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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A Simple Prayer

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

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.

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.

Church Detox Installment 3: Care First

This is the third installment in a series of posts on how to make our evangelical churches more Christlike and therefore glorifying to God. Over the years, I’ve met with people who gave up on the church when they were left out in a time of personal crisis. I myself experienced a personal crisis, and from this I came to the conclusion that God’s call for us in these times is to Care First.

On June 17, 2002 I experienced the devastation of my apartment building due to a fire set by an arsonist. In more recent days, the USA experienced a disaster with the hurricane Katrina left many victims homeless. Throughout our lives, there may be many others who find themselves in personal crisis, disaster or catastrophe:

  • The single person who’s going through a romantic breakup

  • The person experiencing rejection by a friend

  • The adult receiving shocking news of a deserting spouse

  • The person and family experiencing the death in the family or among their friends

  • The person or family going through job loss

  • THe person or family loss of dwelling

Each of these people and families will need to start a recovery and rebuilding process in their lives. At these times their fellow believers need to take care that their words and actions are a help and demonstrate the wise love of Christ. Otherwise they can, through senseless words and actions, become an annoyance at best,or a hindrance or even a stumblingblock. My view is that the call for Christlike love calls each believer to Care First.


  • Ask for Information to Find Where the Need and the Pain Is

    The wrong reactions are to ask for information out of curiosity or even, more perversely, to be looking for something to correct or criticize.

    The call of scripture is for believers to care and love whether someone has made mistakes or acted contrary to wisdom or their expectations. There is no ‘escape clause’ for any believer to think, say or act in a way that implies that he or she can withhold the love and compassion of Christ from a fellow believer who is hurting because that believer may have made some contribution to his or her troubles through their own mistakes, lack of wisdom, or choosing not to follow someone else’s advice.

    I personally found that the most common question that I had from anyone after the fire in my apartment building was, “Did you have insurance?” In my life, I’ve made the personal choice to err on the side of honesty and candor, and answered the question this way: “No, but I have sufficient personal funds to take care of my personal losses.” And indeed my personal needs in those times were not financial, but for others to offer a brief word of sympathy at the least. A more pointed answer would have been, “Why do you ask? So what if I did or didn’t? Do we trust God in the time of emergencies? Do we refuse to pray with and and care for those who are going through a hard time because of a technicality?”

  • Allow Others to Hurt and Recover in God’s Time

    The worst speech to give a person in the process of recovery and rebuilding is the ‘get over it’ speech. In fact, that’s pretty much what the person is actually trying to do. That person will get back to normal life and work eventually. But in the meantime, there is still the need to deal with the shock, the hurt, the pain, the losses, and to adjust to the often radical changes that are necessary. This simply cannot happen according to the timetable of another person. The person working his or her way out of a personal catastrophe or crisis will often be in shock, living moment by moment for a while during the early stages of the rebuilding process. These kinds of speeches are simply cruelty to someone in that situation.

  • Open Your Heart

    Let words of caring and compassion come from your heart. A person in crisis does not need any grandiose, solves everything answers — and you probably don’t have the wisdom or insight to offer them. Offer a brief word of sympathy — “I’m sorry to hear about that” or “I’m sorry that that happened to you.” A brief prayer of faith, hope and encouragement is also often welcome if the other person is comfortable with that at the moment.

  • Open Your Arms

    Sometimes a person in crisis needs a physical demonstration of caring. Provide a hug of comfort and be a caring presence. Note that Jesus often gave his touch to those in need of physical healing, and these were often the most physically repulsive. Be the arms of Jesus in that situation.

  • Open Your Home

    Sometimes those in personal crisis or catastrophe need a place to stay. Be ready to provide temporary housing for those in need, and treat that person as an honored guest. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).

  • Open Your Hands

    The process of recovery and rebuilding from a crisis may have many small tasks, and the number of tasks may seem overwhelming to one person. Be ready help with these tasks of rebuilding. Be careful, though, not to jump to conclusions about what another person may need. Show up with a helping hand, ask what needs to be done, offer to help with whatever you can. Great skills and deep insights are not what is often needed, but more often simply the heart and availability of someone who is willing to be serve for the sake of Jesus.

  • Open Your Wallet

    Although many people in personal crisis do not need money, some do need financial help from their brothers and sisters in Christ. Give sensibly, and avoid seeing this as an opportunity to unload secondhand junk.

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.