Have you ever struggled with unhealthy fear of God or fear of being abandoned by Jesus? Do you place a lot of pressure on yourself in attempts to be a good Christian and deal harshly with yourself when you mess up? If you can relate, then this article series might be for you.
There is a healthy fear of the Lord, productive repentance, and it’s good that we want to submit to the will of God and keep the commandments of Jesus Christ. However, there is one thing that often hard-wires us for self-defeating thoughts and behaviors—behaviors that often hinder our faith or cause us to act unrighteously towards our brothers and sisters. What I refer to is Abuse.
In this three-part series we will consider how abuse throughout our lives might affect the way we view God, how we treat others, and how we treat ourselves. We will also consider Jesus as the truest source of freedom from the negative affects of abuse.
Part 1 discusses the general affects of abuse then goes into childhood abuse specifically. In Part 2 we will address abusive relationships, and Part 3 considers abuse within the church.
Below is Part 1– Overcoming Effects of Childhood Abuse and Trauma
Considering The Affects of Abuse from a Christian Perspective
There are numerous kinds of abuse, both physically and emotionally—all of which leave searing scars on us spiritually. The affects of abuse, whether over long periods of time or during a single act of trauma can leave lasting imprints on us, even changing the brain physically. These physical changes within the neural pathways of the brain set us on a course of action that is hard to break, resulting in emotional reactions like anger, depression, and fear.
What are things like anger, depression, and fear? As Christians, we know there are spirits out there. If there are spirits of God like Wisdom, Might, Knowledge, etc, then are there not also dark spirits in this world?
Today, the idea of harmful spirits might seem ridiculous, because with modern understanding we know that mental health stems from brain chemistry, genetics, and our environment. However, what is the underlying force at work on us, changing our chemistry, re-wiring our brains into unhealthy patterns, and even causing effects on our bodies like stomach pain, headaches, and fatigue?
The connection between mind, body, and spirit can be confusing. Though we catch some glimpses through modern-day medicine and psychology, a lot of what goes on is unseen. Science goes a long way into describing what happens and why—but this understanding only considers what we can detect in the flesh. There is more at work here in the spirit.
From a Christian perspective, little is known about the unseen things, however we do have examples in the bible of Jesus casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also teaches us that what happens in the spirit has a tangible manifestation or result in the flesh. A good example of this is “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Everything we think we see as reality has some underlying principle that is only true because God said so. How much more is this true for his most prized creation, mankind? How much power might there be in the one who created us to overcome the forces that destroy us in mind, body, and spirit?
Abuse in Childhood
Many of us have dealt with abuse during formative years in our lives. Whether at the hands of parents, caretakers, teachers, siblings, or other family members, such events can be devastating to us in nearly countless ways.
Sometimes we do not form necessary attachments, leaving us unable to form healthy relationships as adults. Sometimes we battle deep-set insecurities that cause us to become over-controlling or over-submissive. Sometimes we become self-centered, even narcissistic because we learned a long time ago to look out for “number-one.” Maybe we are judgmental, angry, fearful, prone to addiction—the list goes on and on.
When the ones we look to at a young age mistreat us or do not provide the necessary things we need to grow into healthy adults, these effects on the brain—these spiritual infirmaries—not only affect the way we treat ourselves and others, they affect the way we view God.
How childhood abuse affects our ideas about God
We’ve all likely heard about “daddy issues” or “mommy issues.” How might these affect the way we view God? God is like a father right? He is, after-all, our Father in heaven.
As our Father, we should respect and obey God. We should look to him for guidance. We should go to Him when we mess up, accept the consequences, and trust that He will help us do better next time.
However, if our earthly father or father-figures were abusive, negligent, or absent, we might expect God to be overly wrathful towards us, uncaring, unloving, or unmerciful. We might also expect Him to abandon us or doubt if He’s here at all.
Though we speak of God in the masculine, He also serves rolls we often associate with our earthly mothers. He is soothing, comforting, encouraging, and helps us reach our fullest potential. A mother also fiercely protects her children.
If our earthly mothers were self-centered, physically or emotionally abusive, distant, or absent from our lives, this too might have damaging affects on our concept of God.
What would Jesus say to victims of childhood abuse today?
You might expect to read something like, “I love you unconditionally. Come to me just as you are. I would not treat you this way.” It is true that Jesus loves all children of God unconditionally, and when we are broken, we go to him. However, we are not to remain broken, and though God hates all evil, the hard things we go through were part of His plan for our lives.
If you’ve lived through childhood abuse, take some prayerful time with the Lord Jesus to consider what he would want you to know about why this happened to you, what you can learn from it, and how you might better serve God because of it.
As Children of God, truly all things come together for our good, and we can take comfort in knowing that God is in control of all things. After-all, the purpose of the creation is to raise up children of God. It can be hard to accept abuse as being good for us, considering the negative affects. However, those who are being raised up into conformity with Christ might find that such experiences foster compassion, empathy, and a deep resentment for the abusive things in the world that God despises.
God might be preparing you to comfort others. He might be strengthening you. He might be teaching you to lean on him instead of this world. Only God really knows what His plans are for each individual.
Whatever the positive reasons might be, most of us still have to deal with the negative side-effects. To that end, Jesus is the answer. With faith in him, we are given everything we need to overcome the spiritual scars incurred during our childhood. We are not bound to things like anxiety, depression, anger, and addiction.
Through the Holy Spirit, the “chaff” that was formed as a kind of protective barrier from the abuse we endured is burned away, and the good things which God purposed will shine forth as our minds—and spirits—are renewed in Jesus Christ!
We should also take comfort from the simple fact that salvation is by the grace of God through faith in the promises of Jesus Christ. Among these promises is that we will have “life abundantly” as he frees us from all things that “kill, steal, and destroy.”
As the laws of the kingdom are “written in our hearts” our broken hearts are healed. This is his work and he will perform it, so we should not be too hard on ourselves, nor should we give up and admit defeat. You “shall be free indeed!” Bitterness, anger, self-hate, insecurity, fear, depression–these things will be removed from you in time.
What would Jesus say to abusive parents today?
If you’re a Christian parent that struggles with being emotionally or physically abusive, there are some things to consider. First of all, you know such behaviors are unacceptable. The Holy Spirit convicts you of these things. However, Jesus is also merciful and he understands that you were likely abused as a child also.
There are those out there who want to blame such things on generational curses by citing OT scriptures such as those in Deuteronomy. We are not under the Old Covenant. Under the Covenant of Jesus Christ, there is freedom from all manner of darkness, including the pains you carry from your past that now lash out at your own children.
As a Christian, if you put your faith in the love of Jesus, you will be healed. His love will fill your heart and take away the pains and ways of thinking that cause you to abuse. Don’t be overly discouraged if this doesn’t happen all at once. Push forward and believe that he can and will free you from the chains of your past so that you do not place those same chains on your own children.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:14).
As Christians, we are the chosen of God and there is absolutely no reason any of us should be bound to the destructive forces of this world. We are not created to be vessels of wrath and destruction that go around pouring out anger, accusations, degradation, and other forms of abuse into others.
If we are doing these things, then we are either immature Christians that need to repent and continue growing though fruitful faith in Jesus Christ, or we are not children of the promise, but rather, we might be* imposters (tares). It’s a hard reality that God does not love everyone, and not all are created to receive eternal life. Therefore, all things do not work out for the good of everyone. That is self-evident in this world.
*However, don’t be discouraged if you cannot see the good, because sometimes we do not perceive the ultimate good God is doing in our lives.
As always, refrain from judging the salvation of others. We cannot see what Jesus is doing inside the heart, and though someone might seem to be a “tare,” we don’t know how far they have come or how far they might be going.* (*=inserted on 3/29/18 for further clarification.)
If you have any measure of faith in Jesus, take comfort in knowing that God placed that in you, and nothing can separate you from Him. The best thing to do is trust instead of fear, and believe that Jesus will never leave or your forsake you. As you push forward and “make your calling and election sure,” you will “add to your faith” things which indicate a freedom from past abuse and its negative consequences. Do not allow childhood abuse to hinder your faith in the love, mercy, and assurance of Jesus Christ.
Believe salvation is for you, lay hold of it, and be FREE!
Additional Scriptures for Encouragement:
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more (Psalm 10:17-18)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness. For His name’s sake (Psalm 23:1-3).
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.(Psalm 34: 17-18).
Remember When Jesus recited the passage from Isaiah?
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
This is where he left off. We have much comfort and hope in Jesus Christ.
2and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.
4 And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.
Does this mean you should stop current therapies or medical treatments?
No. All knowledge comes from God, and I view medicine as something He gave to us. However, I also consider it’s possible that like divorce, these things were given because of the “hardness in our hearts.” I know that there is power in Jesus to overcome all things that destroy in this world, and I know the love of many towards Christ is cold. However, this is a matter of individual conscience, so you should not be ashamed or allow anyone to make you feel like a lesser Christian if you use modern medicine and therapies.
This article is Part 1 of 3 within the “How Abuse Affects our View of God” which is a sub-series within “For Christians Abused By Christians” Also see When Abuse Affects Our View of God (Part 2) – Abusive Relationships.