Early this morning as I tossed and turned in bed, I happened to notice that someone had viewed a blog post of mine from near the beginning of this particular blog, a post that had momentous consequences for the blog apart from its modest size or popularity . I began this particular blog in the midst of a time of great personal and institutional crisis, having been subjected to months of vicious personal attacks while being just as ferocious, and more just, in response. My goal in writing this blog was to provide a somewhat detached view of the larger forces and contexts of the times in which we live, but with this entry, I shined a light into a context that I had never until that time put my public writings, and that is the context of abuse and addiction and the generational consequences of our sins and faults and those of our ancestors. As a result of a seminar given at the Winter Family Weekend by a gentleman who had both a heart of compassion for others and plenty of practical experience from his own family background, I was moved myself to write and reflect on the complex of troubles that had marked me from my earliest days.
The choice was a fateful one. At the time I caused a bit of drama with some relatives of mine who did not think it was very kind to bring some of our shared baggage into public view, that ferocious sort of flinty privacy that is often held by those who are the custodians of dark secrets and family shame. I paid no mind to it, thinking a matter that, however important to me, it was a personal matter and only related tangentially to the larger concerns of a fairly cerebral and intellectual blog. And yet the subject kept coming up in strange contexts, from the abuse of children by a college coach who painted himself as some sort of hero, in the abuse of vulnerable children by political leaders in countries like the Netherlands, in the relationship of sports and the military to the problem of consent. I found out, much to my horror, that my own speaking out publicly allowed others whom I knew to give private support and encouragement because of their own struggles that I had known nothing about because their own struggles were private. At some point, I realized the reason that so many people wrote about such matters, as uncomfortable as everyone was about it, was that the problems of tyranny and abuse were immensely broad ones that cut across boundaries.
Because I find it far easier to relate to and understand the problems of little ones than the far more complicated and far less innocent difficulties of authorities, I find a few passages in scripture concerning these matters to be particularly poignant. Matthew 18:6-7, for example, says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” When I read passages like this and reflect on them, I find my own reflections are complicated, although I do not see how they could be anything else. Here we see the anger at God at the abuse and exploitation that goes on this world, which He allows for whatever purposes He has. Yet much of that abuse comes out through people who themselves have been warped and twisted by the abuse that they have suffered, such that anyone who would be questioned by God would be expected as a first defense to point the finger at someone else as was done in the garden of Eden, and so on. I wish I could be as simplistically angry at people as others are, but I spend so much of my time and effort trying not to victimize anyone else that I find it impossible to rejoice in the thought that others will suffer vengeance and judgment for their own misdeeds. I stand in a field of broken shards of pottery and just wish that I didn’t have to spend my whole life picking the shards from my feet after having stepped by accident on the remnants of other people’s broken families and broken lives . My own is more than I can bear.
And yet I believe that the reason for the deep interconnectedness of life puts our own private suffering in relief. I do not consider myself by nature to be a particularly empathetic person, but rather a fairly distant and restrained person on an emotional level. Yet in my own suffering I cannot help but feel a great deal of empathy for others who suffer from the same sorts of wounds have that coursed their way through my life. How could I not mourn for beings like myself, struggling with the same unsatisfying choices of how to respond, wrestling with the same darkness that I see when I stare deeply into the abyss and the abyss stares back into me. In the effort of trying to understand my own complicated self and the context of my own life I have seen a great deal of how other people have been shaped in their own lives in different ways. If I do not consider myself to be particularly competent at dealing with the sensitivities and brokenness around me, at least I am aware of the problem and compassionate on those I meet along the way who have their own crosses to bear and their own scars from the beatings and scourgings that life has administered to them along the way.
Yet we do not come before God merely as people seeking justice for what we have suffered. That would be too easy. Indeed, a great portion of our problems in this life is that we see ourselves as innocent victims when we are simultaneously sinned against and sinning. If we succeed in calling judgment down on all those who have wronged us, we will succeed as well in calling down judgment on our own unworthy heads, for we are guilty of what we accuse others of doing against us in many cases. And where we may find ourselves innocent of the charges that we lay against others, we will find ourselves guilty of other charges that with justice can be laid against us. We who suffer the torments of the night may easily find ourselves the objects of horror in the nightmares of others, whatever our own desires in the matter. A lot of our political anger focuses on people being victims of the oppression that they feel from other quarters, but they deal with their oppression by becoming oppressors in turn, and by being unable to distinguish between those sins that require repentance and reconciliation and the debts that others owe to them that must be forgiven for us to be forgiven in turn. And yet we refuse to let go, refuse to give pardon to others, refuse to release any obligation of payment, in the knowledge that once we let go of the demand that they pay us what they owe, that we will have no just cause to hold on to our anger and our hatred and our resentment, which is worth more to us than silver or gold or often even salvation and forgiveness for our own sins. And so the cycle continues.
 See, for example: