Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 47. Abuse
1 Tim 5:1,2 Treat younger … older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
Introduction: Sometimes we naively think the Bible will cover any and every misdemeanour in life. You won’t find a verse that speaks specifically about not abusing your body with nicotine, alcohol or drugs generally (or even with over-eating or over-working or any other excess). The nearest you might get is, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor 6:19) Those who quote this verse imply we should look after our bodies for this reason. But you may guess that in this section where we have been considering areas of sexual confusion or failures, the abuse we are referring to in our title above is that which has sexual connotations (and no we won’t be touching the area of pornography although it is really a problem for many Christian (mostly) men) but of sexual abuse.
The Range of Considerations: At the least difficult end of the spectrum of sexual abuses (but it is still abuse) is that of the husband or partner who ‘demands’ sex. I’ll come to this in a moment. At the other end of the spectrum is rape and in between there is a range of ‘inappropriate’ sexual behaviour where one person (the more dominant) takes advantage of the other by touching, caressing or other physical behaviour that demeans the weaker member of the couple. This can involve masturbation or sodomy. Where this occurs between an adult and children we call the adult a paedophile and such activity, according to Wikipedia is considered a mental disorder which involves persistent sexual thoughts, fantasies, urges, or behaviours. Now this is the point here: this series is about redemption. If a rapist or paedophile, say, declares repentance, is God’s grace (and ours) big enough to receive him into the church? As unpleasant a subject as this is, it does require us to face what is not an uncommon problem in modern society.
Beware the kneejerk reaction: There have been sufficient number of occasions when there has been public outcry about say a known paedophile moving into the district, that we know this is a subject that produces very strong reactions. As much as I understand this and would be there against such threats against any of my grandchildren, grace asks that we give some calm intelligent thought to the realities. So, yes, there are men (and it is mostly men) who store child pornography pictures from the Internet and because such pictures are illegal (in the UK at least) they are guilty of criminal acts. Because I have been a pastor and have twice had men come to me in respect of child abuse issues, I have had some cause to think through some of the difficulties. The first difficulty is that sexual infidelity in whatever form seems to create a tendency to tell lies, and therefore it is very difficult to know the truth unless the individual is actually confessing what he did.
In one of my cases the young man confessed touching his teenage step-daughter inappropriately while she was asleep, and in the other one the man denied the accusation that came from his two dysfunctional grand-children, that he had inappropriately touched them on the settee in their front room. Without going into detail, the whole family background was so dysfunctional that the accusations seemed to me to be likely to have been fabricated. Both men served prison sentences, and from what I know of both men and the situations, I was left feeling that justice had been seriously heavy-handed. Please don’t get me wrong, I believe that what are crimes deserve to be punished, but I have been left wondering about the appropriateness of crimes that are not major. Similarly with reports of celebrities in the media being accused of pinching a woman’s bottom or touching her lightly elsewhere inappropriately, I am left wondering why we do not teach such victims to slap the face of the perpetrator loudly and publicly. Perhaps fear is the answer. In whatever form abuse takes, it is very difficult to get to the truth and to determine what is justice that will change the future.
The Grace of God: I worry sometimes about the whole so-called counselling arena because it seems so often that counselling goes on for months if not years. My wife and I used to pray quite often for the people within our church context and perhaps the greatest expression of the power of God changing a life, came to a particular young woman who was married and had two young children and who came to the Lord. We spent a whole morning listening to her story and then a whole afternoon praying over her. To cut an unpleasant story short, she had been frequently abused by her father throughout her younger years, who forced her to have sex with him. She thus found it incredibly difficult to let any man near her. Amazingly she had been wooed by a man who became her husband and then had two children by him. How, we enquired, did you manage that, as you wouldn’t let this man touch you? I got drunk both times, she replied. We listened to her and prayed extensively for her and she went home. A week later her husband contacted me and said, “Whatever have you done to my wife? She’s become a raving sex-maniac!” No, just making up for lost time, with the help of the power of God, I answered his exaggeration. But God had delivered her – in just one day! If the power and wisdom of God is there, we should not need weeks or months or even years. This is redemption.
Who Needs the Counsel and Prayer? Now the situation may have changed but when the young man came and confessed to me his inappropriate behaviour we sought to find specialist counsellors but again and again when we contacted counselling organisations, we found the same response: “No, sorry we only counsel the abused.” Where the Holy Spirit brings conviction, all of our studies about redemption say there is a need for counselling for the abuser as well as the abused. I do not in any way want to diminish the anguish felt by those who have been abused, but if we are to have a safer society then both abused and abuser need help in changing and becoming whole again.
The overbearing husband: May I just go back to the situation of the overbearing husband who ‘demands sex’. I say again, that is tantamount to abuse. Now before anyone quotes the apostle Paul out of context, “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time,” (1 Cor 7:5) this should not be used to excuse unloving and uncaring for one another in bed, and especially by the husband. Communication is essential, gently and with care, finding out what gives pleasure to each other, and the message to the man is go slow. As one counsellor put it, foreplay begins earlier in the day and by that they meant the way they cared for and spoke to each other throughout the day has a very real impact on what happens at the end of the day. The traditional, “I have a headache,” should not be necessary if the husband carries out the apostle Paul’s injunction, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25) Christ sacrificed himself for the church so husbands, put your wife first, show loving tenderness and care, and watch for the changes, but don’t count days, earn your rights in bed.
Redeeming the mess of sexual wrongs: What have been the primary lessons we have learned in the earlier studies about redemption? Redemption starts with honesty, and facing failure, and repenting from the heart. If we have been a perpetrator, if we want to proceed in God’s redemptive process, we need to come in repentance. If we have been abused, this is not the place to receive ministry; seek out counsel, receive God’s cleansing and healing. If we are the church, dare we be a people who are open and available to both the abused and repentant abusers, with hearts of gentle love, care and compassion, who can create a secure environment in which they can meet God and receive that redemptive work we’ve been speaking about in this series, where God delivers us out of a bad place and into a good place with Him. May that be so. (PS. There is so much more that could be said on this subject, but I think we have covered the things the Lord wants here. If there are things here that resonate with you and which you wish to progress, may I recommend you speak to your own spiritual leaders).