Deeper than my skin
by Chris Armfield
A twenty something sat in front of me trembling. He was clean cut and stylishly dressed. His
reputation preceded him as professionally successful and socially sought out. As we sat together,
his exterior facade and reputation couldn’t hide his current inner trouble. His face was weighed
down by immense shame. I’ve been here before, I thought to myself. Will his story resemble the
one I heard days earlier, a fifty year old woman who was sexually abused in her teens? “Is this
my fault?” he asked, as his shirt began to absorb his tears like a sponge. “Is what your fault?” I
asked tenderly, lowering my face sideways hoping to look into his eyes. As frail as a leaf in a
wind storm he responded, “You know... don’t you?” You’ve been sexually abused haven’t you? A
nonverbal broken nod of affirmation was all he could muster. I assured him this was not his fault
as we sat in an all too familiar and deafening silence.
All kinds of people uncover their pain with me–quiet, angry, scared, aggressive and shy. Pain
doesn’t show respect for personality. God has provided me with unique grace for peoples unique
wounds – sympathy. My ability to care well for a person in pain isn’t dependent on sympathy
alone. I too have been taken advantage of. I was sexually abused by a trusted, older man, a
doctor – my doctor. Though I haven’t experienced the same intensity of victimization that some
have, I can empathize with being “used” on many levels.
I am a Pastor of a church in Greenville SC called CITYLIGHTS. This platform alongside of
speaking at conferences, Universities, discipleship schools and retreats has provided countless
opportunities to sit with people in their pain. I recently made a statement – from stage – about
my own journey through pain that shocked me as much as it did the audience. I said, “God’s
presence has taken up residence in a deeper place in me than the physical touch and emotional
turmoil my abuser caused.” I hadn’t planned on saying that. I hadn’t realized this truth personally
prior to saying it publicly.
I was teaching from Genesis 16 where the Angel of the LORD appeared to a pregnant woman
named Hagar who had just been “dealt with harshly" by Abram’s (barren) wife Sarai. “Harshly”
in this instance included verbal, emotional and physical abuse. Hagar, afraid for her and her
unborn child’s lives fled toward her hometown, Egypt. The Angel of the LORD, known in
scholarship as a Christophany, a temporary incarnation of Jesus, calls her by name. She was
spoken to as a slave or servant by her masters Abram and Sarai but Jesus called her Hagar. This
began to restore her dignity as a person loved by God not by what she functionally did. Next He
tells her that she is pregnant (by Abram) and her son’s name, Ishmael, shammah-to hear, el-god,
will serve as a reminder to her that “He listened to her affliction.” Captivated by this appearing
Hagar responds by calling God, YHWH-LORD- the highest name for God, el-God Roi-who sees.
She concluded, this God who heard her, also is the God who had been and will watch over her.
This is what struck me beneath the abuse I received. God is deeper than my abuse. In the past,
hearing that God knew of the day when my abuse happened didn't provide relational comfort.
This passage from Genesis did. Why did this appearing of Jesus to an Egyptian servant help my
healing? Hagar proclaimed that God heard me and that He was looking after me (Genesis 16:13,
ESV). She was pregnant by a married man, beaten emotionally and physically by his wife and
sent away completely alone. In this moment of emotional and physical despair Jesus tells her to
return to her mistress Sarai and that His presence will go deeper than her skin. God has been
looking after me, she proclaimed.
I had to consider that not only was God there when I was abused, but in a very real way, He was
abused within my body as well. I used to think He didn’t care and didn’t rescue me. What I’ve
realized, twenty years later, is that God suffered that day too. He was deeper than my skin that
was violated. He too was abused. The words Jesus told Hagar He told me as well, “I heard you
Chris, I was with you and I will continue to watch over you.”
Was the abuse I suffered “my fault?” No. Was the abuse you suffered your fault? Absolutely not.
Did God abandon us? In a very real way, I believe His presence, though we may not have felt it
then, was deeper than our abuse. Today I can truly say, God’s presence with me is deeper than
the abuse I received. Remember, I am twenty years removed from my abuser and I have deeply
considered trusting the non-emotional theological implications of that day, I was not alone.
The Angel of the LORD called Hagar by name. She was not a servant, a slave, an outsider or a
recently abused person on the run to Him. She was His beloved. He was listening intently to her
and watching over her. Today, my friend, He sees you. He hears you. He loves you. He doesn’t
see you as used or broken. In Christ, He sees you as a whole person. Through Christ He is
bringing His wholeness to you, beneath your skin. There is hope for your healing when you face
forward where Christ is your focus. Praying for you.
Chris Armfield married Jerushah in 1998 and they have three children, Anabelle, Liam, and Alexandria. He is the Lead Pastor of CITYLIGHTS in Greenville, South Carolina, where he equips people to be and make disciples of Jesus. As a sexual abuse survivor himself, Chris has an uniquely tender heart for helping hurting people find healing.