BY RJ GRUNEWALD
Renee Alston, in the book Stumbling Toward Faith, begins her story with these disturbing words:
“I grew up in an abusive household. Much of my abuse was spiritual—and when I say spiritual, I don’t mean new age, esoteric, random mumblings from half-Wiccan, hippie parents…”
“I mean that my father raped me while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I mean that my father molested me while singing Christian hymns.”
What do you say to someone who experienced this?
Abuse like this is far too common. One treatment provider suggested that offenders are all too good at keeping this hidden, especially in our churches, “If children can be silenced and the average person is easy to fool, many offenders report that religious people are even easier to fool than most people.” 
Abuse, lying, and systems hiding abuse, make talking about grace with the abused incredibly difficult. Love gets tainted by manipulation and power; grace gets covered by oppression. And regularly occurring stories from victims of abuse, repeatedly remind us of the pain that exists in our world. We may not even realize it, but we all know someone who has been impacted by the trauma of abuse.
How in the world are we supposed to find words to speak, when somebody’s experience of Christianity comes from a manipulative, abusive father?
How are we supposed to talk about grace to somebody who thinks they need to be forgiven for their own abuse?
We must begin with the love of God in Christ—the place where all healing in the midst of suffering begins. Jesus Christ will never allow any evil perpetrated against us to separate us from the love of God. The Cross of Christ is proof of the extent that God is willing to go to make sure that no sin against you will separate you from His love.
Paul writes in Romans:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Nothing separates us from the love of God. No sin done against us is too big for the Cross. Grace, in the moment of suffering, triumphs over evil. As we are helpless to fight against the evils done to us, Jesus fights for us, cries with us, and promises to bind up our wounds.
Abuse & the Theology of the Cross
One of Martin Luther’s most important theological distinctions was what he referred to as a “Theology of the Cross.” The opposing view, a “Theology of Glory” minimizes difficult and painful things, often acting as though they were good things. In the midst of abuse, someone with this type of theology might be quick to give answers to explain away, or minimize the evil. Others might look to justify what they face, by trying to explain God’s actions and why this evil happened. A “Theology of the Cross” on the other hand, faces suffering head on and leans into it. This type of theology doesn’t explain away the abuse but sees it for what it is, a great evil. And in the midst of that evil, leans into the truth that God is always at work in the midst of our suffering, even when it becomes incredibly difficult to see His work.
Grace doesn’t eliminate the pain and suffering on the long road to healing, but grace comes alongside of us in the midst of it. Grace frees us from explaining why it happened and how it happened and instead focuses on the Christ who is with us and for us. While the abuser may be comforted in a simple word of absolution, sadly the victim doesn’t have the same luxury.
The Gospel offers hope and healing to even the most broken by abuse; but the road can be long and painful.
Abuse & the Victory of the Cross
Abuse also creates another common problem for our understanding of grace. We have victims who believe they are guilty of the evil done to them and we have abusers who believe they are the victims.
Many victims actually believe they need forgiveness for the crimes that were done to them.
If you have been abused, manipulated, or raped—you are not guilty. This was not your fault. And anybody who teaches otherwise is abusing their authority. If you are the victim, you do need grace—not to forgive you for what was done to you, but to rescue you from the sin that was done to you.
Jesus will not let your abuse get the last word. “It is finished” not only declares victory over your own sins, but over the evil that was done to you. 
Consider the Psalmist’s plea when he writes:
“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am | in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body | also… My times are | in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! (Psalm 31:9, 15)
Jesus is powerful enough to rescue victims of the most evil of sins. In the midst of suffering, cover-ups, and lies, there is no place to turn other than the One who suffered on the Cross. As you face an abuse you didn’t choose, Jesus willfully endured a Cross He chose—for your sake. On the Cross Jesus scorns the shame that has scarred you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 
To the victims of abuse—please hear this—although you are a sinner, your sin has nothing to do with what was done to you. Your pain and suffering has nothing to with your guilt, but it has everything to do with the evil that was done to you. The Cross is not only a place where Jesus substitutes himself for the worst of sinners, it is also a place where He rescues people hurt by the most vile of sins. 
In the death that was forced upon you in your abuse, the resurrection gives hope and healing you can’t get for yourself. In the suffering you continue to face, be assured your abuse doesn’t get the last word.
Perhaps your abuse has created a deafening scream making it harder and harder to hear about a God who loves you. Perhaps your oppression has drowned out any words of hope coming from the death and resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps your scars remind you of something you pray you will one day forget.
The Cross is the evidence of how much God hates what you’ve gone through. Jesus endures the pain of the cross to bring victory to victims who can’t fight for themselves. In the death and resurrection, Jesus gives life to those who have had the will to live sucked from their souls. In the confession of their helplessness against evil, the Gospel speaks of Christ who not only substitutes himself for the ungodly, but is also victorious over all sin, death, and the devil. 
To the abused, to the victimized, and to the ones who are tirelessly trying to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, hear the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” (Isaiah 61:1)
Jesus gets the last word.
If you have been held captive by sins done against you, Jesus comes for you with good news. If you have been left with scars from what was said to you, Jesus binds up your wounds with His nail scarred hands. If you have been broken by a system covering up abuse, leaving you enslaved, Jesus proclaims liberty to your oppression. And if you have been trapped in the prison of abuse, Jesus comes to open the doors and set the captives free. 
- Applying Law And Gospel To Victims And Perpetrators Of Child Sexual Abuse
- John 19:30 and Hebrews 9:25-26
- John 10:17-18 and Hebrews 12:2
- 1 Timothy 1:15-16 and Galatians 1:3-4
- Colossians 2:13-15 and 1 Corinthians 15:55-57
- Luke 4:16-21 and Galatians 5:1
All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission.
RJ Grunewald is a Vicar at Faith Lutheran Church in Troy, Michigan, serving in the student ministry and as a part of the preaching team. He is also attending Concordia Seminary in St. Louis through their distance education program. RJ is a theology nerd who loves books and sermons by dead guys. But as a writer and a preacher, he passionately believes that theology isn’t just meant for the academics and dead guys but it is for everyday life. He has a free, grace-filled book on addiction that you can download today, Addiction: Leaving the Vomit Behind. RJ has been married to his wife Jessica since 2007 and they have 2 kids, Elijah and Emaline.