March 05, 2020
Stories of abuse and neglect never fail to grip my heart.
Growing up, my sisters and I were exposed to documentaries and news of emaciated children left begging on the streets or being exploited through child labor.
It hits closer to home when it’s someone you know. As a campus missionary, I have heard several stories of abuse.
My heart bleeds for a friend who was given away to a relative as a baby because her parents could not afford to keep her. She ended up being abused by three men for seven years since she was five years old.
I wept hard for a student whose mother had such a high expectation of her that she would be locked in a closet or made to kneel on a bed of monggo if her grades did not make the cut.
My mind could not comprehend how a student’s parents could have sold his body to older men and women just to put food on the table for the entire family.
My initial reaction was anger against the perpetrators who were supposed to protect and provide, against the institutions that were supposed to bring justice, and even against God who seemed apathetic to their plight (or so I thought).
I also felt helpless and useless, thinking that I could and should have done something to prevent the abuse from happening. But humanity’s depravity and selfishness are so deep and ingrained in every person, even in myself, that I knew I did not have the capacity to bring the human race out of the pit of evil and brokenness.
Where was God in all of these?
After hearing many stories of abuse and neglect, I’ve learned to recognize its effect on the victims.
They become unable to trust in relationships.
They become numb to emotions.
They end up in a cycle of hopelessness and despair.
They tend to have bouts of anxiety and depression.
They develop a compulsive need for control.
They imbibe a sense of worthlessness.
They begin to think that life is meaningless.
The bottom line is whenever people experience abuse and neglect, their survival instinct is to seek refuge, either in themselves or in other people, in order to protect themselves from further harm. Some build walls to shut people off, not wanting to trust or be vulnerable to others. Some look for protection in relationships. They jump from one relationship to another to look for stability and security. Still others demand and expect protection from institutions. They rage against the inability of the government to bring justice and provide protection.
But eventually, all these sources of refuge fail us. We become miserable in isolation. We find that our loved ones won’t be able to shield us forever or from everything. We feel even more abandoned when relationships break apart. And we become disappointed with institutions, overwhelmed as they are with the sheer amount of people who need their help.
The good news is that God desires and promises to be our true refuge. How?
Through Jesus Christ, He promises judgment to the oppressor and comfort for the oppressed. Any form of abuse will be dealt with justly, in this life or on the day of judgment. This frees us from the need for vengeance.
Instead of seeking vengeance, when we find healing and hope in Jesus Christ, our eyes and our hearts become open to the pain of others who also experienced abuse. Our ears become attuned to their silent cries, and we become a different kind of avenger—someone whose mission is to point them toward Jesus Christ, the sole source of healing and hope.
True enough, as each of my friends experienced healing and restoration, with the help of licensed counselors and the support of a church community, they found a different kind of purpose for their brokenness.
My friend who was abused by three different men dedicated her life ministering to women and raising them to be strong leaders in society.
The student who was physically abused by her mother is working on becoming a licensed counselor to young men and women who are suffering from anxiety and depression.
The young man who was prostituted to others became a lawyer who does pro bono work to seek justice for the abused. They have dedicated their lives to change the stories of dozens, if not hundreds, of other broken young men and women.
In the aftermath of a painful experience, we can be sure that our painful past can be turned around to work for His purposes (Romans 8:28). Like Joseph, the redeemed can say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
Furthermore, we know that in Jesus Christ, this life is not all there is. Though pain, challenges, and suffering is a reality in the roughly 80 years we spend on earth, we will have an eternity of wholeness in the afterlife, for God promised that:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
Where is God in all of these?
He is seated at the throne as King of kings. Yet at the same time, He is also Immanuel, God with us. He knows and identifies with our sorrows, yet He is sovereign over every circumstance.
Let His promise of future glory give us hope in the here and now.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:23,24