Praying the un-prayable

As Christians we cherish the Old and New Testaments for many reasons. They teach us about God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. The prophecies and promises of His coming in the OT, and the revelation of Him through the Gospels, and then expanded teachings in the NT letters. 

There are many texts in the OT that you can read that point ahead to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Here are just a few (look up their fulfillment in the NT):

Gen. 3:15; 12:1-3; 15:1-6; Isaiah 7:14; 9:1-7; 53; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 9:9-10; 13:7-9

As part of our new relationship with God (saved, not condemned), God invites us to approach Him in prayer.

Praying

Jesus invites the hearers/readers/listeners to believe on Him and be saved. This includes forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, etc., and to approach God in prayer and to do so with confidence. In fact, we see in both testaments the encouragement to pray, the models for praying. Reading the Psalms can be great sources of praying, and learning about prayer.

For centuries Christians have grown in their prayer lives as they are influenced, guided, and directed by the Bible.

Praying can be hard

As we live in this world that is scarred by sin, it doesn’t take us long to hit the brick wall of difficult prayers. I don’t mean simple prayers, but those prayers that are so agonizing that we can’t even express ourselves. Words seem to fail us.

Having lived through decades of agony, fear, inability to change circumstances, I can’t even count how many times I was flat on the bed, floor, ground, crying out loud, “How long!?!” One Psalm captures that extreme sense of loss, abandonment, despair.

God does not leave us in that condition. And it is a good thing. Perhaps the pain of what is happening is monumental,  and we stutter, frozen in a failure to even pray. God promises that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in that exact spot:

At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words. The one who searches our hearts knows what the Spirit has in mind. The Spirit intercedes for God’s people the way God wants him to.  (Romans 8:26-27 GW)

What a comfort that God helps form our prayers even in those difficult, trying times.

Praying the Un-prayable

But now we come to the most difficult part. Trying to pray the un-prayable. This is the extreme condition when praying even seems unspeakable. When the pain is beyond description. To even say words at that point would mean that even God would be offended!

Psalm 137 comes to mind. It begins with a lament.

So far, this seems like a normal lament. But notice how this ends:

That is startling!! A few years ago I read one commentator who wrote strongly that this is “sub-Christian” and should never be uttered by anyone! Or in the words of this subheading: Praying the un-prayable.

I would offer that this prayer is precisely a Christian prayer, a faithful prayer. For the Jew writing this, the agony of seeing Jerusalem and the temple destroyed was overwhelming. The agony of deportation to other lands (not just Babylon, but also Egypt). The death of many family members and friends boils in the backdrop of the mind. The Psalm is not written with a “peaceful, pretty, gentle” background. The raw emotions of the Jewish people comes through very clearly.

But God… and this is key… But the Psalmist who utters this prayer brings the full brunt of the desperation before God. Notice, however, that the Psalmist does not act on this violence, namely “smashing babies against the rocks.” Rather the Psalmist is praying in faith before God. And that faith is such that God can handle the anger, the frustration, the hopelessness. The worst of all imaginable words, yet the Psalmist brings those emotions, hurts, losses, and now even words before God.

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A word about justice:

The Psalmist does not take matters into his own hands. His heart is open about what he wanted to do—before God. But justice was not in his hands. God raised up others (namely, the Persians) who conquered Babylon. Was it instantaneous justice? No, but it was far better than one person trying to take on personal vengeance.

In the case of the sexual abuse scandal at MSU, USAG, and OSOC, God raised up people to address not one abuse incident—remember that many were not aware how extensive it was—but the larger scheme. Therefore, God raised up Rachael, Morgan, Makayla, and many others to become the voice that shouted “no more!”

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina in the courtroom allowed those many voices to be heard. The voice was no longer one lonely, fearful voice, but a combination of hundreds of voices, angry voices of women who were finally being heard. The Psalmist of 137 gave way to God’s greater justice. And now that same process is being played out. Justice is being served.

And the voices of others who have been abused are now catching worldwide attention: Abby Honold and the law named after her in Minnesota. Sammy Woodhouse who survived the Rotherham abuse ring is telling the story through her book and personal appearances. 

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Hope in Praying the Un-prayable

In praying this way, we are not offending God by our words. Rather we are actually trusting Him to hear, and respond in His perfect way. Not our way, not the expedient way, not the way we planned, not in the time we demand, but in His perfect way and perfect timing. We do so, knowing His promises to hear and to act.

Over the years when the ongoing turmoil was moving beyond 30 years, and part of it was our one son was missing for 18 years, life was beyond messy—it felt like the Babylonian captivity. It was what I described privately as “hell on earth.” That was the strongest way to describe it. Was God offended? No, he welcomes the prayers that are un-prayable. My heart was broken into a million pieces, my words inadequate. But, God listened.

My prayer of lament, the un-prayable prayer, was answered in a dramatic fashion two years ago. What I struggled to utter during those decades was answered in a way I didn’t think possible. But God…

Abused, broken—
prayers for them and with them

As I think about those who have been (and are being) abused, I think of Psalm 137. We can pray their un-prayable prayers for them and with them. We can open our mouths before God to say the difficult words, express the hurt, anger, rage, frustration. And we know that God can handle it.

That is one reason I began the daily prayer on Facebook and Twitter for #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors who suffered (and still do) under the abuse by Larry Nassar, MSU, and USAG, USOC, etc.

But now, we can expand that to pray for the many who have suffered abuse in so many ways. I think of Madeleine Black, Abby Honold, Lori Ann Thompson, Sandy Beach, Mary DeMuth, and so many others. And prayers for those who care for and minister to those who have been abused.

When we pray for them, we do not in any way minimize or diminish what has happened, what they are experiencing, the anguish, despair, sense of being forgotten. Rather, we pray in light of all that, we pray that God brings what we cannot.

Let’s storm God’s throne of mercy with un-prayable prayers, for the sake of our sisters and brothers.

Our prayers continue
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Prayers for Survivors — Part 6

As time passes, it is easy for many of us to think that the effects of abuse have disappeared. But we are reminded that each day these women face new challenges, grow beyond where they had been. But their pain is real, the consequences significant. This is a small reminder that not one is forgotten.

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Heavenly Father, You know the challenges and attacks that each of these people have faced. Reassure them of Your presence in Jesus Christ. Grant them strength, wisdom, and insight on how best to proceed, especially in the coming days. Refresh, restore, and renew them according to Your mercy in Jesus Christ. May they continue to be a voice for the broken, the forgotten, the voiceless. Protect their hearts when attacked, and sustain them with Your Word. 

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Day 78 Katelynne Hall #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Loving Father, we ask for Your mercy on Katelynne in all that she does. Strengthen her for her task, grant her joy in her life and activities. In difficult times be her Rock and comfort her with your everlasting love. IJN Amen

Day 79 Anya Gillengerten #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord God, grant Your special blessings on Anya. As she faces challenges because of the abuse, may You raise up people to care for and minister to her. Bring healing, strength, and confidence. Meet all her needs in Jesus, in whose name we pray.

Day 80 Kaylee McDowell #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Father, we approach Your throne of mercy in behalf of Kaylee. Comfort, encourage, and strengthen her each day. Raise up people who can love, support, and affirm her. May You bring healing to her heart and confidence in all she does. IJN Amen

Day 81 Lindsay Woolever #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, may You sustain Lindsay even in the darkest days. Continue to watch over her, bring complete healing & strength. Whatever her needs, may You meet them. Surround her with people who love her. Psalm 34:18-19. IJN Amen

Day 82 Hannah Morrow #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Today, God, our focus is on Hannah. You know the pain she has endured, the ongioing effects. But You are a God of love. Remind her daily of that & raise up people who extend that love to her. Comfort & strengthen her. IJN Amen

Day 83 Bayle Pickel #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, bless Bayle as she moves forward. Healing continues & comfort needed. Raise up people who will care for her. We also pray for her family as they live w/consequences. Give Bayle times of refreshing & strengthening. IJN Amen

Day 84 Alexis Alvarado #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Gracious Lord, continue to bless Alexis with healing, strength, comfort, & hope. Give her wisdom as she moves forward. May You sustain her in the difficult times, encourage her in challenging times, & give her grace and peace. IJN Amen

Day 85 Morgan McCaul #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Father, today our prayers are with & for Morgan. We give thanks that You have strengthened her to be a consistent voice in the  need for change at MSU. Grant her continued healing, grace, & wisdom as she does so. IJN Amen

Day 86 Trenea Gonzcar #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, we bring before Your throne of mercy Trenea as she continues to heal. Grant her grace in the difficult days, strength to move forward, &wisdom to make healing choices. Bless her family as they too walk with her. IJN Amen

Day 87 Larissa Boyce #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors God, look w/favor upon Larissa. Whatever repercussions from the abuse, may You bring healing of spirit, mind, & body. Strengthen her for all tasks. Grant her family peace as they walk w/her. Give them wisdom, love, & compassion. IJN Amen

Day 88 Bailey Lorencen #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, we ask for Your blessings, strength, & wisdom for Bailey. Guide her as she deals w/ the past and moves forward as conqueror. Bless her family as they care for her. Reshape the bad into something even better. IJN. Amen

Day 89 Valerie Webb #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, we ask for special blessing, healing, strength, and comfort for Valerie. As she faces challenges, make her more than sufficient to meet and overcome them. Guide her daily and may she live in Your strength. IJN, Amen

Day 90 Whitney Mergens #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Heavenly Father, bless Whitney with healing and mercy. For the dark days of memories, grant her relief. Guide her as she moves forward. Surround her with people of love and truth. May she live in Your strength and clairty of speech. IJN Amen

Day 91 Marta Stern #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, may Your comfort, strength, & wisdom be w/Marta. We give thanks for her strength and willingness to speak. Bring her complete healing of body, mind, and soul. In the dark days, be her Light and compass. IJN Amen

Day 92 Clasina Syrovy #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Heavenly Father, You know Clasina’s needs. Bring healing & wholeness to her life. Guide her as she moves forward. Give her wisdom as she makes decisions & may the scars of asbuse give way to a healed body, mind, & spirit. IJN Amen

Day 93 Emma Ann Miller #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, Emma’s needs are many, some even hidden. But You know & You love her. Grant healing, strength, determination, & focus in the journey ahead. Surround her with people who love, care for, & encourage her. Bless her. IJN Amen

Day 94 Amanda Smith #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, today our prayer focus is Amanda. You have gifted her, rescued her, & now restoring her. Whatever needs she has may You more than meet them. Grant her healing, wisdom, & voice to speak against evil. Surround her w/people of love. IJN Amen

Our prayers continue

Additional Thoughts on #Prayer-Survivors-Conquerors

This last week as I was struggling with some sickness, I let slip a day or two of prayers for the women who were abused by Larry Nassar. I had gone 87 days following that pattern. Yet I missed two days last week. 

The sickness wasn’t life threatening for me by any stretch. But with my age and the challenges this past year with adjusting to a new normal after my accident, it caught me by surprise. This thing wore me out, not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

I reflected on that last night. I began thinking about the more than 200 women who had been sexually abused by Nassar, some more than 20 years ago. How many days have they faced their burdens? The weight of no one listening to them for years. And when some reported the people who could have helped never did anything. No one responded with help for them. 

I wonder how tired, overwhelmed they felt all that time? And then they faced their abuser, and yet still they are attacked, sidelined, and ignored by #MSU and #USAG and others. This was not a episode from which they would recover with a couple weeks of rest. 

This is daily, weekly, monthly, yearly —drains on the life, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. That is the tiring and wearying reality of so many. My little episode pales by comparison. 

This reminds me when we pray for each of them, it is not just an instant in their lives, it is their lives. Yes, they are growing, maturing, but also hurting, angry, standing strong in public, and setting a course for many others who are beginning to address the horror, injustice, and pain.

And new names beyond the sports scandal are added to the list of abused, seemingly each day. Our prayer life is extended, not as a burden, but a necessity, a promise, a joy. They are Survivors and Conquerors. And, yes, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, these women are strong. And we stand with them as Prayer Warriors.

I am no longer sick or tired; my illness has passed. But my prayer focus for each of them continues. They all need our prayers, every day. 

If I fail to do that, Lord, forgive me, strengthen me, and even give me the appropriate words in prayer. Here is God’s promise for us as we pray:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NAS)

Our prayers continue

Prayers for Survivors/Conquerors—Part 2

Continuation of earlier this month. It’s easy for us to let slip the horror done and how that has affected so many. These prayers can help us remember those who endured and lived in light of the consequences of the actions of one man, the inactions of several people, and the indifference at best of organizations.

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Day 20 Melissa Imrie #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord of life & love, may You sustain Melissa day by day. Bring healing to her mind, heart, & soul. Bless her family as they too need help. Strengthen her this day of her new life. IJN. Amen.

Day 21 Victim 125 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, you know hurts, agony, need for stability 4 Victim 125. Today bless her, comfort her in dark times, raise up people to walk w/her, to bring Your words of love & hope. IJN Amen.

Day 22  Megan Halicek #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, we lift up Megan as she continues to live in aftermath of the abuse. Grant her nights of rest, & comfort her in the midst fears, uncertainty. Surround her w/people of love. IJN. Amen.

Day 23  Victim 48 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord God, bless and protect this woman. Reassure her of Your love and grace. Embrace her with people who know You and love her. Whatever her needs, may You meet them thru Jesus

Day 24  Katelyn Skrabis #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Gracious Lord, look w/favor upon Katelyn in her needs today. We thank You for those who have walked beside her, support her. Continue to bring wholeness and strength to her. IJN. Amen

Day 25  Brianne Randall #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth. Be present w/Brianne in whatever her needs. Comfort, strengthen, & encourage her. Bring healing to her heart. IJN. Amen.

Prayer for Jules: Lord God, You know all that she has faced,
You have strengthened her in midst of much opposition.
Grant that Your Spirit would fill her heart so that she
demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit in all circumstances.
Her story is not “her truth” rather “the truth.” Protect her heart,
give her wisdom and courage to speak that truth. IJN. Amen.

Day 26  Victim 2 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, once again we come to You in behalf of this victim. Heal her pain, grant her nights of rest and peace in the midst of the turmoil. Bless her family as well as they continue to care for her. IJN. Amen.

Day 27 Anna Ludes #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Dear God, we lift up to Your throne of mercy Anna. You know her heart, agony, sorrow, also new life moving forward. Give her joy in life. Strengthen, comfort, and love her. IJN Amen

Day 28  Lindsey Schuett #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, we entrust Lindsey to Your loving/healing care. In depths of hurt, bring soothing care. Remind her of constant love in Jesus. Bless Lindsey & her family as they mend. IJN. Amen

Day 29  Maggie Nichols #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, You know the needs of Maggie. Not only meet them, but raise up people who can minister to her & care for her. In times of difficulty, loneliness, may You be her Rock. IJN. Amen

Day 30  Tiffany Thomas Lopez #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Our God, grant Your healing, comforting presence for Tiffany today and each day. Where the hurts are deep, bring the soothing salve of Your love and grace. Be her Rock IJN. Amen

Day 31 Jeanette Antolin  #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Heavenly Father, grant Your mercy upon Jeanette as continues to build her life. Strengthen her in the midst of weakness, comfort her in the dark days, love her continually. IJN. Amen

Psalm for the broken but not destroyed

Prayers for Survivors/Conquerors

I started almost three weeks ago a series of prayers for survivors of Nassar’s  sexual assaults on hundreds of young girls and women. One prayer each day. It’s easy to be angry initially, but each of these girls and women and their families live in aftermath of the abuse. Let’s not forget them.

I marvel at their strength, courage, and encouragement each of them is for all others who have been abused.

Here is the list of the first 19 prayers. On Twitter here is the key phrase:

#PrayerSurvivorsConquerors

Day 1 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Gracious Lord, I lift up to Your throne of mercy Kyle Stephens. You know the pain & hurt, the challenges that lie ahead for her. Therefore grant her comfort, peace, & safety, & healing. Raise up the right people to walk w/her; thru Jesus Christ, Amen

Day 2 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors O, Lord our God, how majestic is Your name. Today l lift Jessica Thomashow to Your throne of mercy. May You comfort, heal, and strengthen her each day. Grant her peace and joy in You, as You as she move forward; thru Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Day 3 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors The next person on the list I have: Victim D. Lord God, bless and protect this woman. Reassure her of Your love and grace. Embrace her with people who know you and love her. Whatever her needs, may you meet them thru Jesus

Day 4 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Chelsey Markham: Lord, look with favor upon Chelsey as she continues this journey. Grant hope in the midst of the worst trials, encouragement when the world wants to discourage. Continue to bless her with friends who walk with her. IJN. Amen

Day 5 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, may You raise up Jade Capua by healing, strengthening, and encouraging her today. The challenges are still present even tho they take different forms. But You have led her this far, continue to bless her that she might live in Your freedom, thru Jesus. Amen

Day 6 Alexis Moore #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord God, You strengthen of weak, You comfort those who mourn You are with them daily. I pray for Alexis Moore today as she continues to live in light of her freedom. May Lam. 3:21-23 be her daily reminder; IJN. Amen

Day 7 Olivia Cowan #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Heavenly Father, Your love never ends. Give to Olivia Cowan a special outpouring of Your love & comfort today. Where she has needs raise up people to provide that for her. May Your peace abide with her. IJN. Amen

Day 8 Rebecca Mark #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Gracious Lord, You are the God of grace and mercy. Continue to work in and through Rebecca as she heals from her abuse. Surround her with people who love and support her. IJN Amen

Day 9 Bethany Bauman #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, You know the devastation that Bethany has faced, silently & publicly. Raise up people to care for her, encourage her, and strengthen her. May Isaish 40:29-30 be a lifeline. IJN. Amen

Day 10 Kate Mahon #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors O Lord, our God, You know the pain, heartache, & destruction Kate has faced. Raise up the right people @ right time to care for her, walk w/her, cry w/her, & support her always. IJN. Amen

Day 11 Danielle Moore #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Gracious Lord, look w/favor on Danielle. You know the pain & agony she has faced. Bless her family as they also move forward. Bring healing to hers & their hearts. IJN Amen

Day 12 Marion Siebert #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Loving God, Your mercies are new every morning. May that be true 4 Marion today & this week. Give her strength & hope for each day. Raise up people to speak love & compassion to her. IJN Amen

Day 13 Annette Hill #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord God in Your love uphold Annette in the aftermath of abuse. Strengthen her, raise up people to care for her & her family. The needs are great, You are greater. INJ. Amen

Day 14 Taylor Stevens #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Jesus, You know what affliction is, You know what Taylor has endured. Even more You know what comfort is & You comfort her in Your love for her. Strengthen her each day; IJN. Amen

Day 15 Victim 55 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord God, You are more than sufficient for every person. For Victim 55 we ask Your mercy, strength, comfort, and hope. Heal her brokenness for what she endured. Be her fortress, IJN. Amen

Day 16 Amanda Cormier #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord of life, bring to Amanda Your mercy through people who can love, support, encourage her. Grant her strength 4 each day so that she might stay strong 4 the challenges ahead. IJN. Amen

Day 17 Jennifer Rood Bedford #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, the road to stability can be difficult—at times impossible. You promise to walk w/us thru the deepest valleys—to never leave us. Reassure Jennifer today. IJN Amen

Day 18 Nicole Soos #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Memories may be very bad, Lord. But with Your memories change with Your healing, loving, comforting presence. Help Nicole to begin new memories not marked by the past abuse. IJN. Amen.

Day 19 Ashley Erickson #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Heavenly Father, Your love never ends. Ashley & many others live in reality of pain, sadness of what happened. May You strengthen & comfort her as well as her family. IJN. Amen.

Abuse and Hermeneutics

Note: If this article hits too close to home—stop reading and call your counselor or pastor now.

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Wow! What a combination! How can either of these be related? I have considered this for the past few weeks and hope to make some sense in the connection between the two topics.

Abuse

As a pastor, I have found the issue of abuse is real. As an environment is created for trust and safety, then stories about abuse begin to trickle out. Stories of pain, fear, uncertainty, shame, guilt, etc.

Abuse is serious and more prevalent than many pastors and churches think. Denial does not work, does not address the issues, does not help those abused, does not give the abusers help either. It is a systemic problem in the church.

One theme continued to come up in these discussions:

“Why don’t the churches and spiritual leaders acknowledge this problem?”

“Where is there support in the church for abuse victims?”

“Why don’t most people in the church believe me about abuse?”

These questions stayed in my mind over the past few months. As a starting point, in our own church we pray for those who have been abused and for the abusers. But these questions are deeper than even that. “Why don’t people understand?” I have taught Hermeneutics in our seminary the past five years, and in fact, I am teaching it this quarter. And that led me to a startling revelation. Is this question (and solution) really a problem of hermeneutics?

Hermeneutics

In general terms, hermeneutics is “principles of interpretation.” How do we interpret what is written, spoken, seen. In everyday living we unconsciously use some kind principles of interpreting each of these. In specific terms as a Bible teacher, we use this to refer to principles of interpretation applied to the Biblical texts.

There many approaches to Biblical hermeneutics. The one I have found the most helpful over the past 35 years is one presented by Dr. James Voelz in his book What Does This Mean? (Principles of Biblical Interpretation in the Post-Modern World), and also his video and audio lectures in iTunesU.

I will not cover everything in the book, but one specific aspect of his approach is key in Biblical interpretation, and now critical in interpreting abuse. One of the challenges of interpretation is asking the question: “What does this mean?” Voelz notes that the word “mean” is used in three different ways (Voelz uses the term “levels” to separate the three):

1. What is the sense of the text?

2. What is the significance of the text?

3. What is the implication of the text?

Consider one example Voelz addresses: Luke 7:14-15

And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Level 1 interpretation: 

Taking the words at face value as marks on the page. So: Jesus healed a dead young man and gave him back to his mother.

Level 2: interpretation: 

This significance of this event (action) is provided in the following verse by what the people surmise what had happened.

Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” (Luke 7:16)

Scripture does not often provide a level 2 interpretation. And sometimes what is recorded as level 2 is wrong—no, not that Scripture is wrong, but that someone’s interpretation of an event is wrong, i.e. when the Jewish leaders claim that Jesus is demon possessed (John 8:48).

Level 3 interpretation: 

What is the implication of Luke including this event? In other words, at this point we are looking at the author to see what it tells us about the author’s motive, audience, etc. This is by far the hardest aspect of interpreting a text, and there are few resources to help.

Note how confusing this could be if people in a conversation claim “This is what the text means” and they use a different “level” to give an answer. Thus, I think Voelz gives us a helpful map through this confusion as we look at the Biblical text via the three levels. He also shows that this can be used to interpret actions as well as words.

Understanding Abuse using Hermeneutics

The light came on for me when I put together that Voelz’s three levels not only applies in Biblical interpretation but in all interpretation. That is, we also interpret events/actions that happen in everyday life. And this brings us back to abuse.

So I began asking how to interpret abuse? For the sake of illustration I am presenting a hypothetical case that involves a man physically abusing a woman. This can equally apply to sexual abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, etc. Also, abuse is not limited to men as abusers.

By using three levels we can begin to sort out not only what happened (level 1) but also how to interpret the actions (level 2) and how to interpret the “author” (abuser) (level 3).

Level 1: 

The man hits a woman repeatedly. Level 1 seems relatively simple, but we are isolating one event. As the abuse continues then each Level changes. But in public the abuse is not “evident.”

Level 2: 

There are really three responses to interpreting what happened: abuser, abused, outsider.

For the abuser: “She just wouldn’t listen to me. I wanted her attention.”

For the abused: “I love him and trying to do what he says.”

For the outsider: “Look how his wife tries to please him.” (the outsider never sees the effects of abuse, at least initially, so only interprets what they see her do in public, namely trying to appease him.)

Level 3: 

There are also three responses to interpreting what happened: abuser, abused, outsider.

For the abuser: “What is wrong with her?” (the abused tells something about her but the evaluation/interpetation is controlled by the abuser)

For the abused: “What am I doing wrong that I can’t please him?” (the abuser tells something about herself but from the abuser’s perspective, guilt, shame play a major role here)

For the outsider: “That couple looks so happy, what a model of love for others.”

Notice that each level illustrates different interpretations depending on the role each plays in the “action of abuse” and the one who controls the narrative interpretation at each level.

The deadly part of this cycle is that the abuser controls the interpretation at all three levels for himself and her. And typically the abuser knows how to say and do things to bring the abused wife back to him. Thus, it is now at least understandable why it takes a woman who is physically abused to leave the man seven times before she finally does leave for good—if she lives long enough.

So what?

So much more can be explored in this topic. But this may help set the tone for understanding what happened and the consequences of interpreting at each level.

Where does the church fit into this? In one sense the church is the “outsider” in the above scenario. Notice what happens then. The abuser controls level 1 (he will abuse at will). He controls at level 2 (changing the interpretation as time goes on), and he will always blame the one abused (level 3). The narrative the church accepts (level 2) is also controlled by the abuser. And at level 3, the church hears about the abused, but only as interpreted by the abuser  (“the fault lies with her”).

What happens if the abused woman begins to speak out, to identify what happened (level 1), what is the significance of what happened (level 2), and to tell about the abuser (level 3)? Ironically, she is seen as not truthful because she is attacking a person (level 3) and not the situation (level 1) and therefore “she doesn’t really get what happened” (level 2). It’s almost as if she is abused once again when she is met with anger, hostility, etc. because “she is disturbing this fine relationship.” Her pain, experience, value as a person is challenged at the very time that she needs genuine support.

This is already a longer post than I usually write. But there is so much more to write about. My goal in this post is to give the church some insight into abuse and begin to interpret abuse in all three levels and see where the pitfalls exist for the church and especially church leaders. My hope is that this will generate open discussion about this church problem.

And ultimately my hope is that the church begins to deal with abuse and provide love, care, and help for the abused, the abuser, and all family members involved.

Let’s go back to those questions from the abused:

“Why don’t the church and spiritual leaders acknowledge this problem?”

“Where is there support in the church for abuse victims?”

“Why don’t most people in the church believe me about abuse?”

Are we listening to the questions? Are we interpreting in light of what the abuser is saying, and the abused is afraid to say anything to contradict that? Now we have something to think about and come to grips with in the church. Abuse is real—the pain, fear, guilt, shame, anger, frustration are real. The Gospel is specifically there for this situation.

I have discussed this understanding of abuse with other people, and they find it helpful. May you find it to be so, too.

Psalm 34:18 (MEV)

The LORD is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the contrite of spirit.

Ps 147:3 (MEV)

He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.

Isa 61:1 (MEV)

The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor;
He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

Luke 4:17-18 (MEV)

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. When He had unrolled the scroll, He found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
because He has anointed Me
to preach the gospel to the poor;

He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted,
to preach deliverance to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed;

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All promises were fulfilled in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Now those promises continue in the Church‘s life and proclamation of Jesus Christ. May it be so in the Church today.

Abuse, Christians, and…

Many want to deny, hide their heads, or walk away when the topic of abuse arises. But such silence only gives abuse an open door. I wrote about this four years ago on this blog. It might be best to read that post first:

especially-for-men-in-the-church

Thankfully some have begun to bring light to the dark recesses of abuse. Consider

Natalie Greenfield

Danni Moss

And there are more.

Lisa on this issue

My good friend, Lisa Cooper, tweeted these statements about abuse this morning on Twitter. They are so pertinent to the Christian Church. Here are Lisa’s own words about this:

Because of this whole #FreeKesha thing (which I have been tweeting about in brief this morning), I feel the need to make a few comments:

1) There are SO MANY MORE women who have been abused than you will ever hear or know about. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

2) For all of us involved in the church, this is a REAL thing that we need to talk about, and a real ministry opportunity.

3) Caring about our neighbor means helping them through abuse, rape, and all of the other horrible sins that have been committed against them.

4) This is not a conservative/liberal issue. Because I care about my neighbor, I care if they have been sinned against. This is so important!

5) When talking about purity prior to marriage, tread lightly because ¼ women have been sexually abused. Most cases aren’t reported. This does not make them “damaged goods” or “unworthy of marriage.”

6) As people who represent Christ, we should be at the forefront offering support to those who have been abused, not the ones questioning.

Watch for more from Lisa and Angela in a podcast in the near future.

What Does This Mean?

For the church in general, let’s be aware of this significant problem confronting the Church. There are many hurting people in our midst and in our community. They need love, help, and hope. Ultimately that is what Jesus offers to all of us. As the Gospel has been proclaimed and taught here, some came to me to explain what they thought would be a critical move in caring for the abused. They didn’t need my permission, but I was delighted and supported their ideas.

Our congregation  located not far from a well traveled interstate. Those who had approached me wanted to do something that they saw was lacking. They made laminated signs with emergency numbers for abuse victims. They took them to every business to post in the women’s restrooms. All but one place allowed them to post. The women who worked at many places were so appreciative, some in tears. We were addressing something that no one wanted to hear or see, but many on the other side welcomed this as one sign that someone cared. And our members have become not only sensitive to this issue, they have provided ministry to victims.

Pastors and seminarians: let’s not let silence and ignorance about abuse become our mode of operating. Any abuse does not reflect the Christian faith. Become aware of all that is involved. Lovingly and patiently minister and care for those abused, for their families and friends. Let the Church be a community of refuge and love.

Paul provides some great encouragement for the Church.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3-7 NAS)

Notice that: 10 times the word “comfort” is used. We are not “comfortable Christians.”

We are comforted Christians who comfort others with the comfort we receive from Christ.