About ten years ago I met for a chat with Sandy, a woman who was extremely abused by the church she attends. Twenty years since the abuse started, and with ongoing abuse, she is still in that church accepting it as normal. She pursues ‘God’ most religiously and complies with all rituals and church expectations, but dare to mention the name of Jesus, or talk about relationship with God, and she begins to squirm.
“Do you love Jesus?” I asked her one day in the middle of a religious discussion.
“I love God,” she responded in a matter-of-fact, but slightly raised voice.
“But what do you do with Jesus?” I asked again. Her answer was the same as the first time. Talking about Jesus as the only hope for freedom from the bondage of both religion and sin is not comfortable. She fears an intimate relationship with God through Jesus because it is unfamiliar to her, and past religious abuse makes it unsafe. It is much easier to master the externals.
The very name of Jesus cries for relationship. For grace. For mercy. For forgiveness. For love. For being accepted as we are. This is an uncomfortable thing for an individual who has been severely violated and has spent most of his or her life trying to win and earn that approval. They don’t know how to simply receive love and acceptance, no strings attached. That requires trust–something a victim finds difficult. It also requires authenticity–admitting that I am sinful and my attempts are ‘filthy rags’–and that requires humility, something performers do not have in abundance.
Rebelling against God, because of Spiritual Abuse, rather than turning to performance, requires the same hardness toward God. To pursue God and religion, trying frantically to earn His approval, while closing our hearts to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, is a hardness of one kind. Closing our hearts completely to God, denying Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and living a life of sin is a hardness of another sort. The root is the same: pride. But it looks different from a distance. Religiosity has a way of appearing better, somehow… even holy and righteous. Rebelling in sin looks worse, at least from a distance, and the self-righteous will be quick to judge, like the story of the Pharisee and the Publican. They will religiously pass on detailed prayer requests, that amount to nothing more than sanctified gossip, outlining the sins of the rebellious.
God says we are all sinners and our attempts at being acceptable through our own goodness or righteousness is like filthy rags–not acceptable. Only the death of His Son, Jesus is enough. (Isaiah 64:6)
Imagine if your son heard that someone was going to bomb a large stadium filled with people. Suppose that he intercepted the bomber and lost his life, along with the bomber, and the people in the stadium lived. A few witnesses testified to your son’s heroic act. Imagine if, when the people in the stadium heard about it, they came by to see you bringing gifts–trophies, certificates, diplomas–anything to make themselves look good. What if you started talking about your son, and they looked at you as if you’re crazy, and said they don’t want to hear how your son saved them? What if they insisted on being the centre of attention and did not care about your son’s sacrifice that saved their lives.
God is a good Father. When God came to earth and inhabited human flesh in the body of Jesus Christ, He remained fully God. However, the body He lived in was fully flesh and God watched His Son Jesus die for our sins, die to make us acceptable. It is arrogant, and a slap in the face of God, to think that even one small act on my part can assist in that saving when Jesus already gave His life. To put complete faith in Jesus, requires humility.
The cultural practices, beliefs or doctrines that I embrace, without making them a Salvation issue, are a perfectly acceptable gift to God. They hold no redemptive power, but neither does it offend the heart of God. To attach it to Salvation is sinful and perverse. But any gift given as a form of pure worship to God, rather than to try to make ourselves acceptable, is a treasure in His heart.
If you are caught up believing in cultural practices as a means to get to heaven, or if you fear eternal separation from God if you let them go, I encourage you to take those beliefs to God and ask Him to redeem them. He won’t ask you to stop doing them–they don’t bother Him, and there’s no more salvation in abandoning them than in keeping them. But He will offer to break their power of you. He came to set you free.
© Trudy Metzger 2012
Go to first post in this series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/