Diane Langberg, in her book, ‘Suffering and the Heart of God,’ describes a visit to Ghana and her visit to Cape Coast Castle. It was a center for the trafficking of hundreds of thousands of slaves, who were housed in its dungeons before transportation onto slave ships. These were dark, claustrophobic caverns full of people chained and shackled without possibility of escape. While she was there she discovered that directly above these dungeons was built a church – a place of worship. She says this “Directly above two hundred shackled men—some of them dead, others screaming, all of them sitting in filth—sat God worshipers. They sang, they read the Scripture, they prayed, and I suppose took up an offering for those less fortunate. The slaves could hear the service, and the worshipers could sometimes hear the slaves… The evil, the suffering, the humiliations, the injustice were overwhelming, and the visual parable was stunning. The people in the chapel were numb to the horrific trauma and suffering beneath them.”
Sexual abuse is no respecter of person – it inhabits every culture, race, religion, and socio-economic group. Sadly, sexual abuse is found within the lives of those who come to church and often the church has behaved in a similar way to the image of the African church Langberg describes. Not only that, but the individual survivor of abuse can within themselves experience that same reality: the survivor can hide the trauma so effectively it becomes a hidden, if not forgotten dungeon in her own life.
It’s easy to use Christianity as a mask and a means of hiding from this dungeon. Through misplaced ideas of forgiveness and an over-emphasis upon being responsible for sin as opposed to being broken by the sins of others, it’s easy to see why this can happen. But this is an abuse of the Gospel. Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ and he will lead us into all truth: the good, the bad and the terrifyingly ugly. Jesus did not hide from reality, from suffering, from the reality of the abuses he experienced; he faced death and evil full in the face and overcame it through the resurrection. Forgiveness does not come through pretending we have not been deeply hurt and scarred and that what happened was not wholly someone else’s fault.
The Gospel truly presents us with a God who confronts sin in all its forms, a God who goes into dungeons and rescues those who have been imprisoned. However far away God might seem, He is there, already in the midst of our brokenness and will walk with us through it. He will help us when we cannot help ourselves and He will embrace us with His loving presence as we work through the pain.
Sexual abuse is a deep wound. It affects the victim in ways they can scarcely imagine. The work of healing is not just about facing the pain you already know about, but also being willing to face further pain and grief that you didn’t know was there. Anger can be so well hidden the victim thinks herself placid and peaceful, tears so well bottled that she thinks herself a bearer of joy. But God-given joy comes through walking through the valley of suffering and death, facing the true damage that evil has brought about and knowing that is not the final word.