like good little Christian boys? Or are we rather to introduce them to the Jesus who said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”? Weren’t Peter, John, James and Andrew all working class men? And didn’t John and Charles Wesley, for example, reach out explicitly to working class men? This is just as convicting to me as to anyone else as I write it.

A Simple Prayer

“Lord, lead me out of the crazy place.”

The Modern Evangelical Church and Mental Illness

I think that for a long time it’s been a hard sell to say much about mental illness in the modern evangelical church. Mental illness has a way of challenging some of our evangelical tropes and the exaggerated conclusions we may draw form them:

  • “Jesus brings us joy”; therefore we should not feel sadness or grief, and if we do, something is wrong with us. Even more, whatever that is that may be wrong with us, I cannot speak truthfully about it because, my fellow believers will neither understand nor accept me because of it.
  • “Jesus brings us peace”; therefore we should not feel anxiety or fear, even though Jesus told us that in the world you will have tribulation.
  • “Jesus brings us love”; therefore if we are rejected and experience heartbreak, there’s something wrong with us – even though Jesus said that the world would hate us because of him.
  • “Jesus changes our lives”; therefore there is something wrong with us if something goes wrong with our thinking processes, even though Jesus told us that we will enter into the kingdom of heaven through many afflictions.

Over the years pastors and churches themselves have often followed the trends of the psychiatric and psychological community, and pastors have often seen themselves as or acted like a kind of junior varsity mental health worker. So they have often enough followed the trend of the psychiatric and psychological community in pathologizing problems of the ‘worried well’  — which we could easily call life adjustment problems –as in the same category as true brain and cognitive disabilities such as the many varieties of schizophrenia and manic depressive illness. Then, too, the casual use of much psychological terminology among proud, intrusive and ignorant people in our churches has often led to real travesties of those who try to play medical doctor or psychiatrist with second hand bits of knowledge and labels. Then again, there has often been real ignorance and actual cooperation of well meaning and compassionate believers with abusive people in the abusive practice of gaslighting.  Then again, any ministry to the poor and homeless will come to an awareness of the role of mental illness in poverty and homelessness – estimates are that in the USA 1/3 of the homeless have severe mental illness and that many of those in our prisons and jails have treatable mental illnesses, and much of this has been attributed to the desinstitutionalization of the mentally ill that took place since the 1960s. Even more, the causes of the kinds of brain diseases and cognitive impairments which are now called mental illness are not certainly known, but much of the current medical community believes that many of those who currently have twill be found to have either an environmental, bacterial, viral or other physiological origin.

I think that the first thing to do is for many to get a handle on where the current state of research is. It is now generally conceded that Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers, among others who dealt in talk therapy and investigating what they thought was happening in the subconscious or as a result of a person’s past were wrong. And it’s unfortunate that many, many pastors, who may not have had much in the way of counseling courses since the 1970s or 1980s, may be attempting to minister with now discredited or superseded theories and understanding of mental illness.In addition, the consensus is growing that there are a number of problems which cause people deep grief, sadness and anguish which are not related to brain dysfunction. Furthermore, when I consider the experience of Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, I can only think that our understanding of the prevalence of the experience of sorrow and grief in a godly and holy person in our sinful and broken world has been sadly underestimated and often misdiagnosed. So, I offer the following links only as a starting point to get information.

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On a personal note, I’ve had contact over the past decade with many others who qualify as intellectually gifted in terms of IQ. One common theme in the stories of so many is the misdiagnosis of giftedness as a mental disorder even with trained medical professionals. Here’s some more information about this tendency.

Wicked Schemes: The Social Behavior of the Abuser

I’d like to recommend to every church leader the recent blog post of Boz Tchividjian: The wicked scheme of child offending church leaders: A house of cards. In it he describes what I’ve described elsewhere as The Social Behavior of the Abuser. It’s noteworthy that his description doesn’t apply just to child abusers but to those who formulate a wicked scheme to exploit another person or persons for their own wicked and selfish ends. And this wicked and selfish end might be no more than trying to make themselves look much better than they are at the expense of someone else. Though I’ve heard church leaders pooh-pooh that wicked and selfish purpose as nothing to be concerned about, it does add up to the transgression of the commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

One thing that I’m sure of after forty years of following Christ and having had various levels of involvement with churches of various sizes and in various denominations: people do not run from a church where the church consistently shows them the love of Christ. They do run from intrusive and controlling people.

One thing that I have also noticed over the past generation: most pastors, elders and church leaders do not take Galatians 6:1 to heart: “Brothers and sisters, if any of you is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual straighten that person out in a spirit of gentleness, as you watch out for yourself, that you yourself might not be tempted.” For too many in church leadership, this seems to have devolved into – at best —  just watching out for those in egregious sexual sin and banishing and expelling them. But I would venture that it would include watching out and correcting the habitually intrusive and controlling person – the church busybody, often enough – or that person whom you see having the last conversation with a person before that person runs from your church. But again, the problem here might also be that a pastor or church leader may not realize that that person is himself or herself, and that you’ve been blindsiding, harassing and tormenting fellow believers with your wicked, self aggrandizing schemes – maybe even for decades. And unfortunately, so many at this point of realization may become embarrassed – but go no further. If you see yourself here, realize that embarrassment is not repentance, and it’s really not the godly sorrow that lead leads to a repentance that leaves no further regrets in its wake. It rather astonishes me that so many that I’ve known who have had the greatest chutzpah to interfere in the lives of others are the biggest cowards when it comes to setting things right when they are most blatantly wrong and hurtful – to repent scripturally and do restitution scripturally where possible. So then, if you see yourself here,  confess your sinful, wicked schemes before God and man with as many tears as it takes for as long as it takes.

God Does Not Demand Toughness; He Provides Overcoming and Enduring Grace

I never had anything approaching a conversation with Rex Humbard during the time that I worked in his ministry during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He might have recognized my face as someone among the dozens that worked there, but I doubt that he knew my name or anything about me. But there was something that has stated with me all these years which I overheard when I walked by him once when he was talking with several other people in the mailroom.

Rex was talking about the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. He said something to the effect that he didn’t think that he personally could have lived through the kind of conditions under which Jeremiah had his prophetic ministry, during the years from about 605 to 586 B.C.E. Rex’s point was that Jeremiah saw practically no response from anyone to his ministry; perhaps Baruch, maybe a few others, but there were very few, if any – and there was a lot of personal rejection, hardship, persecution, ostracism and imprisonment.

One thing that I can see from the ministry of Jeremiah was that his personal toughness had nothing to do with his ability to endure to the end in his prophetic ministry. In fact, Jeremiah is widely regarded as one of the most sensitive men in the Bible. He didn’t react with bluster and defiance to all that he went through; rather he often reacted with lament and tears. It’s not for nothing that he’s been called The Weeping Prophet. Yet God didn’t taunt him with his weakness; rather, he commanded him to be faithful and deliver his word, and he would make Jeremiah able to stand in the face of that would come against him:

“Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee:  be not dismayed at their faces, let I confound thee before them. For, behold I have made thee a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee: but they shall not prevail against thee, for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee.” (Jeremiah 1:17-19).

These promises came to Jeremiah when he wasn’t much more than a teenager (Jeremiah 1:7-8), but God promised that he would give his word to Jeremiah, and Jeremiah would be his messenger (Jeremiah 1:9). Moreover, God pretty much repeated the same kinds of promises of enduring grace in the face of opposition and adversity during the renewal of his call to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 15:20-21).

So, the man that God chose and used during this time was a sensitive, weepy man – maybe someone that some today would call a wimp or a wussy – someone who reacted to the apostasy of the people of God and his constant persecution with tears and laments — but God gave the enduring grace and strength to make him the iron pillar in the midst of a difficult, defiant and apostate nation. Jeremiah wasn’t a tough talker, standing up to them, facing them down, not letting them get away with anything and making sure that they knew who was boss. And I think in the face of all this, anyone who uses Jeremiah 12:5 as a taunt of personal weakness against anyone going through a hard time with other people (“If thou has run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?”) is misusing this verse. Rather, in the light of God’s dealings with Jeremiah, it can rather be seen properly as a call to find the strength of God to endure.

Pretty much same can be said of the warrior king and poet David. Throughout the Psalms you can find someone who reacted to ridicule, slander, rejection and betrayal with tears, lament and prayer. Yet he has been well regarded as the best king of Israel, a proven ruler and warrior as well as a poet. But even his prowess with the bow and spear he attributed to God:

“It is God that girdeth me with strength,
and maketh my way perfect.
He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet,
and setteth me upon my high places.
He teacheth my hands to war,
so that a bow of steel is broken
[bent] by mine arms”
(Psalm 18:32-34).

Just as much could be said about Jesus. He wept over the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35-36) and over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). He endured the crucifixion endured not out of a hard bitten and defiant toughness ethic, but with obedience to the will of the Father. Even so, he received strength through the ministry of an angel (Luke 22:43) and offered himself up through the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14).

At times the apostle Paul has been cited as an example of toughness. But he could also weep and pray over the needs of the churches and express his relief at Ephaphoditus’s  recovery from a near fatal illness (Philippians 2:27). And he did not ascribe one bit of all that he did to his own ability, strength or toughness, but rather to the grace of God. “For I am what I am by the grace of God, and his grace to me did not become empty, but rather I labored more than all of them, but not I, but the grace of God with me” (I Corinthians 15:10). “And he [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, because my power comes to its completion in weakness.’ Therefore I will most gladly take joy in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may overshadow me. Moreover, I will take contentment in weaknesses, in insults, in difficulties, in persecutions and deprivations, on behalf of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:9-10). It’s noteworthy that the apostle did not respond with trash talk (“Is that the best you can do?” “Bring it on!”) or denial of his limitations and weaknesses, but rather, sought for the power of Christ through the grace of God to overshadow his weaknesses and difficulties.

So here’s the thing. The kingdom of God is not just for the tough guys among us. God’s purpose in no one’s life, man or man, is not to make a tough guy or gal out of us; rather, his eternal purpose is to make us like Christ (Romans 8:28-30). Even more, God does not call us just to tough out our hardships and afflictions in this fallen world and in the face of spiritual evil through the power of our own broken and fallen human nature.  For instance, no human being, no one made of flesh and blood, has the power and strength to endure in this world against the principalities, the powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, the spiritual wickedness in high places. The kingdom of God does not advance by, “Only the strong survive,” or “When things get tough, the tough get going,” but by “ . . . be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” (Ephesians 6:10).

So then, in the light of scripture, the toughness ethic can be easily seen to be often both overrated and overemphasized. Scripture is notable in its absence of Marine Corp pep talks or taunting and browbeating to those undergoing affliction. Rather, the idea of persistence and toughness is most appropriate in some cases to physical and military training, but  it is horribly inappropriate to apply it to many or most situations in church ministry and business and family life. For example, I’ve had a number of friendships with physical trainers and coaches – some of whom are fine Christian men and women — and the most ineffective ones are those who have no other tactic in their repertoire than to taunt and browbeat people to perform to a standard. Rather, they instruct and encourage first. And in military training, it’s insane to attempt to taunt and browbeat someone until they have actually been instructed how to do what they are intended to do.

Over the years I’ve sensed that especially among Christian men, there is too much reliance in the different circumstances of their lives upon a ‘toughness’ ethic which often turns out to be simply ‘pretending to be tougher than you are.’ This ‘pretending to be tougher than you really are’ is what scripture calls hypocrisy and living a lie. Most Christian wives eventually come to realize that this is simply empty bluster. I’ve found that it’s very like something that Stephen Ambrose recounted in his books on the United States Army in World War II: some of those who talk toughness to others and give the greatest bluster in fold like cheap umbrellas in the time of minor adversity and opposition. And sometimes this reliance on ‘toughness’ is characteristic of Christian men who have served in the military. But there needs to be the realization among them that most of their fellow believers, men, women and children, have not served in the military, have not gone through boot camp, and cannot be regarded with contempt or disdain if they do not react to their hardships, afflictions and opposition with the toughness demanded from a Marine drill sergeant of a recruit in boot camp.

Even more, this toughness ethic can become for a man in our culture a  counterfeit of the fruit of endurance which turns out simply to be a reliance on the power of fallen human nature. I’ve noticed that this counterfeit tends to result in harsh, stubborn, hypocritical Christian men very unlike Jesus Christ. Those who try follow this kind of ethic actually tend to be quite prejudiced toward others who don’t live up to their self styled façade of toughness and tend to label others with cruel labels of weakness simply for not acting hard and impassive when undergoing hardship, rejection and opposition. In fact, this false toughness ethic sometimes goes along with abusive family relationships. For example,  someone who is in the habit of attempting to prove or display his or her personal toughness may often tend to do so through cruelty to other family members – sometimes the youngest and most helpless. And it does happen that abusers do try to whitewash for personal abuse of others with the excuse, “It’s for their own good, since I’m trying to toughen them.” So, if this results in bullying and abusive behavior, it is leading a person to behave directly contrary to the command of God, and into conduct for which that person will answer to God directly. And finally, this counterfeit ethic tends to produce men who are not suitable for church leadership nor qualified for eldership within the church.

I have also seen those who adhere to the counterfeit toughness ethic in times of persecution. A person habitually set to prove and display his or her toughness in the face of personal opposition will often react with retaliation and defiance in situations of persecution, directly contrary to the command of Jesus. Rather scripture repeatedly calls for a reliance on the Holy Spirit to give words to reply in times of persecution (Luke 21:12-15) and to demonstrate utter Christlikeness in the face of persecution (Luke 6:27-36).

Next, it may also feed a tendency among some men to label some things as unmanly because they do not fit the toughness façade, and this may lead to an inability to appreciate the beauty and kindness of a godly woman (see the Song of Solomon) and to function as a caring and compassionate father, as a loyal and honest friend and to appreciate beauty of God’s creation in nature and man’s work in areas such as art, architecture and music.

Finally, it is certainly true that Holy Spirit produces endurance, and over the course of our Christian life God will seek to grow us in endurance. But the responsibility for that is from God himself, not from any human being and certainly no malicious or abusive conduct toward any other human being made in the image of God can be excused by saying that it’s to toughen that person. Rather, let God bring about those circumstances that produce the fruit of endurance, and every other fruit of the Spirit. The production of the fruit of the Spirit is not the responsibility of anyone in leadership or any fellow Christian in the life of another believer. Rather, the need is simply to take care to produce a strong, loving, compassionate, faithful and obedient fellowship of believers growing in faith in and obedience to Christ through his Word. And even more, there needs to be a recognition that endurance is only one of the fruits of the Spirit (one of the aspects of scriptural patience), and that there needs to be balance of the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the Spirit: love and gentleness as well as patience and endurance, for example. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control; against these kinds of things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

So we need to see that the call to endurance in the scriptures is not the same as demand for toughness. Rather, we need to put the call to endurance in the proper perspective:

  • Never, ever lead with a demand for toughness to a fellow believer undergoing any kind of affliction. The call to toughness to someone in affliction can be putting a heavy burden like the Pharisees – “They tie down heavy and practically unbearable burdens on the shoulders of other people, but they themselves are not willing to lift one finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4) . Rather, scripture more often calls us to, “Bear each others’ burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
  • Never presume that you know or any other human being knows what God’s will is for a person in affliction. Rather, stand with that person in prayer to receive the wisdom of God about what to do (James 1:5, Philippians 4:6-7), and for the strength to endure and show the fruit of the Spirit until God provides his conclusion to that situation.
  • Understand that for someone in an abusive situation, the demand for toughness may well amount to aiding and abetting a abusive, malicious person, and that an abusive and malicious person often wants the target of their abuse and hatred to remain in hardship – which, incidentally, falsifies any claims of having ‘good intentions’ toward the target of their abuse and malice. I personally would never, ever advise ‘suck it up and tough it out’ to any wife or child in a physically abusive situation – certainly civil laws are being broken in those situations.
  • Understand that God does not necessarily intend for any kind of affliction to be perpetual in this life (I Peter 5:10). Rather, this is more often the pattern which is his intention:

“For thou, O God, has proved us:
thou has tried us, as silver is tried.
Thou broughtest us into the net:
thou laidst affliction upon our loins.
Thou has caused men to ride over our heads:
we went through fire and through water:
but thou broughtest us our into a wealthy place”

(Psalm 66:10-12).

  • Understand that God does not always intend for us to enter or continue in any kind of affliction. God’s wisdom often means avoiding dangerous and perilous situations which stubborn naiveté may seek to plod through to unnecessary suffering (Proverbs 22:3,27:12). It may often mean removing oneself ethically and legally from that situation, such as in a workplace situation with an abusive boss or coworker, and recognizing that the situation is not worth one’s life, health and sanity, and that  the abusive person is finally responsible to God. For example, for someone in slavery, the apostle Paul advised, “By all means, gain your freedom if you can,” (I Corinthians 7:21), and did not counsel that person to remain in that situation with any kind of idiocy like, “You don’t know what lessons God has yet to teach you through your slavery,” or, “You might eventually lead your master to Christ.”  And some situations God simply calls us to use common sense to remove ourselves from the situation. For example, if someone comes into a church with a gun and starts shooting people, there’s no need to pray about what to do or to stand there stiffly to prove your toughness in the face of affliction. God’s will for you is simply to take cover, do what you can to protect others, and work within the law to have the shooter apprehended or stopped from shooting.
  • Understand that the scriptural call to endurance is more than undergirded by God’s promises of power to endure, and that Jesus’s statement “ . . . apart from me you can do nothing . . .” (John 15:5) applies to these situations also, where we are called to produce the fruit of the Spirit through abiding in him.

‘Weird’ People, Christlike Love And Pastoral Care

Updated AGAIN!!!

Corrie ten Boom once told a story about an elderly couple who attended her meetings in post World War II Germany. They were from an isolated rural area of Germany, and their unkempt appearance and lack of physical hygiene put off some of the people at the meetings. The more spiritually mature Christians who attended the meetings encouraged the group to accept them and demonstrate the love of Christ to them. Before long, they both made professions of faith in Christ, and without anyone saying anything to them, they began to make use of the washing facilities, laundered their clothes and combed their hair.

The more spiritually mature Christians at those meetings got it exactly right. One of the most difficult human tendencies to deal with is the tendency to label people as ‘weird’ because of the ways that they may differ from others. And most certainly it can be extremely difficult for a person to deal with the dehumanization that may take place once others have given that person the ‘weird’ label. But the question then comes for the fellowship of believers: what are you doing to demonstrate the love of Christ to that person? And the question comes to those in leadership, as pastors and elders: what are you doing to lead the others in the fellowship of believers to show the love of Christ to that person?

The label of ‘weird’ can arise in several different ways. Sometimes it can come from the false expectations, stereotypes, prejudices, and preconceptions of others. For instance, one of my favorite coworkers told me that one of her friends called her, ‘weird,’ because she had minored in art history in college. I advised her that I found that to be quite the opposite of weird. This may well be from mere minor differences in upbringing, educational background, or region of origin. In addition, many times there can be highly exaggerated understandings of what ‘normal’ is, based on looks, popularity or athleticism. A person is not ‘weird’ if he or she is not the best looking person, most accomplished athlete, etc.  Just as much, this can even come from highly exaggerated and misunderstood observations on one time incidents and off hand remarks. For instance, if one encounters someone who has been up all night or who has just experienced the loss of a family member, it should go almost without saying not to make any snap judgments about that person, since one is not encountering that person in normal circumstances. And in all these situations the question remains: what are you doing to demonstrate the love of Christ in that situation?

I venture that the applicable passage of scripture in those more minor situations is Ephesians 4:1-3: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Even more, if there is an inclination to label a person as ‘weird’ because of these minor personal differences, preconceptions and expectations, there are two further questions to consider: what did you expect from that person? And what right do you have to put those expectations upon that person? So in this case, James 4:11-12 applies: “Speak not evil of one another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?”

Another way that someone may receive that label is because of social backwardness due to personal immaturity or having come from an addictive, neglectful or abusive family, or even a family with one or more members suffering from a mental illness such as depression. The truth is that neither of these situations is either permanent or spiritually crippling in themselves, and people who are in this situation may have received little more than avoidance, ridicule scorn or angry demands for change from others, and very little of the love of Christ. For instance, there was an episode of the TV series Wonder Years where there was a classmate who was trying desperately to be the friend of Kevin Arnold, the main character. She was socially inept, had a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and had a quirky hairdo, to say the least. The narrator said that his reaction was, “Why did she have to be so weird?” And at the end of the episode, he learned that she was part of a military family which had moved around the country several times a year, so that she never really had much of a chance to develop strong, lasting friendships.

The immature or socially backward person may actually find huge benefit in the stable environment of loving patience in Christ –a church which is living in Ephesians 4:11-16 rather than in I Corinthians 3:3. And for someone who is in the place of immaturity, the need is for growing in knowledge of, faith in and obedience to the Word of God, which “ . . . is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). So the questions then become, “What right do you have to treat that person with contempt or disdain for whom Christ has died due to an unloving, malicious, childish, prejudicial or pejorative label or stereotype? And if you have spread ridicule and tried to involved others in contempt for that person, shouldn’t you rather repent and seek to correct the false and disdainful impressions of another person you’re encouraging? Are you rather willing to sit back, pray, love and let that person grow in Christ?” In these cases the applicable scripture is I Thessalonians 5:14: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”

Finally, someone may receive this label due to demonstrations of irrational and immoral thinking patterns, words and behavior. Here I’m referring to persistent patterns which are markedly deceptive, malicious or even unimaginable for a person in touch with reality, and which cannot be charitably attributed to any of the reasons I’ve mentioned above. These may in fact be signs of an accelerating degenerative addiction or abusive lifestyle, mental illness or even demonic influence. I would counsel against any kind of snap judgment or superficial diagnosis by anyone in these areas, and attribution of any kind of addiction, abuse, mental illness or demonic without due consideration for the alternatives. This is one area where spiritual leaders need to stand strong in firmly rebuking what may turn out to be hateful and slanderous attributions by others and making extremely serious scriptural and sensible assessments if these kinds of patterns are evident. While I don’t have a great deal of experience in making these assessments, here are some things which I’ve learned from others and some situations.

First, do not be determined to find something wrong with someone, to find a label or diagnosis for a person, and, even more, be extremely diligent and cautious to protect each and every confidentiality in these cases. There can be strong legal sanctions in these cases where confidences are breached, particularly if there are violations of HIPPAA regulations in the United States. A spouse, an elder or a fellow pastor is not qualified to be a confidant in such a case, even if someone tries to justify breaking the confidence to request prayer. In addition, no referrals should ever be made without the explicit knowledge and probably written permission of the person being referred, and that person should always be aware of anyone attempting to refer him or her to any professional for anything.

Second, be ready and willing to consider that there may be physical problems which are contributing to the person’s behavior. D. Martyn LLoyd-Jones, whose background as a physician included assisting the leading diagnostician of his day (the Dr. Gregory House of Great Britain), counseled this in his book on healing, and he named some of the problems which could contribute to irrational and eccentric behaviors which might otherwise be labeled as mental illness. With this he agreed with Jay Adams, the originator of the nouthetic branch of pastoral counseling. It may take a thorough physical exam to find a physical cause, but it would certainly be in the path of Christian love and pastoral care to advise a physical exam. A pastor and a church could easily join together to pay doctor’s bills or to refer to a Christian doctor who might perform an exam pro bono for someone who might be in need of such an exam. For more on how physical ailments can be confused with ailments labeled as mental illness, see the Wall Street Journal blog entry on Confusing Medical Ailments With Mental Illness. In addition, an examination specifically for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may be in order for people who have come through moderate to severe and protracted physical abuse, particularly if they show signs of heightened vigilance—a kind of unusual caution and jumpiness.

Third, where physical or organic causes, syndromes or illnesses are known, prayer for physical healing is easily an act of Christian compassion and love. Jesus healed those who were, as the King James Version put it, ‘lunatick’, or, in a more contemporary sense, suffering from physical afflictions that caused seizures and other abnormal behaviors. Compassion and faith in Christ to heal out of his own compassion for the physically afflicted are in order here, not fear, mere pity and avoidance.

Fourth, while the pastor, elders and other spiritual leaders need to avoid trying to play the part of amateur psychiatrists, the insights of psychiatrists can be quite helpful, especially when dealing with illnesses that carry perceptual and cognitive distortions such as schizophrenia. While I myself would prefer to offer prayer for healing as well as medication for people who have these kinds of afflictions, in these cases medication may in fact be the plan of God.

Finally, there may be demonic influence in some lives, and in some cases there may be an intertwining of the demonic, the psychological and the physical problems. These kind of problems are pretty rare, although Jesus dealt with cases, such as in Matthew 17:18, where he both took authority over the demonic and healed the person at the same time. Certainly none of those problems are necessarily mutually exclusive. But in the diagnosis of these kinds of problems, both Drs. Kurt Koch and Martyn Lloyd-Jones agree that someone who is truly under demonic influence will have a sense of spiritual darkness and show rejection and avoidance of the Word of God and the name of Jesus and resist prayer in the name of Jesus, sometimes with awful blasphemies and maybe even physical violence. It’s true that a rare few will believe that they are inhabited by demons and perhaps identify real physical symptoms that they are experiencing as demonic, yet remain calm while people are praying for them and honor the name of Jesus and his sovereignty and Lordship. This is most likely confused thinking that comes from an organic cause, and the only people that I’ve encountered like this had been institutionalized. In these cases the pastor may need to team with elders, medical doctors and mental health personnel to deliver wise, scriptural and compassionate treatment.