Naming Our Abuse: Rehabilitation

What is the purpose of reflecting upon such painful and difficult experiences as has been done so far? If our desire is not merely to put the blame of our difficulties on other people, what is the point of going through such exacting clinical detail about such matters? Ultimately, one of the goals of self-examination, especially the somewhat public one that takes place when one writes about their own life at length and some depth, is to gain insight and to give encouragement to others. It is easy to believe that we suffer difficulties alone, or almost alone, especially when few people have written about them, and so one of the benefits of telling our stories is helping to give courage to others so that they too can speak up and no longer find themselves trapped in silence. In addition, there is a great deal of hope that sorrows and troubles, once spoken of openly and honestly, can be redeemed. By offering up the public sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart, whether that heart is broken over the evils we have committed against others, or the evils that others have committed against us, we express the hope that the past can be acknowledged, forgiven, and overcome, and seen in retrospect through the eyes for hindsight putting them in a different context than they were first felt.

One of the most challenging passages in the Bible, not only for me personally, but for others who have endured abuse, is Romans 8:18-30. Although this passage is somewhat lengthy, it deserves to be quoted in full and discussed at least at some length, as a reminder of the hindsight that we are expected to develop at some point when looking upon such experiences, even those as traumatic as child abuse. Romans 8:18-30 reads as follows: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly awaits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly awaiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise, the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined, to be conformed to the image of His son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified, and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

There is much that can be said about these passages; indeed, whole books can be and have been written about Romans 8. To get the full impact of what Paul is saying when he opens this passage, we must candidly note that when Paul stated that he did not consider the sufferings of this present evil age to be worthy of comparison with the glory that will be revealed in us, he was a man who had suffered greatly. When reluctantly boasting in 2 Corinthians 11:22-33 about his credentials to be an apostle, Paul listed a variety of different types of suffering that many people can identify with. He speaks of beatings, of being in peril, shipwrecked, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness, in cold and nakedness, and even in the humiliation of being hunted by a king and having to escape from capture by his enemies by being let out of a window in a basket. It is not a profitable game to compare our miseries and suffering with others, and no doubt Paul felt somewhat uncomfortable in this task as many of us, myself included, feel in talking about such unpleasant matters. Even so, in boasting in his infirmities and troubles, Paul was reminding us that he knew suffering well, and if his suffering was not worthy of being compared to the future glory we are to manifest as recipients of the gift of eternal life, then our suffering is not worthy of comparison either, but it is worthy of mention nonetheless.

They are worthy of mention because of the promise that God has made that all things work together for the good for believers who are called by God, justified by God, and who will be glorified by Him as well [1]. In the hands of someone who uses Romans 8:28 as a way of considering the sufferings of this life to be beneath mention, this statement can seem cold and unfeeling. But what it is instead, when one reflects upon it, is something to marvel. When Paul says that all things work together for the good, knowing his background as we do, he meant all things—he meant both the violence that he had inflicted upon believers, the murders he consented to, the spiriting away of people into prison, the vile blasphemies and vicious cruelty that he had seen within his own heart in defense of the traditions of his elders. He also meant all of the evils that he had suffered from others—the imprisonments, the beatings, the shame and humiliation, the terror and torment of a life spent in frequent danger and trouble. Whether we face the mystery of divine providence as someone looking for mercy or for healing, the Eternal offers us a vision of restoration to something far more than we ever were in any state of original innocence, but rather to what we were intended to be all along. And compared to this vision, our troubles in this life do appear small in hindsight.

And yet this is something we look forward to in hope, not looking backwards, at least not yet, in having achieved it. For a long time I refrained from writing at length any kind of organized account of my own life because I wished to look back in achievement, in the realization of those hopes, and not to look ahead still in confidence that God will be faithful in fulfilling His promises. Once we see our hopes realized, we are no longer in need of hope, but rather only in need of a good memory, so that we can call to mind what God has done for us. It is while we look forward in eager anticipation, or in deep impatience, for what God has promised, that we need hope. We have most need of hope when there is the least evidence of performance, for when we hope we do so trusting in a promise that has yet to be fulfilled. To the extent that our capacity for trust is inhibited or harmed, we suffer from a lack of hope because of a lack of belief that things can be better than they are, and lacking hope, we lack the encouragement to do what we can, and to believe that God will do his share. The result is that those people who need hope most of all often struggle the most to find it at all, and those who have the most need of restoration and rehabilitation find it the most difficult to conceive of what God wants to do with them. It is, in this light, little wonder that God would call the weak and base things and those things which are despised, that no flesh should glory, for by choosing the most unpromising materials, God makes it so clear what He has in mind for humanity that the only response is to bow down in awe of the grandeur and difficulty of the task He has taken for Himself.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s there was a study done at Stanford University led by psychologist Walter Mischel which has become famous for both its simplicity and its stunning results. In this experiment, a small child was offered a choice between a small reward now and two smaller rewards if they waited for about fifteen minutes for the return of the tester. The reward was something like a marshmallow, a cookie, or a pretzel, and those who were able to delay their gratification and have trust in the better future that would result from waiting rather than taking the small reward were noted to have far better life outcomes from SAT scores, educational levels, to body mass index. Of telling importance as well is that those who were able to delay gratification also tended to have a strong positive role of the father within their lives. A restoration of the felt love and concern of our Father is a major aspect of what allows us to have a hope in a better future and to endure the trials and sufferings of life at present. The interconnection of these concerns and issues is worthy of reflection [2].

Let us not forget, after all, what we are to become. The promise for believers who endure until the end is to become the very children of God Himself. Our promise is not only eternal life, but eternal life as part of God’s own family, being adopted as His children. This is a promise that none of us could achieve on our own, unaided. It is not something we can demand as payment for righteousness, as perfect righteousness is our minimum acceptable standard for living as human beings, a standard that it is impossible for us to attain on our own efforts, unaided. None of us comes to God with any ability to make demands on Him—we were made according to His will, for His own purposes, long before anything entered our own mind as to making meaning for ourselves or for determining our own purposes and plans in this life. If we are all felons looking for mercy from the heavenly court where we all stand at the bar as defendants, and some of us are painfully aware of the crimes we are guilty of as well as the crimes we could have easily been guilty of but for the graciousness of God, then our attitude ought to be one of mercy towards others.

Even so, the point of all of this is not for us to feel bad about desiring justice, but to be rehabilitated so that we are fit to be children of God’s family and citizens of His Kingdom. One of the great needs of this world is rehabilitation [3]. We may look, for example, at the prison rolls to see how many prisoners themselves suffered from abuse as they were children, and how a large part of the difficulty of rehabilitating criminals is dealing with the abuse that people suffer while in prison. At times we may forget that even criminals are worthy of the dignity of being treated like human beings, no matter what sort of wickedness they have done, and that by viewing others as worthy of all kinds of abuses and indignities, we only show ourselves to be monstrous people. To the extent that we view rehabilitation as impossible, we may seek to judge swiftly and surely, and leave the future in the hands of our Creator and Judge. To the extent that we view rehabilitation as desirable and possible, though, we ought not to hinder that process through delighting in the possibility that others will suffer as they inflicted upon others, for if we are without pity or mercy ourselves towards others, no mercy will be shown to us either when we suddenly find that we ourselves are in need of rehabilitation as well, when our own darkness is brought into the light. Let us hope that others may be rehabilitated, and hope the same for ourselves. Perhaps someday we may live to see that hope realized, and the glory of God manifest in ourselves as the resurrected children of the Most High God. May that day speedily come.

[1] See, for example:

[2] W. Mischel. (1958). Preference for delayed reinforcement: An experimental study of a cultural observation. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 56, 57-61

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Naming Our Abuse: Rehabilitation

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Naming Our Abuse Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Lies That Bind | Edge Induced Cohesion

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