In prayer ministry work with abuse survivors, it’s common to ask Jesus to show up in the memory of the abuse. This is an effective way for Him to speak His love and care to the heart of the one who was harmed and bring healing to the wounds caused by others.
But sometimes a theology question can stop the work before it happens. “God can’t be in the presence of sin,” more than one friend has said to me, “so there’s no way Jesus could be there where that awful stuff is happening.”
I think this belief came from some teaching about the death of Jesus on the cross. When Jesus was dying, the Scriptures tell us, He cried out (Matthew 27:46): “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
So why did the Father forsake Him? Some people have said that that it had to be because at that point Jesus had taken upon Himself all the sins of the world, and God couldn’t look on sin.
But the Bible never indicates that. Rather, it says that Jesus became a curse for us when He hung on the “tree” (Galatians 3:13, referring to Deuteronomy 21:22-23), and losing the presence of the Father was part of the curse that He bore.
If our God could never be in the presence of sin, that means Jesus couldn’t have been there when the Jews were committing Him to crucifixion. He couldn’t have been there when the Jews were making His Father’s house into a den of thieves. He couldn’t have taken all our sins upon Himself on the cross.
If He had to protect Himself from being “tainted” by someone else’s sin or contamination, that means He couldn’t have touched the lepers to heal them.
But He did.
So yes, Jesus can be in the presence of sin. Yes, He is pure, but this purity doesn’t mean He can’t touch evil or be near it. Rather it means he can’t be tainted by it.
When Christians are in the presence of sin, they can be tainted by it, of course.
Or not. It depends.
A friend who is a survivor of lifelong horrific abuse asked me once if I felt dirty or violated or tainted listening to her story (told in agonizing bits and pieces over the course of months). When I told her no and she expressed surprise, I had to think for a while about the reason.
When I’ve watched a movie that suddenly had an immoral part I didn’t expect, or when evil is presented in a funny or appealing way, I would feel violated. With some movies and TV shows it has seemed to me that one of the “background” purposes has been to defile, or even sear, people’s consciences when it comes to immorality, even rape and incest, and other forms of wickedness. This is a violating action, similar to trying to take someone by surprise with pornography. (The people who make the movie want to manipulate their audience, of course, and in some cases actually want to defile and violate them.)
But when I’m helping someone process her memories, the purpose of her telling horrors is not to violate me or manipulate me, but to get help. The purpose is different. So though I might often feel grief or overwhelm, I don’t feel dirty or tainted.
That gives me a tiny glimpse of the way God views sin. When those whose hearts are set against Him engage in sinful acts, His presence is not with them in any positive sense. But if there is one who is being victimized, one who cries out to Him, His presence is with her.
Why doesn’t He stop the abuse when it’s happening? Oh goodness, that question of evil has sent me on my face so many times, in tears, and I’ve talked about that in other blog posts. But He does show up in the healing process, even in these dark and sin-filled places.
He is there for those who trust Him, even in the dark tunnels and darker valleys, even where heinous sins have been committed. He wants to touch the “tainted” hearts, heal the brokenness, and clean away the shame.
You who have trusted in Jesus Christ, you don’t have to go through this dark tunnel of grief alone. He is there to uphold you, to be with you, and to heal you. He loves you. And you can take heart that the presence of these ungodly, sinful acts won’t be any sort of deterrent to Him. The Lord Jesus Christ, when He died, took upon Himself all the sins of all those who believe on Him. He comes into the places of trauma to bring healing.
Yes, God can be in the presence of sin.