“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” That Bible passage comes from verse 18 of Psalm 34. Maybe you know what it’s like to be brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. If you’ve ever been abused sexually, physically, or emotionally, then I know that you know. Abuse of any kind crushes you down and leaves you broken. And when this has happened to you, especially as a child, there are no easy answers. It’s a real struggle to come to terms with what happened, and, strangely enough, it can be even harder if you have any kind of belief in the God of the Bible.
If you’ve been abused in any way, I want to acknowledge your pain as being very real and legitimate. You may try to keep that pain filed away in the back of your soul somewhere, but you and I both know that it’s still there. From time to time, it re-emerges to haunt you again – even if you thought you’d dealt with it through counselling. You have your pain and you have your questions. And again, you may have your secret doubts about God and his love for you.
There is grace and compassion from God for you. Even though you are broken. Even though you may doubt God’s love, you doubt his ability to have kept you safe when you were abused. Even though you are weak and broken, there is grace. Even though you are crushed. You’re sad and angry at the same time, maybe even angry at God. God can look past it all. God will give you grace, he will give what you don’t deserve. God is still there for you, even if you have trouble accepting it. There is grace for the abused.
Let me explain why that is. You can only understand the depth of God’s grace when you look at the person who most clearly showed God’s grace in this world. You have to look at Jesus Christ. When we’ve been abused, the temptation is to think we’re alone, that our situation is totally unique. Perhaps in some ways it is. But just think for a moment about the suffering that the Lord Jesus experienced. He was physically abused horrifically in the last hours of his life. Having had all his clothes stripped off him, there was a measure of sexual abuse in what he experienced. But the worst part of his suffering was the emotional and spiritual angle. No pictures or movies can adequately capture it. He was rejected by God his Father. He was rejected by all his friends and disciples. Jesus Christ had done nothing wrong, yet he hung on the cross and suffered. He deserved none of this!
Why did Jesus Christ have to experience all this abuse? We ask the same questions about our own experiences. We don’t often find answers that will satisfy us. There are answers available, but they seem trite. But with the suffering and abuse of Jesus Christ, we have a different story. There is an answer to why Jesus had to suffer. The Bible clearly teaches that all are sinners. Abusers and abused – all of us have fallen short of God’s holy standards. We have put ourselves into debt with God. The good news is that God sent Jesus Christ to pay the debt for all who believe in him. There was a sense in what happened with Jesus: it was for you! He took all that hellish abuse for you, so you could have a friendly relationship with God. You could not do that for yourself. God did not owe it to you to send Jesus Christ. He did it simply because he cared for you.
Do you see God’s grace in the abuse that Jesus Christ suffered? It was horrible, but there was no other way for you to be saved. Somebody had to step in and pay the price for your sins. The only way you could do it is if you were to go to hell yourself. You could spend an eternity in hell and you would never be finished paying for your sins. Instead, when you hold on to Christ in faith, his suffering makes the payment for you. The suffering of Jesus is the only thing that can make you acceptable to God.
The abuse and suffering of Jesus Christ makes sense. We can see God’s grace in that. God’s grace is that through the abuse of Jesus Christ, we receive what we did not deserve. Through the abuse of Jesus, we receive a relationship with God and life that lasts forever.
Now, let’s go back to your own abuse and suffering. Where is God’s grace in what happened to you? I’m going to be careful here, because I don’t know exactly what you’ve been through. I don’t know where you’re at right now. I can only work with what I do know. I know you’re not responsible for what happened to you. And another thing I know, and you should know too, is what we began with from Psalm 34: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” The Lord is close to you. This means that God is relationally close to you in your brokenheartedness. If you are holding on to Jesus Christ for your salvation, God promises that he is close. Now maybe you don’t feel that closeness, but he is there. He also promises to save you – that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop all the hurt and suffering in your life. No, we’re going to see that the promise is bigger than that.
When we believe that the Lord Jesus is our Saviour, we want to believe life will be easier and make more sense. But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes life becomes tougher and more confusing. We want to believe that we have a God who will stop every bad thing from happening to us. We want to believe we have a God who is in control and who’s only going to bring good things our way. We want to believe that the story of Job in the Old Testament is just an exception. But here again, we have to look to Jesus. His path to victory was through suffering. He had to travel through the valley of the shadow of death. In fact, more often than not, Christians suffer. The so-called victorious Christian life with no struggles, with no suffering and all sunny skies is the exception, not the rule. I just mentioned Job, but you can read Psalm 73 to see the same thing happening. In that Psalm, a man wonders why the wicked seem to have everything going good, but the believers are suffering. What sense does it make? The answer doesn’t come until he goes to the temple. At the temple, he sees the sacrifices of all the animals and he’s reminded that eternal death is the punishment for sin. God points out that he needs to think “big picture.”
That’s hard to do when we’ve been abused. It’s even harder to think big picture when the abuse is ongoing. It’s not easy to have an eternal perspective. But this is what faith is about. Even though things look off, you have to trust God’s promise that he is near you, even though you can’t understand how that’s being worked out. Because of Jesus Christ, God is working in your life, even through your abuse and sufferings. You have to think ahead in faith. Though it’s incredibly hard to do it, you have to think along the lines of what we read in Romans 8:18, “I consider that the present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” The present life is suffering and abuse. It’s real and it weighs us down. But there is a future. The future is glory and it will be revealed in us. This is God’s promise to you. He makes another promise in verse 28 of Romans 8, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And then a couple verses further, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
If you’ve been abused, you probably don’t feel like God has been much for you in your life. Again, here’s where faith comes in the picture. To grasp what I’m getting at, you need to think of yourself differently. We like to think that we’re quite intelligent, understanding people. We’ve reached a level of maturity. But as Christians, we come to see ourselves differently. I used to live in a BC town where there were a number of mentally handicapped people. One of them was a young woman, perhaps in her twenties. She had a caregiver who took her out every day. Without her caregiver, she would likely never have been able to get out of bed, eat proper meals, and so on. She was totally dependent on her caregiver. She trusted her caregiver to do the right thing for her each day. I suppose she may not always have understood why her caregiver did certain things. But yet she trusted her. We see the same thing with infant children and their parents. They don’t understand, especially in the midst of pain, but typically they go on trusting. They know that their parents and caregivers are really for them. When we think about God’s closeness to us, we need to think in these terms. Hard though it may be, we need to see ourselves as entirely dependent on God and his goodness. As we do that, we will not only know about God’s grace, we will also experience it in our lives.
And as we experience that grace for ourselves in relation to God, in time we’ll also be more ready and willing to share it with others. One of the biggest (and hardest) steps an abused person can take is to extend grace and forgiveness to the one who abused them. Maybe you’re not ready for that yet. It may take some time. I understand that it’s incredibly challenging. But as you meaningfully reflect on God’s grace for you in Jesus Christ, at some point you’ll want to share that grace with the person or people who’ve hurt you. They don’t deserve your forgiveness, do they? But when you can give that forgiveness, what are you saying about God? You’re saying, “In giving Jesus Christ, my God has been so gracious to me, I can extend the same grace to you.” In that way, God’s goodness gets amplified in this broken world. More people will come to see and appreciate the depth of God’s grace for sinners.
If you’ve been abused, there is God’s grace and healing for you in Jesus Christ. May God bless you with his grace in our Saviour Jesus.