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.
Thanks for writing back, and thanks for the (very good) questions. You basically asked, if I understood you correctly, why I thought a “theology lecture” was a good place to start a discussion with a girl who had been repeatedly abused by her father. You expressed it very kindly, but that is how I cashed your question out.
I understand the question, and believe it or not, I also understand the force of the question. But I also believe there is a compelling answer, if you will bear with me for just one more round on this. After that, in our next letters, I would like to get to the other questions you brought up at the end of your letter, particularly the one about the nature of forgiveness.
You have suffered a traumatic injury—to your heart and soul, to your very identity as a Christian woman. In the shock and aftermath of what has happened, you are naturally reeling, and because of that some of the things that happen to you in the ER might seem almost as bad as the injury itself. But there can be a real comfort in understanding why certain uncomfortable things have to happen. One of the more common complaints that some patients in serious situations have about doctors is that they don’t answer enough questions, particularly about the hard things.
Think of it this way. Compare what has happened to you to a broken bone, and let us say the break was particularly nasty, broken in bad ways and in multiple places. Before any “healing” can begin, before physical therapy can start, the bone has to be reset. A cast has to be put on it. What this does is immobilize the injury, preventing further injury. And sometimes the work of resetting a bone can be pretty gnarly—not a comforting experience at all. Considered in itself, it is simply one more bad experience following all the others.
But after you have had time to rest and recuperate a bit, then comes the time for physical therapy. That is when you want an empathetic coach, a trainer who comes alongside to encourage you. That is because encouragement at that point is actually helpful. It really does promote healing. But to begin the therapeutic exercises before the bone is set would simply be malpractice.
So when you are dealing with a traumatic injury like that, there are two tasks, not just one. First, you want to prevent the situation from deteriorating into a worse condition—and there are many ways an unaddressed injury can deteriorate. Secondly—and it is important that it be second—you begin the process of therapy and recovery.
What you refer to as my “Calvinism” is like the cast, setting the bone. It can appear rigid and unyielding. That is because it is rigid and unyielding. That is exactly what a cast needs to be. Whatever you do, however you think about this, do not find fault with God. If you start blaming God, there is nothing waiting for you at the end of that road but an everlasting swamp. You will almost immediately find yourself in a world where anything goes—including what your father did—and it will be a world in which you will find yourself victimized again and again. My central concern is to head that off.
Jesus said that we would know the truth, and the truth would set us free (John 8:32). We begin with the issues of truth, not because we are cold and hard, but because we are not. It is not because we want to inflict pain, but because a great deal more pain is coming if we don’t do it.
I mentioned the prospect of being victimized again and again. Let me give you two examples of how this can happen. You have (almost certainly) noticed that some of the boys at school—and not the right kind of boys either—have started paying you the kind of attention that creeps you out and (simultaneously) beckons you. This kind of guy has an instinctive awareness of your vulnerability, and make no mistake, their interest in you is not altruistic. In such a situation, you are the prey (again). The reason it creeps you out is the Spirit within you. The reason it beckons is that you have probably already told yourself (hundreds of times) that you are “damaged goods,” that no Christian man “would ever want you,” that there is “no sense trying,” that there is “no sense caring,” that you are “forever defiled,” and so on. The emotional pull is based on the idea that the kind of guy who is paying attention to you now is the only kind of guy who would ever be interested in you. This is false, by the way, but in the moment it feels like unalterable truth.
That is the reason we have to set the bone—so that it doesn’t move in certain directions. The cast may seem “unkind,” but it is the kindest thing anyone could do for you in this kind of situation.
Here is another example. Because of the trial, and the public nature of what has happened to your family, there are certain people who want to recruit you for “political” purposes. Your father was a deacon in your church—that was another betrayal of his—and there are people who want to capture you and use you in their crusade against conservative Christianity. They are on your side, “completely” they say. Whenever they have spoken to you, they have emphasized over and over that everyone has a responsibility simply “to believe you.”
Now of course, Nancy and I believe your account—absolutely. Your aunt and uncle do as well. But there is a dramatic difference. We believe it because it is the truth. It has been established. It was established in a court of law. It was established with multiple witnesses. It was sealed with your father’s confession in the plea arrangement. We all know what happened. Your story is true, in other words.
But there are people who are willing to believe your story whether or not it is true. These people act like they are on your side, but they are simply using you. In this respect they are very much like the boys who are coming around. They sense a vulnerability, and they sense that this vulnerability (that your father created) gives them an opportunity to get something they want. As soon as you can no longer supply them with that, you will find out that their concern is about as deep as a wet spot on the pavement.
Please know that you have many people in your life who love God and His Word, and who also love you. They want you to flourish. That is certainly want we want for you. Also please know that these people who love you will use many of the same phrases that your father would hypocritically use. But his false use does not negate the true use. In the course of our letter, I may refer to a Bible verse that your father would appeal to all the time. Look past the superficial associations.
In my next letter, I would like to talk about what forgiveness is. Is that all right with you? The Christian duty of forgiveness really is fundamental, but it is also widely misunderstood. Write me any questions you might have about forgiveness, and we can take it from there.
Cordially in Christ . . .