People often ask me why the church has historically responded so poorly to the cries of sexual abuse victims. While there are many reasons, the one that seems to rise to the top is something I’ll call THE HAPPY WORLD SYNDROME.
We tend to separate our lives into secular boxes and sacred boxes. While I would argue this is not helpful (I would rather have a model where Jesus is at the center of our lives, permeating every part, instead of separate compartments where He is and where He isn’t.), its praxis is quite discernible.
As Christ followers, we can abide by bad things happening “out there” in the big, bad world. But we don’t want to believe they happen in our sacred spheres. Not in our churches, certainly. So when someone makes an outcry, whether it be because of a staff member, or completely unrelated, we react immediately with pushback. Their words shatter our desire for a happy world, a safe place. It is easier to place our fingers in our ears and pretend all is well than to face the reality of very real evil in our midst.
But Evil Exists
Jesus was quite pointed when He prepared the disciples to live without Him. His warnings include:
“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves” (MATTHEW 7:15 NLT). When what we think should be sheep start growling and showing their fangs, our response should not be to ignore such an anomaly. No, it should be to expose them. To shed light on the false clothing. To protect the sheep from a predator among us.
Jesus reminds us that in this world, there will be trouble. There will be strife. There is no such thing as a happy world, at least not in the sense that all will always be well.
Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). How can He do His amazing, overcoming work if we deny there is evil? How can He shed light on the darkness if we pretend it doesn’t exist?
John reminds us of Jesus’ purpose on this earth in 1 John 3:8 “But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.” And I would loudly proclaim that sexual abuse and exploitation is one of the enemy’s strongest tools against humanity. To believe in an “all is well” world is to discount the very real nature of evil on this earth.
The Other Side
I wish I could say this world makes sense. I wish I could point to complete justice this side of eternity. Life is difficult, and for the sexual abuse survivor, it looms dark. But it will not get better if we keep allowing wolves to wear sheep costumes, and it will never improve if we whitewash over the darkness just so our world can seem prettier.
Justice work is hard work. And whether it’s people making outcries in church or in the legal system, it doesn’t always end with a happily ever after. But that frustrating reality doesn’t strip us of our mandate to be the kind of Jesus follower who actually, truly follows Jesus–the One who protected the broken, heard their cries, and shouldered their pain.
Now We Can Work
As Kingdom workers, we bleed justice. We long for the not-yet. We pray for deliverance. We engage in spiritual warfare. We walk alongside those who hurt–with this in mind: this is godly work. This is being the hands and feet of Jesus to those who often feel like they’ve been expelled.
The Happy World exists on the other side of heaven’s shores. Believe me, I long for it. My body is tired. My heart is broken. My battle armor is chinked. I have been in this fight a long time. But I am encouraged by so many of you who allow for a broken world, who listen to the cries of the hurting, and work toward making our churches places of merciful justice.
We Too releases in a week! If this article resonates with you, if you want to be part of the solution, consider picking up a copy.