Beauty for Ashes (Part 1)

Originally published in the Jan/Feb 2012 edition of FrontLine. Part 1 of 2.

by Jim Berg

Nothing weighs heavier on the heart of a pastor or Christian counselor than the news that a child has been sexually molested. The thought that one of “these little ones” should be offended by an adult prompts a mixture of responses in a shepherd’s heart—stirrings of injustice, compassion, and intervention.

A thorough discussion of this topic would include identifying the categories of sexual abuse, key indicators of sexual abuse, the typical climate at home that often gives rise to sexual abuse, the perpetrator’s stages of grooming that lead to abuse, and so forth. The focus of this discussion will be to unpack a Biblical model that presents the main effects of sexual abuse on the sufferer. Knowledge of those effects will point the way to strategies for helping the sufferer to face the challenges in front of her in the days, months, and years ahead.[1]

Since the inspired Word of God claims to provide everything necessary to prepare every child of God for useful service and joyful relationship with God (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:2, 3), we should expect a gracious God to provide a “corrective lens” to clarify our “vision” as we move toward a sufferer to offer help. We do, indeed, find such a lens in the extended account of Tamar’s rape by her half-brother Amnon in 2 Samuel 13:1–33.

God has given me the privilege to assist scores of young ladies (and the women counselors discipling them) in their journey to understand the impact of sexual abuse upon their own souls and to understand how to integrate these events into their story of God’s redemptive grace in their lives. Knowing from this passage of Scripture God’s perspective of the key issues they must face has given them a roadmap out of the hurt, anger, fear, and confusion.

Several factors determine the degree of impact upon the sufferer’s life: the amount of trust she had in the perpetrator, the amount of coercion and/or force used to obtain compliance, the number of incidences of the crime, the number of perpetrators involved, the response of adults when the abuse became known, and the extent of the offense itself (ranging from suggestive comments, exposing the child to pornography or lewd behavior, touching and fondling, intercourse, and exploitation—involving the child in live performances, including filming those acts, and prostitution).

In the interest of brevity, I will not recount the Biblical account in 2 Samuel 13, but only point out four God-highlighted effects of sexual abuse. Identifying them leads naturally to the divine remedies for countering them.

First, Tamar was betrayed; Amnon violated her trust.

Perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse are most often those the child should have been able to trust—her brother, uncle, cousin, father, neighbor, or staff member at church, school, or civic club. The perpetrator is a Judas, outwardly claiming to be a loyal member of the group but inwardly using that relationship for his own selfish ends. He is a betrayer.

Amnon betrayed Tamar by taking advantage of her kindness, her smaller strength, and her isolation. David, her father, betrayed her when he did not address the injustice, and Absalom, her real brother, betrayed her when he counseled her to keep the matter to herself and plotted revenge himself. Every one of the “protectors” in her life abandoned his duty.

Such betrayal breeds distrust in a girl’s heart. She can become suspicious and exhibit high demands for consistency (especially in leadership), a high degree of skepticism (determined never to be taken advantage of again), and a high degree of self-consciousness (constantly aware of her own vulnerabilities, inadequacies, failures, and on high alert to any possible harm that could come her way).

The greatest danger for most girls, however, is the mistrust of God. The ultimate deceit from the Slanderer is that God is the abuser and cannot be trusted. After all, is He not the one who saw what was going on and did nothing about it? This twisted—though understandable—line of thinking shows the craftiness of the evil mastermind behind her suffering![2]

She must be shown the One who also suffered unjustly at the hands of wicked men—One who does not demonstrate His love in this dispensation of time by keeping us from calamity (or else no one would die, get cancer, be double-crossed in business, or be rejected by another), but demonstrates His love by being with us (Immanuel) and sustaining us in the calamity (see Heb. 11:36ff). She must be assured that she can become “more than [a conqueror] through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

Over time (often over many months of discipleship) a Spirit-taught knowledge of the love of God will be the remedy that will remove the torture of her fears (1 John 4:18) and restore her soul.

Paul’s admonition to people-helpers in 2 Timothy 2:24–26 is especially fitting. The castle walls she has built around her heart to keep intruders out also keep her heart confined to a very lonely prison. She will often not even verbalize many of her fears until the counselor has proven by months of consistent care for her that he/she is a safe person—a compassionate advocate and protector.

Part 1 of “Beauty for Ashes” – Part 2 to follow.

Jim Berg_sm Dr. Jim Berg is an author, speaker, and Biblical counselor who served as dean of students of Bob Jones University for twenty-nine years until he retired from that position to become a professor at the university’s Seminary and Graduate School of Religion. He and his wife, Pat, have three married daughters and ten grandchildren. His ministry website is

Due to the importance of the issue of child protection, we are publishing in serial format the entire articles on the subject appearing in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of FrontLine. These articles will be made available in downloable format as soon as our serialization is complete.

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  1. Though a growing number of childhood abuse sufferers are boys and young men, the majority of victims are girls and young women. In the interest of readability I will use “she” to refer to the sufferer and “he” to refer to the perpetrator, though there are a growing number of instances where the genders are reversed as well as many cases where prepubescent or adolescent boys are abused by men. In addition, I will generally refer to the abused person as a “sufferer” rather than a victim to accentuate the ongoing burden the child bears even after the abuse has stopped. I will also address these issues as though the sufferer were a young child or young woman—though older women can be assaulted as well. I am also assuming that the sufferer is a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. An unregenerated person may receive comfort from discussing her suffering with a compassionate person, but she will not have the spiritual resources within herself to have a Christlike response and to grow spiritually through her pain. What she needs more than anything is to be introduced to the Gentle Savior, who bore her griefs and carried her sorrows. []
  2. Resistance to this spiritual attack requires an acceptance and application of three key theological truths: first, God is just. Therefore He hates the sin that was perpetrated on the sufferer. He will forgive the offender who has genuinely put his faith in Christ, but God exacted (and Jesus willingly paid) the full payment of that sin at Calvary, and God demands genuine repentance from the sinner. Moreover, for all of God’s mercy, He has never changed His attitude about sin. It is still hateful in His eyes. Second, God is sovereign. Therefore He is in control of everything that happens to us. This truth is essential because only a sovereign God has the ability to bring good in a sufferer’s life in spite of the terrible thing that was done to her. Finally, God is good. In spite of the fact that He allows sin (including the grievous sin of child sexual abuse) to exist for a time in this world, He intends nothing but good for His children and ultimately for His universe. The relationship between these three truths is a great mystery and has been the basis of many attacks on God’s existence and character. However, the counselor in kindness and patience must help the sufferer to yield to God’s infinitely superior wisdom, power, and goodness and to trust Him in spite of her inability to understand the “why” of what happened to her. []