Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Healing and the Bible

Posted by Hannah at 8:19 PM

Warning: Triggering TopicAs a rule, I don't write about Bible-based or religion-based topics. This is part of our Chat Guidelines as well, and it's because so many survivors have been victimized, or re-victimized, by people in the guise of religion.

I am breaking the rule this one time, so if religion is a triggering subject for you, please stop reading now.

When you have been abused in any way, the very foundations of your world have been destroyed. You feel adrift, uncertain of anything, confused, and very badly hurt. Many of us turned to religion for some answers. And that is where the danger lies, because American society has a very poor selection of people who can do a good job in talking about religion in the context we need.

When I was adrift and uncertain, I turned to a person I knew for some advice.
I needed certainty, and as a fundamentalist, he was very, very certain about things. So we had a talk, and the upshot was that if I couldn't feel better through prayer, it was my fault because my faith wasn't strong enough.

Well, of course my faith wasn't strong enough! My faith had been completely shattered! I had gone to him for help and ended up feeling even worse.

Someone in our forum shared a similar experience. This person listened to Dr. Laura, a radio personality of some kind, and heard Dr. Laura say, "The Bible is all about judgment. You should read it sometime." This person looked at the Bible and decided that Dr. Laura was right. But that made her feel worse. This person needed help, not judgment, and guilt for Inadequate Bible Reading, piled on top of survivor's guilt, made things worse.

Survivors have all kinds of stories like that. Priests have abused children. Pastors have lectured battered women about the sanctity of marriage and sent them back to their batterers with orders to forgive (and keep getting battered). Survivors have heard stories where punishment was the result of a sin the sufferer committed, or that their faith was inadequate, or that God works in mysterious ways.

As you know, none of that helps. In fact, most of this 'advice' makes you hurt even more. If you're interested in learning more about the Bible, my favorite book is Kenneth C. Davis' Don't Know Much About the Bible. It helps you understand what was written, when it was written, and why it was written. It's an excellent antidote to sweeping generalizations that don't help anyone.

But today, I'm going to take a stab at talking about the Bible as it relates to survivors.
It's OK to Question

First, it's OK to acknowledge that abuse has shaken you to your very core. Abuse, in its many forms, is incredibly destructive. Chances are, the religion you learned in Sunday School told you that God would protect you from things like abuse. So your faith is in shambles. You doubt everything you used to believe, and that is frightening.

This can be a terrifying time. Survivors tend to wonder, "What if I die in an accident, while my faith is still destroyed? Would I go to hell?"

Here's the short answer: NO. Look at the book of Job. Look at Lamentations. These two books are full of doubt and questioning, and their conclusions are that there are no easy answers. You are not the first person to wonder or doubt. You will not be the last. The fact that Job and Lamentations are in the Holy Scriptures means that the Bible recognizes that doubt, pain, suffering, and crises of faith are all going to happen. It is a legitimate part of our spiritual journey. God understands.

Another example is during the crucification of Jesus Christ. Before dying, he cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" And he was quoting a Psalm when he did it, which is another place in the Bible where the writer expressed despair and pain and doubt.

If you are going through a spiritual crisis, realize that most survivors do! Just keep working on it. You'll get to the other side. As Winston Churchill once said, "If you're going through hell, keep going!" A pastor I once knew said that he didn't have any respect for someone's faith unless that person had gone through a crisis of faith. "Then it's a faith that hasn't been spoon-fed," he said. "Then it's a faith where they have examined what they believe, why they believe it, and it's their own custom-built, carefully thought-out faith."

Keep working on it. If your current clergy member isn't helping, find another one. Hospital chaplains are often a good resource for these questions. So are the trained advocates in your local women's crisis center or child abuse prevention agency. Most of them are survivors who have gone through their own crisis of faith and have come out the other end.

If you find that your spiritual advisor is blaming you in any way, then run far, run fast. Those people can mess you up for years. Find someone better.

One last thing: your biggest question is probably, "Why??? Why did this happen to me?" This is the same question Job asked. His friends offered various reasons: it's punishment for a sin you committed, God punishes the wicked, etc. The thing I love about Job is that he rejects these ideas.

He admits he's human, and therefore a sinner, but insists that he didn't deserve this much suffering: basically, that 'I didn't do anything this bad!'

(Note: the often-quoted comment from Job that 'the Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord' is in the very first chapter of the book, before many of his sufferings are inflicted. Two chapters later, he curses the day he was born.)

At the end of Job, there is no answer to 'why?' There are no easy answers. But the suggestions of his friends are rejected by both Job and God.

You didn't do anything this bad either. There is no good reason you have to hurt this way. It will take awhile, but this is one concept you will have to work through and accept. Humans aren't good at answering 'why' questions. Eventually, we have to let go of 'why' and move on.

The next question is, "Since this happened, what do I do next?"

Healing and the Bible

If you go through the four Gospels, you'll find that Jesus performed many miracles, but the Gospels only record 34 of them in detail. Now, of those 34, 5 are mystical in nature -- changing water into wine, walking on water, etc. All of the rest -- all of the rest! -- have to do with Jesus either healing the sick or feeding the hungry. Those are his priorities. Make them yours, too.

Now, following are some Bible verses. Matthew is my favorite Gospel, and the one I know the best, so most of these are from that book. Similar verses can be found in Mark and Luke.

Matthew 3:23-25: Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, while curing every disease and sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them.
That's a lot of curing and healing, over and above the 34 miracles recorded in detail.

Matthew 8:16: That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick.

Okay, more miracles that are performed by Jesus, not recorded in detail, that are miracles of healing.

Matthew 8:1-2: When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean." He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

"I do choose." Remember that. Jesus wanted the leper to be healed.

In Matthew 10:7-9, Jesus sends his apostles out into the world, and this is what he tells them to do: "As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons."
Heal. He tells them to heal.

Matthew 11:2-5: John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus if Jesus is really The One. What evidence does Jesus present? "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them."


Healing is the evidence Jesus himself uses to show that he is the Messiah.

Matthew 11:28: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

Matthew 12:15: When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them.

Even more curing and healing. Rest for your souls.

Matthew 14:35-45: After the people of that place recognized him, they went word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Even more healing and curing.

Matthew 25:31-46 includes the following: I was sick and you took care of me. Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

John 3:16-17: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

In John 10:31, The Jews took up stones again to stone him. "If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."

Again, Jesus uses his works as evidence that he is the Messiah. And his works consist primarily of healing people.

The Gospels are saturated with healing. And make no mistake about it: if you are a survivor of abuse, you are as hurt and suffering as anyone in the Bible. And God wants you to be healed. He spends more time healing than almost anything else.

How Do You Heal?

Now that we've established that God wants you to heal, what do you do next? Healing from abuse is possible. It takes time, and there are many ways that do not help, but there are some established, proven ways that you can heal.

STEP ONE: Contact your local Women's Crisis Center or Child Abuse Prevention Center, whichever one is more applicable to your form of abuse. If you're an adult survivor, call the child abuse center. If you don't know the name and phone number of the center in your area, call your county social services department and ask. They'll have all the information you need.

STEP TWO: Find a qualified, experienced, specialized therapist. Do not go to a family counselor, or a member of the clergy, or anything like that. You have heavy-duty wounds and most professionals will find themselves out of their league. You need a specialist. The advocates you contact in 'step one' above, can recommend someone.

If you want a Christian specialist, fine; there may be one in your area. But all healing is sacred and claimed by God. (John 3:11: Whoever does good is from God.) Pursue healing with all your might, and that includes choosing the very best, most qualified specialist you can find. Make your decision based on qualifications and abilities, and recommendations from survivors and advocates, not on whether or not that little fish symbol is on their ad.

I once wrote, "If you don't like the therapist, or they don't help you, remember that therapy didn't fail. One therapist has failed. Find another one. Don't stop until you are better."

God wants you to be healed. Pursuing healing is an important, sacred act. If you are suffering and wounded, how can you love your spouse, or parent your children, or serve your community, or praise your God, to the best of your ability? You can't. Work on healing. Give it your highest priority. Everything else in your spiritual journey can wait; everything else can come later. Heal first.

I'll close with a passage from Isaiah 54:11,10:

O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted,the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

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Anonymous said...

Another example is during the crucification of Jesus Christ. Before dying, he cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" And he was quoting a Psalm when he did it, which is another place in the Bible where the writer expressed despair and pain and doubt.

I heard a bible teach teach about this that our Lord said while on the cross. He mensioned that Jesus being eternal God in the flesh, who knows all, would know why He was being forsaken. He suggested that it was for us to ask ourselves why He was being forsaken. The answer is taught in the bible as well. Which is to pay the penalty which God requires of sin for those who he came to save. How can we stand alone before God to pay for our sins? We need the righteousness of Christ Jesus. He is our attonement. Thanks be to God for His work in saving us.

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