Some sins are more obviously bad than others—hurting those we're called to protect and serve is one of them. While people make all kinds of arguments that homosexuality should be tolerated, that lying is okay in certain circumstances, or that sexual license is just "free love," few would try to defend an act of abuse.
It's not much good trying to separate different kinds of abuse. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and mental abuse are all abuse, and all of them share effects and results. Any kind of abuse will result in emotional wounds; sexual abuse is physical abuse; mental abuse more often than not has physical repercussions.
That's not to say different forms of abuse don't require specific kinds of therapy, or don't result in a particular kind of behaviour and attitudes. They do; but all abuse boils down to one thing: abdication. Anyone who abuses another has taken advantage of their role as an authority figure to satisfy their own perverse desires or frustrations on a helpless person.
Abdication occurs when an individual proves him or herself unfit for their role by betraying trust, by harming what they're charged to protect, or simply by neglecting their duties. Abuse is abdication in all three senses. It's at its worst when it happens within families, because the family is supposed to be the most secure group to which anyone belongs.
We could just say, "Abuse is sin. Case closed.", but that wouldn't really get at the heart of its nature or effects. Of course it is sin, but it's a particular kind of sin, and doesn't necessarily have an intuitive or obvious solution. Even calling it sin brings uncertainty to the minds of many victims: whose sin are we talking about?
Be sure we aren't talking about the sin of the victims. While no one is without sin, it's equally inappropriate to assume that an individual is being abused because of their sin. This is often what the abuser would have them believe, but by abusing someone in the first place they've already shown themselves to be untrustworthy.
Abuse is sin on the part of the one abusing. The husband who slaps his wife around is the one in sin, not his wife; even if he slaps her because he caught her doing something wrong, the abuse is his sin, nor hers. Self-justification is itself a sin, and probably one of the leading causes of abuse.
Whatever the causes are, abuse is an evil we must fight against. But more than just fighting to stop it or prevent it, we need to offer hope to those who have been victimized. Healing only comes through Jesus Christ, but we are called to bring the sick and dying to the Great Physician, and we do this through love, compassion, and evangelism.
Not every conversation with a victim needs to turn into a Gospel session, but if we leave this out of our care for them we're doing them a greater disservice than whoever hurt them in the first place. Men can hurt us physically and emotionally; only God can save us from eternal misery and torment.
Many of us will never know what it's like to abuse or to be abused, and we offer thanks to God for this. Our world, however, is fallen, and each of us both sins and experiences the effects of sin daily. If we are to emulate Christ, it is our duty to proclaim Him to those who hurt and those who have been hurt, praying that the sin will cease even as we pray that Christ will transform hearts of stone to hearts of flesh in every broken spirit.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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