Those who have been in any abusive relationships might have some exquisitely painful issues in relating to God. It can be extremely complicated, and the last relationship one might want to have complications in.
A number of abuse tactics involve the abuser trying to take God’s place. When it comes to disagreements, some might be painfully familiar with tactics that boil down to the abuser always being right, and themselves always being wrong. Turning the tables on them, gaslighting, never apologising, or only making non-apologies… the list goes on. In the Christian context, (and in other faith communities), you can add to that the abuser’s use of scripture to bring a sense of infallibility to whatever they say or do. They make disagreement with them out to be the same as disagreement with God. And, if they are skilled at abuse, they are good at these tactics.
Jesus’ statement is eerily familiar when thinking about such people:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.1
Or, as Meghan Trainor aptly wrote: “If your lips are moving then you’re lyin’, lyin’, lyin’.”
So if we’ve been through trauma, how on earth do we relate to God without getting constantly triggered? On the one hand, there is a relationship with someone who is an expert at acting like they are always right. On the other hand, a relationship with someone who actually is always right. How can you have severe disagreement with someone who is truly never wrong? Without such a relationship just being soul-destroying?
One of the incredible tensions to come out of abuse is – for many people – between the belief that God deeply loves us, and that he didn’t prevent the abuse. As a missionary/youth worker of many years, I completely understand why people would take a path away from God in response to that tension. It’s not the path I want to take, or what I would recommend. But I get it.
I love the following expression of the way God sees us. In managing that tension of having a severe disagreement with him, and him always being right, this makes the difference:
“Yahweh, your God, is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”2
God is as different from an abuser as it is possible to be, and you make his heart sing. That’s the difference. He has given you incredible value and beauty just in who you are, and part of the dark evil of abuse is the undermining of his creation in us.
So for those who struggle with having a severe disagreement with God, this is about disagreeing with someone who loves you and delights in you. It’s ok to relax and tough it out. God is committed to this relationship.
I think Psalm 77 presents us with a wonderful model of how we can navigate intense areas of conflict in a relationship that is intended to be the very bedrock of our lives. From what we know, it was written by Asaph: a worship leader/priest. It is completely fine to be able to relate to it. In fact, it’s here for our benefit.
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.
I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint3
This is a person in deep distress. Just imagine his situation: hour after hour of trying to connect with God, trying to find some comfort, and the torturous feelings just would not settle. That word, “distress”, is used of Hannah’s abusive co-wife, Peninnah in the sense that she is the source of distress.4
It is not that Asaph isn’t trying. I’m guessing at this point he is investing far more in his devotional life than most people do. (I dread someone now telling him his emotional distress and sense of disconnection with God is because he is doing something wrong.) Yet even remembering God causes him pain. So he is pushing through that pain to seek God. It’s incredible. It’s also a mark of how deeply he values the relationship. And I should note – again there could be triggers. Holding on through difficult times in a relationship with a decent person is radically different from staying trapped in abuse.
More on this one tomorrow. But at this point, we see again that in the Psalms, (the Bible’s guide to worship), as well as elsewhere, having this kind of intense struggle with God is common. It’s not that we have to relate to God in this way – but we are absolutely allowed to.
Steve WadeThose who have been in any abusive relationships might have some exquisitely painful issues in relating to God. It can be extremely complicated, and the last relationship one might want to have complications in. Click To Tweet