Today: Monday, December 09, 2019

Obstacles to faith: the scandal of abuse    (6/16/2013 )

There's no easy way to say this, but the reality has to be faced: the church has had some appalling scandals over the years, perhaps none worse, or more heart-rending, than the sexual abuse of children. Abuse is always deeply shocking, but when committed by church people it is doubly horrific. 

Can there be any excuses, any explanations? What’s gone wrong, and why doesn’t God stop it happening?

The straightforward answer is that there can be no excuses. The only explanation is that human nature has done its worst. 

People, including people of faith, can go wrong when powerful forces get the better of them. The temptations of money, sex and power are alive in human hearts - both inside and outside the church. When one values one's self above anyone or anything else, other people can too easily become objects for our own fulfilment. Personal satisfaction rides rough-shod over sacrifice and self-control. The results can be appalling. 

And where is God in all this? Why doesn’t he intervene when the vulnerable are crushed? The answers are not easy. But while there are answers to prayer, if God were to intervene in every disaster, where should he stop? He would become a totally interventionist God and human freedom would no longer exist. It can be hard to face, but God holds us responsible for our own actions. We are all answerable for what we do, though others sometimes bear the cost.

Jesus himself was very clear. He offers forgiveness to all, but he also said: “If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around the neck and be thrown into the sea." (Mark [NT] chapter 9, verse 42). Jesus' disciple Peter tells us that even the church comes under God’s judgment and will be judged before anyone else (1 Peter [NT] chapter 4, verse 17).

Having given us this freedom to make good or to mess up his world, God’s heart breaks for every injury and every malicious, harmful act towards another. His answer was to become vulnerable himself as a child and adult, in Christ. The cross, Jesus’ death, is about innocent suffering, absorbing the pain and guilt of a sin-full world. The empty grave, Jesus’ resurrection, is a sign of hope that sin and death do not have the last word; that things don’t always have to be like this; that evil can, often through pain, be overcome.

The church as a body - and Christian people in general - need to be deeply sorry for our failings, deeply concerned for those who have suffered abuse or the shattering of their faith, and deeply concerned for our own standards and behaviour. 

To anyone who has had a bad experience of church, or who has suffered at the hands of someone who should have been trustworthy, we can only say how very sorry we are. Just possibly through penitence and apology we can point to the Jesus who lived and died for children and vulnerable and hurting people. It may be that the church could then, at its best, be what it is meant to be - a place of healing, love and restoration.

Pray: Merciful God, I pray for those who have suffered at the hands of the church or church people - for their healing, recovery and for the fresh discovery of your love. And I pray for those who have caused such damage: for their self-discovery, penitence and reparation, and in time or eternity, for your forgiveness.

Think about: Abuse is destructive in whatever situation it is used. Some kinds of abuse are extremely damaging physically and emotionally, and can even be life-threatening. Even abusive words can be a form of murder (see Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, verses 21-22).  Does that have implications for how you treat other people?

Challenge: Could you do anything to stop an abusive situation or to help someone who has been deeply damaged through abuse? Could your kindness and compassion bring some healing?

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