What Only the Infinite Can Provide

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The situation described in the following letters continues to be entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.

Dear Gabrielle,

Unless you have further questions, there are only a couple more topics that I wanted to set out for you. Of course, if you have questions, the door is always open.

So what I wanted to do in this letter is set out a few things concerning our identity in Christ. Then in my next letter, I can try to summarize all that we have talked about.

The issue of identity is both a foundational issue and a capstone issue. In one sense, I could have begun with this . . . but I really prefer to end with it. If you see the value of this as a capstone, then that means it is already part of your foundation.

Whenever we ask ourselves an identity question, we are asking “who are we?” Because of how we are created, this is question that we must ask, and we desperately need compelling answers. The reason this is so is because God did not create us to be lone individualists. We were all created to belong.

Sin has fractured the way we belong, but it has not touched our need to belong. What this means is that when we are out of fellowship with God, all our other “belongings” become idolatrous and destructive. When we belong to God, our other lesser identities sort themselves out in a reasonable way. They assume their appropriate places among our natural affections. Loving God is the first great commandment. Loving our neighbor is necessary, but it comes after.

So what we need to learn how to do is “stack” our affections, loyalties, and commitments. The first two are the critical ones. If they are ordered rightly, then you will have a massive head start in ordering everything else right. These first two identities are these. You must first own and accept your identity as one who is created. We are all of us creatures.

The Creator God is sovereign over all things, and it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. He is the uncreated sources of all, and we are contingent beings. This means that we need not have existed. Our presence here was not necessary. God could have decided to make someone else instead of me.

As created beings, our first parents disregarded their need to obey their Creator, and so they disregarded His prohibition of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a consequence, they fell into all the fragmentation of sin, and we fell together with them. Because God promised redemption almost right away (Gen. 3:15), this set up a great antithesis that runs down through history. The human race is actually two races—the seed of serpent, and the seed of the woman. And so this brings up the second great question of identity. Are we of the race of Adam, or are we participants in the new way of being human, the way that is set before us in Christ? All of us begin as fallen human beings in Adam. We are by nature objects of wrath. We are the seed of the serpent. In the gospel, God offers us the opportunity to be transplanted into Christ, into the second human race.

So these are the first two great opportunities to identify—and we approach the first through the second. In other words, we identify as creatures by believing the gospel of Christ and becoming redeemed creatures. But because we live in a world full of other stuff, whether we are redeemed or not, we find a host of other identities downstream. These are downstream from our relationship with God, and downstream from our relationship with the Second Adam, with Jesus Christ. Let us call them lesser identities.

The first set of lesser identities is made up of certain creational realities. For example, in the very nature of things we find ourselves to be male or female. We are white, black, or Asian. We are sons, brothers, husbands, fathers . . . or daughters, sisters, wives, mothers. We grow up speaking one language and not another one.

After this, we then find a host of identities that are created, but they are fashioned or created by us. It appears to me that God wants us to do this kind of thing, but the things themselves are not established in Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible require us, for example, to be Seahawks fans, or members of a ham radio club, or someone who wears a Vietnam Vet cap everywhere. Doing such things is certainly lawful, but I trust you see the trap. The further we get away from the higher order identities, and the more we “get into” the lesser order identities, the easier it is for us to succumb to the temptations of idolatry. The higher up we are on the line of created things, the more dangerous the idolatry is.

Let me explain. Idolatry is the attempt to get from a finite thing what only the infinite can provide. This means idolatry is possible all the way down the line. The more noble a created thing is, the more dangerous it becomes as an idol. The devil fell from a great height, and so became the worst of creatures. Woman was the crown of creation, which is why feminism is such a terrible idol. God created the ethnic variations of men as a great glory, which is why racism is such a devouring idol.Idolatry is the attempt to get from a finite thing what only the infinite can provide.

When people become idolaters in relation to their hobbies and clubs and experiences, the spiritual danger to them remains real, but the enterprise rapidly becomes silly. It may be spiritually hazardous for a man to be consumed with playing chess, but he is unlikely to start any wars that way.

The one exception from this category would be the creation of a fundamental identity out of an experience. If it is just an experience, it shares the silliness of other idols in this category.

But what if it is a traumatic experience? I have in mind the creation of an identity as a victim, which is what you are. Now as a matter of historical fact, you were abused by your father. This means that you are in fact a victim. But there is great spiritual peril in embracing this as your foundational identity. “Who are you?” the question comes. I am urging you to watch out if the first answer that comes to mind is “I am a survivor.” Now of course, I am not in the least objecting to the surviving. Nor am I trying to throw shade on the reality of your victimization.

What I am saying is that these are identifications that will, if they are placed in a primary position, challenge and seek to overthrow your other more important loyalties. And when they are done with doing that, they will turn and devour you.

You are created by God, and precious to Him. You were re-created in Christ, and are a precious daughter of God through Him. This will anchor you like nothing else possibly can. When you are secure in the fact that God is your Father, and that Christ is your Savior, this will enable you to understand and sort out some of your other downstream identities that have unfortunately been fractured through the sins of your father.

Your father is your biological father, and in the ordinary course of things, he and your mother would have played a more important role in how you identified yourself than is possible now. But remember that no created authority is absolute. Anything that is not God, which aspires to the place of God, must be resisted and thrown down. This is why your resistance to your father was such a good thing. We must always obey God rather than men.

As we discussed earlier when talking about forgiveness, we have no way of knowing if that relationship can ever be restored, or partially restored. We do know that it cannot be restored apart from genuine repentance on the part of your father—and not just mouthing certain words that sound like they might be repentance.

But we do know that your restoration is not dependent upon him. If you are in a right relationship with God, and if you are forgiven in Christ, then you have an identity that is unassailable.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).

When Paul says that no creature can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, this would include your father. It also includes those who would entice you to embrace the identity of victim. It is true that you are someone who was abused. But the danger point comes when people start to insist that this is the defining feature of your whole life, saying that this is who you are.

No, it is not. You were redeemed with “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19). You were purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and as a consequence, you have been made precious. That is who you are, and that is who you will be forever and ever.

Cordially in Christ,

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Brandon Klassen
Brandon Klassen
4 years ago

Any chance that this series of posts would become a book?

Valerie (Kyriosity)
4 years ago

I think there’s always a chance of that, Brandon. ????

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago

What I would make a wonderful book is if Doug were able to find a real life Gabrielle who was willing to interact with him. Dealing with an actual person would give the letters the warmth and personal feeling that are impossible to attain when you’re sending one way letters to a phantom.

Valerie (Kyriosity)
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

I’m thinking it’d be rather inappropriate to publish the other side of such a correspondence. The thought of suggesting such a thing, even to an adult, much less a child, makes me recoil.

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago

I was thinking more of an adult woman who has been healed, and still has questions about how God let his happen to her and how this could affect her as as a wife and mother. I was thinking of all the theological and emotional stuff but not specifically about the abuse. More along the lines of: Dear Pastor Wilson, I had to go get dental surgery and I found myself for the first time scared of leaving little Hepzibah with my husband. It was just this creepy fear I got, and I could tell that Kevin saw it in… Read more »

Valerie (Kyriosity)
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

Ah…gotcha. But would you really trust the insights of anyone fool enough to name her child Hephzibah? ????

ME
ME
4 years ago

Okay, forgiving the format here, taking into account the style of this bit of fiction and the fact that you simply cannot please everyone, I am still left unsatisfied,unconvinced by it all, although the intentions are clearly good. The problem being, Pastor Wilson has not once asked her what she wants, what she needs. You have shown no indication of listening to her, no desire to even hear her if she were to speak. You have all the answers, you have diagnosed the ailment and prescribed the cure. Her participation in all of this isn’t really even required. While Pastor… Read more »

J.F. Martin
J.F. Martin
4 years ago
Reply to  ME

Hi ME, we’ve not interacted directly before – so I both hesitated and prayed over this reply. What you wrote above contains many negative absolutes. I believe this post series has contained many positive ones – the Word of God containing the eternal absolutes. Because of your passion, I hear this -> http://cube214.com/speaking-in-absolutes-the-down-side-of-always-and-never/. In general, I’m not a fan of hypothetical conversations, probably because of all my kids’ “What if?” and “Would you rather…?” questions. But for all your comments about this particular series (e.g. misogyny, hypocrisy), WHAT IF you were writing to Gabrielle? How WOULD YOU RATHER respond to… Read more »

ME
ME
4 years ago
Reply to  J.F. Martin

I appreciate you thoughtful comment. Your link is very useful for internet discussions in general. We people love to label others, quick with passing out the “always.” I’m sorry, but if I were writing to Gabrielle, I would tell her to flee these people, her father who was involved in the church and raped her, her pastor so concerned that she now maintain the perfect balance of “distant yet friendly” and not lead any boys on, the whole rotten lot of them. I would tell her to run as fast as she can and to set the whole darn bridge… Read more »

J.F. Martin
J.F. Martin
4 years ago
Reply to  ME

Thanks for your reply. My personal story has a lot of death in my youth, so though those who died didn’t hurt me on purpose (like the father in this example), I was wounded just the same – and didn’t respond well to that pain in my personal choices and relationships. I wonder what life might have been like if I trusted a pastor enough to correspond with him about my choices and my future. I decided, incorrectly, that I couldn’t trust people without getting hurt. I knew about God, but I didn’t know God. I can imagine our theoretical… Read more »

ME
ME
4 years ago
Reply to  J.F. Martin

I’m pleased to hear your story and delighted that you have a church that cares.

This series has been helpful. I’ve blogged about it a few times and expressed my appreciation for Pastor Wilson taking the time to do it. That was quite thoughtful of him.

I don’t mean this unkindly, but it has certainly helped me to understand people who may have been wounded by the church itself, how that can happen, and what their needs might be.

"A" dad
"A" dad
4 years ago
Reply to  ME

A couple of thoughts Memi. Consider the actual title of this post: “WHAT ONLY THE INFINITE CAN PROVIDE” While the idea of “what” the Infinite can provide can certainly be abused, do consider that our host is actually leaving room for what only God can provide, and not trying to make himself, anything else or anyone else an idol for Gabrielle. If we believe God is real, active and in control, we can share our experiences of our faith, and our guiding principles, with out assuming or even thinking we have all the answers. In Acts 16 below, Paul was… Read more »

JL
JL
4 years ago
Reply to  "A" dad

I so appreciate these longer posts, “A” dad.

holmegm
holmegm
4 years ago
Reply to  ME

The pastor is not at fault for what her father did. Is he? Why does she need to flee him? “A church that actually cares, they immediately provide covering, shelter her.” So, she flees to another church, one which “covers” her … unfortunately, one of those doing the covering is actually a wolf, expert at spotting a wounded sheep. It can happen. Fleeing isn’t a panacea. There’s certainly a time and place for it, but you can’t actually flee your wounds. Gabrielle is going to need some wisdom imparted to her, and to learn how to navigate relationships, and how… Read more »

jillybean
jillybean
4 years ago
Reply to  holmegm

From what I remember of the first letter, we are not meant to understand that Wilson is Gabrielle’s pastor. She has gone to live with an aunt who has discussed the girl’s state of mind with him. From what I recall, the only connection between Wilson and Gabrielle is that she has been familiar with his books since her childhood. So, assuming that Wilson was on the staff of this particular church is incorrect. He is writing to her as a stranger.

Valerie (Kyriosity)
4 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

Correct. Gabrielle’s family belonged to another church, where her father was a deacon.

JL
JL
4 years ago
Reply to  holmegm

I had a dear friend who was the victim of sexual child abuse by her foster father. She had come to terms with his actions but still carries deep pain over the adults in the community who suspected what was going on and did nothing. One evil man telling her she was worthless was one thing. A whole community telling her the same by their inaction is another. Certainly a large part of this is her perception, but it needs to be dealt with regardless. We tend to think that this kind of problem is isolated to the family in… Read more »

ME
ME
4 years ago
Reply to  JL

Amen, JL. Often the negligence, denial, blame coming from the adults around you is far worse than the actual sexual abuse itself. Pedophiles have a compulsion, they have a defect, you are just a bug on their windshield. But the adults who deny,cover it up, fail to protect, try to rationalize it, blame you, those are often the people who do the most harm.

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  JL

I feel like we’re playing hide and seek in the dark! I have just clued in that you are JL, and now I am looking for my friend gfhdhdhd etc. I would rather be Mrs. Bean than Mrs. Smith, but I will survive. I love the name Jennie; I was nearly called that but my grandmother said there were going to be too many Jennifers in the year I was born. But if my dear parents had foreseen my marrying into a family named Smith, they would have been more extravagant with my naming. At least Dorinda or Christabel!

Jennie
Jennie
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

I rather like Jill! Jennie is good, but I agree with your mom, it’s a bit too often used. My sister got a beautiful Welsh name, but my mom was so upset by how the Pa Dutch folks butchered it when they pronounced it, that she was determined to give me an ‘all American’ name.

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  holmegm

I think it is unreasonable to expect any church to recognize the warning signs of an abused child or an abusive parent. If we know anything, we know that the abuser, as a sociopath, is brilliant at hiding his predatory nature. And we can be sure that his daughter was manipulated into never letting on that anything was wrong. Even when we are told about classic warning signs, many of those signs apply to children living in normal homes and many of them are self-contradictory. This doesn’t mean we should determinedly shut our eyes, but neither do I think it… Read more »

Jennie
Jennie
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

I agree Jill, it is likely that this particular crime is well and cleverly hidden. I’m speaking more to the understanding of the young girl. For my friend, she heard adults at her school talking in some way that led her to believe that they knew. This is a horrible burden to carry for a young girl. I think often too that children will do their best to hint, and so they have to rationalize why no one did anything when in their own minds they were so clear. Then again, sometimes the adults do know. When I was about… Read more »

Rob Steele
Rob Steele
4 years ago
Reply to  ME

> for placing your father in a position of authority

The church didn’t make him dad. God did.

holmegm
holmegm
4 years ago
Reply to  Rob Steele

Ah, but the church taught that dads have authority. Perhaps that’s the issue?

Is that the church’s guilt, ME? If not, what is it?

ME
ME
4 years ago
Reply to  holmegm

If you actually read the story, dad is a prominent member of the church, one of the highly respected, prominent families admired in the church, who has been using the pastor’s words and writings to justify his sexual abuse. That church is totally responsible for having placed that dad in a position of authority,and for having armed him with the pastor’s writings and theology, theology that was obviously perverted. The church’s guilt lies in the fact that they allowed themselves to be deceived, promoted a wolf within their own ranks, armed him with teachings that were obviously twisted and used… Read more »

jillybean
jillybean
4 years ago
Reply to  ME

You write: I am appalled that above Jilly would try to fix it all by claiming the pastor is just a stranger to Gabrielle. That’s even more inappropriate. Since when are complete strangers, men even, supposed to be ministering to 17 yr old sexual abuse victims? Goodness, ME, why have you never pointed out to Pastor Wilson how inappropriate it was for him, as a complete stranger of the male sex, to be ministering to a young sexual abuse victim? Heaven knows, you’ve had every opportunity in the comment section after all these letters. After the very first one, you… Read more »

ME
ME
4 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

He is NOT a stranger, jilly.

Kelly Rose
Kelly Rose
4 years ago
Reply to  ME

The very first letter: https://dougwils.com/s7-engaging-the-culture/letters-broken-girl.html

Gabrielle knows of him through his books. He is not her pastor.

jillybean
jillybean
4 years ago
Reply to  ME

So what on earth did your comment about me mean, then? Or was it just to be unkind?

ME
ME
4 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

Jilly, you said, “He is writing to her as a stranger.”

I said, “He is NOT a stranger, jilly.”

There is no elaborate conspiracy here, no attempt to be mean.

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  ME

My first reply to you seems to have disappeared. I will try again. If you read the first paragraph of the first letter posted on March 13, you learn that Wilson does not know this girl personally. In other words, he is a stranger. He is not part of the church that made her abusive father a deacon. He asked for permission to write to Gabrielle because he learned that the father twisted and distorted Wilson’s writings to justify the abuse. He is sickened by this, and he wants to set things straight. So, he is a stranger, at least… Read more »

jillybean
jillybean
4 years ago

Now that this series appears to be wrapping up, there are a few points I would want you to cover if I were Gabrielle. So, with your indulgence, I am going to be Gabrielle and ask you. 1. I understand the importance of not telling my story to every man I date. I also see, however, that this is something my husband will need to know about me. At what point in a serious dating relationship should I tell him? Is it something I must disclose before accepting his marriage proposal or should he know this before that he even… Read more »

holmegm
holmegm
4 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

Very good questions.

BJ
BJ
4 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

Hey Jillybean, Can I take a stab at these? I would love to hear your thoughts. 1. I think the best point would be when the couple suspects it is getting beyond the flirty, fun stage to the somewhat more serious stage. It would not be fair to wait until the relationship is too deep. She would want him to fall in love with who she, good and bad, not a titled portrait of her. She will have the best sense of when this is occurring on her end, so she should be communicative, but she should get some input… Read more »

OKRickety
OKRickety
4 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

“1. I understand the importance of not telling my story to every man I date. I also see, however, that this is something my husband will need to know about me. At what point in a serious dating relationship should I tell him? Is it something I must disclose before accepting his marriage proposal or should he know this before that he even gets that far?” In the case of my ex-wife, she did not think I needed to know at all, much less before marriage or proposal. Although she did tell me before our engagement that she had been… Read more »

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  OKRickety

I agree with you. It is hard to believe that so much trauma wouldn’t leave scars and damage that might surface in a marriage. I don’t know how much of that she should have disclosed, but certainly enough that you understood she would have areas of major vulnerability. One of the good things about compulsory Catholic premarital counseling is that both parties are asked about things like histories of drug abuse, alcoholism, emotional illness, and so on. I understand why people are afraid to be truthful for fear of being rejected, but if you can’t trust your future partner to… Read more »

OKRickety
OKRickety
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

We did do some non-compulsory premarital counseling at a Methodist church, which did include an attempt at history but was not, to my recollection, very comprehensive. The best free resource that I have found is the Personal History Questionnaire from Dr. Willard Harley. If you look at it, I would be interested in your opinion of it. However, if I remember correctly, it does not specifically ask about abortion, rape, or, even, undesired sex.

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  OKRickety

It is certainly comprehensive, but I found it a little too intrusive. I think that a lot of men, especially, would be reluctant to answer some of those questions! I have had a lot of psychotherapy without ever being asked some of that stuff, and there should be a way to cover the basics without being quite that direct. I don’t think sex is usually the issue, assuming that you’re both healthy and relatively normal. If a man actually has very unpleasant ideas about what constitutes a normal sex life, he is not likely to respond honestly in the first… Read more »

OKRickety
OKRickety
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

Too intrusive? Not in my opinion. Not when one is committing to a lifetime relationship with that person. I don’t think I fully agree with Harley, but one of his fundamental “policies” is: “The Policy of Radical Honesty: Reveal to your spouse as much information about yourself as you know; your thoughts, feelings, habits, likes, dislikes, personal history, daily activities, and plans for the future.” If someone is reluctant to answer those questions, I think that is a red flag. If one isn’t open before marriage, there is a problem with honesty on their part, or acceptance on the other’s… Read more »

Mariano Ifran
Mariano Ifran
4 years ago

Amen!

Elisabeth
Elisabeth
4 years ago

.