Flashes of Light: Reflecting Jesus into the Dark Places of the Church
By Boz Tchividjian
As we take time to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month, Christians must acknowledge that there are still many dark places inside the Church.
Places where children wake up each day fearing that they will be once again beaten.
Places where children who live in fear each night about what will happen when the lights go off.
Places where children are physically and sexually abused by the very adults they are taught to love, trust, and obey.
Places where those who profess Jesus turn around and destroy the lives of little ones.
Places where all too often the Church ignores the painful cries of victims while embracing their abusers as “model Christians.”
Places where abuse survivors are marginalized and allowed to drown in darkness and isolation by the very Church who is called to pursue and embrace them.
Places where the lives and souls of those made in the image of God are destroyed.
During the past twenty years, survivors have taken time to share with me the indescribably painful impact that such dark places have had upon their life. Here are just a few:
Because of my abuse on the mission field, I absolutely DESPISE anybody who calls themselves a Christian.
I have no desire to share the gospel. My experience with abuse has destroyed any spirituality that I had with Christianity. I would like to have something to share with my children besides Santa Claus. I hope I will understand God one day.
At age 13, I was so disillusioned with Christianity that I preferred to be in hell.
How do we respond?
How do we respond to those who have been so gravely hurt by people who profess Jesus? How do we respond to these amazing survivors who get up each day struggling with trauma, shame, self-worth, abandonment, and a lifetime of processing the pain and the all too often failed responses of the Church? How do we respond when these beautiful people have been overwhelmed by the darkness?
In his powerful book entitled, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen writes:
People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God.
If we Christians profess to know the joy of God, why is there so much darkness within the Church? Why have we not pursued, protected, and embraced the precious souls trapped in the dark places. I am convinced that it is only when we begin to live out what we say we believe about the Gospel, that the flashes of light will overcome the darkness and the presence of God will be revealed.
What do those flashes of light look like? I believe they look like Jesus and are fueled by the Gospel. Let me explain:
The Gospel is all about a God who was not silent when confronted by evil, regardless of the ultimate consequence…death. The Gospel is what fuels each of us not to be silent when confronted by the evil of child abuse regardless where it happens, who commits it, or the consequences we may face when we confront it.
The Gospel is all about a God who is the pursuer of hurting souls. The Gospel is what fuels each of us to pursue and love those who are suffering from the ravages of abuse.
The Gospel is all about a God who is most approachable by those who have been marginalized and discarded by the religious people. Just ask the woman at the well, the leper, Zaccheus, the list goes on and on. The Gospel is what fuels each of us to be approachable by those everyone else has hurt or ignored. I heard Bob Goff recently say, “Jesus didn’t run around holding everyone accountable, he just held them close.” We are approachable to the hurting when we simply love them without strings attached, while demanding accountability for those who inflict evil.
The Gospel is all about a God who did His most powerful work when His Son was most vulnerable and transparent – naked on the cross. The Gospel is what fuels each of us to be real with those who are in deep pain. This means I am free to weep with those who weep, and not to have the answers to every question. This means that I am free to expose my own vulnerabilities and fears as I love those around me.
The Gospel is all about a God who never lets us go! Did you hear that? Let me say it one more time… God never lets us go! The Gospel is what fuels each of us never to let go of the survivors God has privileged us to call friends. The Gospel is what fuels each of us never to give up on these beautiful human beings made in the image of our great God. In fact, I often pray that these dear friends will never give up on me!
When we are fueled by the Gospel, flashes of light begin to reflect Jesus upon the most amazing people stuck in the darkest of places. This reflection overcomes the darkness and brings forth hope.
A Church filled with flashes of light will lose its dark places to safety, love, acceptance, and authentic joy.
A Church filled with flashes of light will shine forth Jesus.
A Church filled with flashes of light will be beautiful beyond description.
A Church filled with flashes of light is something I long to be a part of.
Will you join me?
Boz Tchividjian is the founder and executive director of GRACE.
This article was originally published on April 5, 2014 for the Religion News Service (RNS). Used with permission.