I’m all about making sense of things. If a movie has a gaping plot hole, then no other redeeming qualities can redeem that movie for me. If a song can be interpreted a dozen different ways, then I don’t really want to listen to that song.
Needing to make sense of things is one of my best qualities. It’s also one of my worst qualities.
I’ve been told that my strength is analysis. People send me articles or teachings, asking, “This feels off to me. What’s wrong with it?” and I explain what’s wrong with it, and sometimes I make a blog post out of it, and they’re grateful. This is because I look at things logically, see how terms are being misdefined and Scriptures are being misapplied, where things make sense and where they don’t.
So when things in the world don’t make sense to me, they can lay me flat. (That’s where the “worst quality” part comes in.) It used to be when this happened, I would ignore them. But in the past ten years or so, I haven’t been ignoring them any more. This means my natural response is to strive to try to get them to make sense, but in this particular battle of “reason,” I’ve been driven to prayer again and again.
In 2006, when I first stepped into the world of domestic abuse in the church, green as a gourd, not even having a working familiarity with terms such as “abuse” or “PTSD,” as I listened and listened, some things still made a lot of sense.
It made sense to me that my friend’s thoughts would be scattered. I thought to myself, “Well, if I’d been through what she went through for 25 years, my thoughts would be scattered too.”
It didn’t make sense to me at first when she told me something happened at 5:30 but then corrected herself to say it happened at 5:27, and I told her anyone would say 5:30 was just fine. Well, I got a lesson that day, that an abuser would not say 5:30 was just fine, and would accuse her of lying for saying 5:30 when it was really 5:27. Then it made sense to me that she would work to be precise to the tiniest detail in every account she gave about anything.
It made sense to me that she took a lot of notes in the meetings that I attended with her with the Christian counselor, even though the counselor seemed to think it was somewhat eccentric. I knew by then that her own words had been twisted and her abuser had denied saying things he had said, so she needed to have a record of everything. It made sense that she would want to have that record.
In 2012 when I began to learn about sexual abuse in the church, embarking on an even steeper learning curve, I studied diligently to try to make sense of phenomena such as flashbacks, nightmares, and dissociation that I was seeing or being told about. I attended many conferences and listened to seminars and online lectures, I read many books, and I listened and listened and listened to the abuse survivors themselves. Over time, the phenomena I was seeing made more and more sense.
But three things didn’t make sense. And they laid me flat.
1. One of those things was the inhumanity of man against man. I was hearing first-hand, from the survivors themselves, about acts of such utter degradation (and in some cases such unspeakable torture) that I didn’t even understand how the human mind could devise such acts. And yet . . . they were being done by the deacon, the choir member, the Sunday school teacher, the homeschooling father, the pastor husband, the college professor, the check-out clerk at the grocery store, the charming entrepreneur, the head of a large business.
Of course, well, yes, of course I knew about the Nazis. Of course I knew about the North Koreans. Goodness, I knew history and could tell you that the Assyrians killed people by skinning them alive.
But that was there. That was then. That was “them.”
This was here. This was now. And this was “us.”
I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I was laid flat.
2. And how was it that Christians could be so complacent, so uninterested? How could church leaders turn away? How was it when Christa Brown, for one example of many, tried for so many years to stop Baptist predators, the leaders of the Southern Baptists treated her like an annoying gnat they needed to wave away? How could that be? How could church leaders mock, not just ignore but actually indirectly mock those who had been sexually abused as children?
I was absolutely sick. It didn’t make sense.
3. And why wasn’t God intervening? Why wasn’t He changing this? Why wasn’t He stopping the abuse, calling predators to account, calling the church to wake up, calling more and more people to be willing to suffer the secondary trauma of entering this world, to walk with the abused and to fight the abuse? Where was He?
My world was shaken.
Even though I was regularly being laid flat (literally, if I make a full confession), I could see that my mind was still working to try to make sense of these things. From the beginning, in 2012, I mentally made categories that overlapped like Venn diagrams, which I wrote about in the early days of my advocacy work here on the BJUGrace blog, with the very boring title “Today I prayed.” (I’m learning to make better titles.) An expanded version of the development of this thinking was guest posted on Leslie Vernick’s site as “The other kind of hypocrisy.”
So my “making sense” of #1 came in the form of realizing that monstrous evil has invaded and infested the churches, and in some cases had even set up churches, because what better way to hide monstrous evil than behind a church? This whole picture has taken me several years to fully grasp, much prayer and Scripture, lots of listening to abuse survivors, lots of reading and listening to those who started on this journey decades before I did, and, I admit, lots of sleep (because that’s one way I recover from grief).
I believe that now I have fully grasped it. I’ve seen and heard up close, from the mouths of the survivors, that the human heart—I’m talking about the unregenerate human heart, the human heart with no Holy Spirit present—has absolutely unlimited capacity for evil, even while hiding behind a mask of good and even surrounding oneself with true but naive and gullible Christians, because what better disguise is there for evil than an entourage of true Christians?
There is great evil, and it is in our churches and other Christian organizations, even perhaps in the guise of your favorite man of God.
And I understand this as a matter of spiritual warfare, because the evil is entrenched in our churches, and we cannot fight it without the armor of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Making sense of #2 came in part with a major mea culpa, because I myself had been so busy with life and other forms of ministry that I simply didn’t pay attention to these things. They were not part of my world, I said. I didn’t know any of these people, I said.
I could not possibly have been more wrong.
Once I started to speak I realized it was all around me—they were all around me—and I began to feel that I, as a person who had never been abused, was in the minority.
Why was I so naïve? Why did I ignore this for so long? And then when I first saw it, why did I let fear of it being “too horrible” intially stop me from being able to go forward?
Well, I have repented. I am naïve no longer, I am ignoring it no longer, and I am afraid of the “horrible” no longer. I know that outside of Christ I would have the potential for evil that is every bit as great, but the fact is, I am not outside of Christ. I am in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is in me, renewing me. So I can say that the primary evil I fight is outside of me.
Also, what I’ve seen especially through personal one-on-one work with abuse survivors, is a far greater understanding of “you have not because you ask not.” If we as His people were to be more unified in both individual and corporate prayer against the evil and for healing of the wounded and cleansing of His church, in prayer for the ones who have survived the unspeakable and remain silent out of fear, in prayer for the ones who are at this very moment being abused and tortured in ways that many Christians would find beyond the realm of imagining, if we as His people would truly pray, we would see our Lord doing miracles of rescue of the oppressed, miracles of healing of their trauma, and miracles of revitalization of His church beyond the programs and curricula and formulas and plans.
In my own quiet way, in my one-on-one interactions with abuse survivors, I’m seeing miracles, miracles that I can’t report because the individuals involved are not ready. But it has impressed me again how very greatly the church of Jesus Christ needs to pray.
So this is my answer to #3, and I know it isn’t that popular among some Calvinists. We do not have because we do not ask. We need, in faith, in faith, brothers and sisters, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to keep asking, keep expecting, keep standing against the spiritual forces of evil, keep scanning the skies, and trust that the Lord God, our Abba Father, our Savior Jesus Christ who loves His people, will in fact, bring justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like a mighty river.
He has not forsaken His people. He will accomplish His good work. Let us pray.