Young woman

When religion, church, God-talk, or spirituality is included as an aspect of abuse it becomes even more damaging. It’s bad enough that your body and soul are hurt in the process; it’s even worse when your spirit is abused and assaulted at the same time.

The numbers of people affected by domestic violence, sexual abuse, or physical abuse is high. And there’s a better than one-in-four chance that one of them is you.

Although there are few good studies, by the raw numbers domestic violence and child abuse is not much different among Christians than among non-Christians. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Sadly, a Bible on the table or attending church doesn’t prevent the violence that too often happens behind closed doors.

When the abuser uses spiritual jargon to justify the abuse it adds a further dimension to the healing that is needed. The abuser may be a priest, minister, or leader in the church while becoming violent at home. The offender may use Bible verses to justify the abuse. Scripture, church, prayer, and thoughts about God become all mixed in with the emotions and pain of the abuse.

When religion is a component of abuse or violence, it creates extra challenges for healing:

  1. Your picture of God becomes distorted. Whether or not you intellectually believe in a good God, your feelings and unconscious responses to and about God are altered. Part of you sees God as hurtful and abusive too.
  2. You feel guilty when you are becoming safe. Leaving an unsafe home or reporting violent or abusive behavior almost always brings feelings of guilt. But when the abuser is “godly” to the outside world, leaving or reporting becomes even more guilt-producing.
  3. Trusting God for healing becomes more difficult. God IS the Healer – of body, mind, and soul. But you must trust Him in order to experience that healing. Becoming able to trust can be terribly difficult for one whose abuse involved God-talk. It can feel like you are putting yourself in a position to be hurt again.

I believe God hurts especially deeply for those who are hurt in His name. He came to save and to heal, and some use His name to hurt and destroy. Jesus had some extremely harsh words for those who hurt His little ones. (See Mark 9:42)

Healing can be a challenging process. Here are a few thoughts for those who need healing when God-talk was part of the abuse or violence:

  1. Take plenty of time. God is very patient. He will give you all the time you need to learn that He is trustworthy, and that He will never hurt you.
  2. Be honest about your confusion. It takes time and work to separate the God-talk in the abuse from the truth of who God is – not only in your mind, but also in your emotions and spirit.
  3. Ask God the questions. “Why?” “Why didn’t You .…?” “Why didn’t You …. when I asked You?” Yell and scream them at God if you need to. God’s shoulders are big enough. He won’t push you away for asking Him the tough questions.
  4. Find a new way to connect with God. That may mean a different church or denomination. It may mean a new Bible, a new spiritual leader, new sources of spiritual food. It’s OK, and may even be wise, to separate from what reminds you of the abuse.
  5. Make a conscious choice to give God a chance. Listen to those who have experienced God’s healing, and give Him a chance to do the same for you. Open one tiny part of your heart, and see what He will do with it. Try Him out.

The journey of healing is worth the challenge. And it is possible.

Your turn: Has God-talk or religion been mixed up with trauma for you? Has there been something you have found helpful in your healing process? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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