Be angry and do not sin …

I’ve been reading the book Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb.  This has been a powerful book and frankly, I think it is a must read for pastors and elders.  The statistics are shocking.  I would be truly surprised if a church could be found that did not have at least one victim of sexual abuse.  Knowing how to minister to these dear souls is vital since most people just want them to act pleasant and pretend like the sin committed against them didn’t really affect them all that much.

If you are a layperson as well, this book is valuable.  Again, if the statistics are right, one or more of your friends is the victim of sexual assault.  Being informed may help you to be a loving friend who is better able to bear their burdens.  If you are a victim of sexual assault, this book is an important read, although this is not to suggest that somehow some book is going to make everything all better.  I cannot imagine the grief and anguish you face day to day.  I pray that this book will show that the gospel truly is a soothing balm, even to such a dreadful wounds as yours.

I was reading the chapter on anger and was struck by some thought provoking quotes about ungodly and sinful anger.  I’m still chewing on this chapter and am even chewing on these quotes, though I’m struck by how compelling they are.  I think their relevance extends not simply to the anger that is a result of abuse, but to all anger experienced by Christians:

“God’s anger is part of executing final judgment, which is his exclusive domain.  Those harboring bitterness and hatred don’t act as if God is concerned about their plight.  Out of that false belief they often take matters into their own hands to seek justice.  When one actively believes the distortion that anger is a catalyst simply for the self-satisfaction of seeing their perpetrator punished, God is displeased.  Ungodly anger attempts to rectify the wrong done to us by empowering us to act instead of waiting vulnerably for God to do something.  It is not only a protection against harm; it is a taunt against God for apparently refusing to act on our behalf….” (Rid of my Disgrace, pg. 131.)

“God’s vengeance makes the spiral of vengeance grind to a halt because the assurance that God will punish sin allows believers to freely love.  You don’t need to repay evil with evil because the Bible teaches that in the future God will take vengeance on his adversaries in such a horrific way that the violence of the Old Testament pales by comparison.  Because vengeance is God’s, you don’t have to be vengeful; you can love and forgive your enemy.  As a matter of fact, if you don’t forgive, you are usurping God’s authority to act as judge.  You may be offended or shocked, and that would make sense since forgiveness is an outrage ‘against straight-line dues-paying morality.’  But Christianity is not about karma; it is about grace.  And this grace is sometimes shocking.” (Rid of my Disgrace, pg 132.)

But Holcomb and Holcomb don’t say these things as though victims are to just sort of forgive and forget.  Yes, forgiveness is important – vital – for healing and ‘ridding of disgrace,’ but that shouldn’t be taken to mean the sappy sentimentality usually associated with forgiveness:

“Many Christians mistakenly assume that forgiving someone who has hurt them means no longer feeling pain, anger, or a desire for revenge.  Forgiveness does not mean that painful memories of the past are wiped away, nor does it mean that a desire for justice is ignored.  Neither does forgiveness mean that the victim will not first feel a deep sense of anger and hurt for what has happened.  In most, if not all, cases, real forgiveness cannot even be considered until those who have been assaulted have come out of the darkness of denial and have begun to feel the weight of wrongs committed against them.  Forgiveness means a willingness and desire to cancel the debt that is owed to you because of the far greater kindness God has shown.  For the victim, forgiveness is not an event to be logged, but obedience to God and a freedom from bitterness that should be celebrated and nurtured.” (Rid of my Disgrace, pg. 136.)

Lots of stuff to consider here.  This is an important, moving and terrifying book.  I cry out on behalf of my brothers and sisters who bear these wounds, “Oh come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

____________________
Andrew

2 thoughts on “Be angry and do not sin …”

  1. Thank you for letting me be aware of this resource and something for me to think about even ahead of time before I experience a real world counseling situation of this kind.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, SLIMJIM. It’s a problem that the church has not paid sufficient attention to and what with God blessing the work of reformed prison chaplains all the more, more and more sex offenders are coming to our churches which in many (most?) cases is the occasion for victims to face the crime committed against them in a new and very close-up way. I’m grateful that books like these are starting to become more available and that people are beginning to work harder to love and counsel victims from God’s word – bring the gospel to bear on their wounds.

    I’m struck that we do a disservice to victims by either ignoring the problem (i.e., not talking openly about it and thereby failing to raise awareness) and by taking a hands-off approach to victims (i.e., not offering godly counsel to them – even calling them to make drastic changes in their own lives – out of a sense that they’ve been through so much that they should be allowed to respond to this as they see fit). There is freedom in God’s way of facing grief, anger, pain, and fear, even if God’s way is not the first thing that we as sinners tend (or even necessarily want) to embrace.

    Of course, people are equally unhelpful when they counsel victims by saying things like “snap out of it” or “time to move on.” Yes victims must be obedient and godly victims, but they are victims nonetheless and we do our brothers and sisters terrible harm by minimizing the extra-tragic nature of these particular wounds.

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