Over the years, I have had numerous counselees who have suffered from being sexually abused during their childhood. This is in my past as well. Understandably, the effects have been devastating. In most instances the abuse was done by someone the counselee knew and trusted. This fact adds to the hurt, pain, confusion, and feelings of betrayal.
In this life, we will all experience suffering in one way or another. Women and men who have suffered at the hands of evil people deal with shame, fear, anger, guilt, difficulty with relationships, difficulty trusting people, and even difficulty trusting God. They long to be free of the pain and the memories associated with what they have endured. They want to believe God is good and that He will work even this for their good, but the hurt they carry keeps them weighed down. It is like they are dragging around a ball and chain and they just cannot seem to let go.
Our Natural Focus When Suffering Pain
Many times, people who have suffered in this way want to make sense of what happened to them, reasoning that if they can the pain will go away and they will finally be free. In their minds, and in the mind of a world driven by emotion, “emotional healing” is the name of the game. Healing and, subsequently, a pain-free life is what they long for.
In the minds of those striving to live free from the pain of past hurts, they hope to:
- Never have to grapple with painful memories.
- Never have to deal/live with the effects of the sin done against them.
- Never have to fear what people think of them.
- Never be afraid of getting close to or vulnerable with people.
- Never be fearful of being known.
What is the focus of this kind of thinking? I think “self” is the focus. In these desires, God is not really present. When we leave God out of the picture we may lose sight of why He permitted our pain in the first place. And if He is present, we just want Him to give us what we want—relief. He’s there for us, not the other way around.
Those of us who have suffered abuse did nothing to deserve it. We are not responsible for the evil done against us. And for reasons unknown to us this side of heaven, God in His wisdom allowed the abuse to occur.
A Better Focus
In my own life and counseling, I believe that rather than striving to have a pain-free life, it is better to focus on what God desires to achieve in us as He permits pain into our lives.
In his book, The Reason for God, Timothy Keller makes an excellent point. After explaining a philosopher’s case against God’s existence since there is so much pointless evil in the world, Keller writes, “Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless.”
In our very limited understanding, we do not have the wisdom and knowledge required to comprehend all that God is doing in our lives. We may not be able to understand His reasons for permitting evil done against us.
Striving for a pain-free life can actually consume us and it misses the whole point for the reason we are here on Earth: to glorify, magnify, and honor the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Rather than wrestling with the past in order to secure a life free from pain and hurt, I encourage my counselees to look to God to restore, strengthen, and equip them so they can live for the King and His Kingdom. When we look to God with these motives and desires, we come to appreciate the bigger picture of life rather than focusing on our own little kingdom. I encourage my counselees to live for Someone bigger than themselves.
We have to think biblically about the role of pain in our life. Meditating and taking to heart these verses from Psalm 119 helps us start to develop the right perspective of pain:
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (v. 67).
“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (v. 71).
“I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (v. 75).
Truths to Renew Our Thinking
- We understand that we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world, which was not God’s original design (Rom. 1:28-32).
- One day God will make everything right (Rev. 21:3-4).
- We understand that Jesus also suffered at the hands of evil people, so we should not be surprised that we too will suffer in this life (1 Pet. 2:21-23).
- We understand that what was done to us says more about the person(s) who abused us than about us. Their sinful and selfish choices reveal their hearts and character, not ours. Shame and guilt belong to them, not us (Ezek. 18:20).
- We can choose not to let the abuse define who we are or dictate how we live (2 Cor. 5:17).
- Experiencing pain can drive us closer to the Lord and allows us to share in the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil. 3:10).
- Suffering molds us into more compassionate and loving ambassadors for Christ if we let God use it to transform us (2 Cor. 1:3-7).
- Experiencing pain can reveal our need to seek the Lord and draw near to Him (Ps. 145:17-19).
- Pain gives us a proper perspective of what is truly valuable. Life on earth is temporary. There is no sense in wasting time and energy trying to achieve something that will not last (2 Cor. 4:18).
- A pain-free life is just an illusion. It is useless to worship at this false alter (John 16:33).
- Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs our pain (2 Cor. 4:17).
We do not want to waste our pain. C. S. Lewis said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
God will use pain for our good.
Question for Reflection
What good has God brought out of your pain and suffering?
 Tim Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 23.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2001), 91.