January 16, 2018

Beauty for Ashes (Part 2)

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

by Jim Berg

From Part 1:

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.

… The focus of this discussion will be to unpack a Biblical model that presents the main effects of sexual abuse on the sufferer. … 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.

First, Tamar was betrayed; Amnon violated her trust.

Part 2 begins:

Secondly, Tamar was overpowered; Amnon violated her personhood.

Amnon treated Tamar as an object to be manipulated and forced to serve his own selfish, evil ends. She was helpless to resist his superior strength and position. (He commanded the servants to leave the room.)

The manipulative extent to which some predators will go is staggering. The grooming of their prey (treating her like “Daddy’s special girl”), the cunning emotional blackmail (“If you tell, I’ll deny it, and who would believe a little kid over a youth leader?” “If you tell, I’ll kill your kitten/mother/little sister, etc.” “If you tell, I’ll tell them all the things you did to me”—though he was the one who forced her to undress and perform unspeakable sexual tricks on him), and the threat of personal physical violence are unimaginable, but unfortunately, common.

The reactions vary widely with each sufferer, but two seem to be the most common. One is “I’ll never be overpowered again! No one will choose for me again. I will be in control from now on. If no one is going to look out for me, I’ll have to rely upon myself to do it.”

Controlbecomes a recurring theme among sufferers. Their drivenness and ambition seem commendable. They make great employees, they expend enormous energy in their duties, and their heightened level of responsibility may even look like spiritual dedication rather than the self-protection that it is.

The other common response to abuse is despair. Not only do they feel helpless, but they feel hopeless. Anyone who understands her story can sympathize with her desire to give up.

Bearing her burdens will mean constant intercession before the Blessed Controller/Sovereign (1 Tim. 6:15)—the One who can take every action of the Evil One and of evil men and turn a covering of ashes into a covering of beauty (Isa. 61:1–3). Bearing her burdens will mean being willing to be there when her world and her head are spinning in order to give her some means of stability and direction.

Helping her gain God’s broader perspective of life on a fallen planet through the lives of David, Joseph, and others will be the task in the days ahead. From these examples she will learn that we are not free always to choose our circumstances, but we are always free to choose our responses to those circumstances. Again, these truths will sound cruel and heartless unless they are offered within a caring, wise context of Biblical counseling.

Thirdly, Tamar was shamed; Amnon violated her honor.

Amnon took away Tamar’s personal honor—her virginity. She was defiled, with little or no chances of marriage. Amnon also robbed her of her publichonor—her reputation. Amnon sent her away as if she were in some way the perpetrator.

Shame is both an objective state of having been demoted in some way and a subjective emotion of humiliation. It is the exposure that says, “I have been seen,” and the evaluation that says, “I have been found unacceptable.” I have seen young ladies turn to self-destructive actions such as cutting and burning as ways to punish themselves.[1] They reason, “I must have done something really bad for this to happen to me. I still feel bad so I must need to be punished more.” I have seen others become extremely compliant because “bad things won’t happen to good girls.” Still others have disassociated themselves from the “bad little girl that was being punished by Daddy.” Janet, at the hands of her father’s abuse, may become “Sally”—a bad, imaginary friend—as the only way to make sense out of what is happening.

We cannot fault her with any of these strategies as a young girl. Paul said it is normal to think like a child when we are children, but if we are to mature we must put away our childish thoughts and actions (1 Cor. 13:11). The stubbornness and self-protectiveness that allowed her to be a survivor will now stand in the way of her spiritual maturity if she will not see the issue and forsake it. This is a hard transition for her to make, but a crucial one in her spiritual journey.

In addition, worldly thinking characteristically reverses God’s ways. It invites the sufferer to accentuate the shame, feel it deeply, and let it motivate to action and activism. God says, “Imitate My Son who despised the shame—who diminished it in His own eyes” (Heb. 12:2). The word “despise” is the same one used in Matthew 6:24; 18:10; 1 Timothy 4:12; and 2 Peter 2:10.

God instructs us that when the shame is a result of our own sin, we must confess it. When it is the result of the sins of others against us, we must despise it. Clearly the attitude of Jesus toward shame must shape ours. The Psalms, James, and 1 Peter have much to say about the right perspective on undeserved suffering and hurt.

Lastly, Tamar was confused; Amnon violated her sense of well-being.

Tamar’s reactions—putting ashes on her head, tearing her royal garments, placing her hands on her head, and crying—show great grief. Furthermore, verse 20 states that she remained “desolate” in her brother Absalom’s house. The word “desolate” means confused. Many questions raced through her mind. Loose ends dangled everywhere she turned. There didn’t seem to be any way to make sense of what had happened nor of what options were hers now.

Often a young girl as she matures has many questions about her past(“Why did I still love my brother so much even though he was using me that way?” “Why did I eventually have some physical pleasure from this when it was my dad doing it?!”[2] “Did I do something to deserve this?” “I thought I was keeping the marriage together because Dad said if he didn’t do this he would have to leave the marriage because Mom wasn’t meeting his needs.”). The questions that arise in the mind of an adult sufferer looking back prompt much confusion.

There is often confusion about the present. What can she do about the nightmares and flashbacks she is still having? What about the mental craziness she feels sometimes? How can she free herself from the addictions, emotional numbness, abusive relationships, and poor relational styles that are so much a part of her right now?

She will also be confused about the future. “How can anyone want me in the future? I’m damaged freight.” “Am I destined to abuse mychildren?” “How much of this should my future husband know, and when must I tell him? What if my fiancé abandons me or tries to kill my brother once he finds out?”

The confusion persists, but patient Scriptural clarity can be brought into the picture in the discipleship process. She may be experiencing anger, guilt over subsequent wrong responses, fear, anxiety, and despair. The counselor can address these issues as they surface with compassionate application of God’s truth to her troubled heart.

The greatest source of help is the Comforter—the One inside her assuring her of His presence, of the trustworthiness of God’s truth, of the forgiveness for her own sin, and of the hopefulness of her own future in His hands. He will use the Word presented by compassionate brothers and sisters in Christ to mature her into the likeness of the One who suffered for her offenses and who is touched by the feelings of her suffering. My greatest delight is seeing many of these dear sisters now serving the Lord at the side of compassionate husbands as loving mothers, ministry wives, Christian school teachers, business women, and insightful counselors. Only our great God can give this kind of beauty for ashes!

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


Jim-Berg_sm5 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 www.JimBerg.com.

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. Males, particularly those sexually abused by other males, may have other shame issues, such as doubts about their masculinity. Although the Biblical principles discussed here apply to them as well, a lot more work needs to be done on helping men and boys who were the victims of sexual abuse. []
  2. Physical pleasure is not the common experience of most but is present in enough situations for it to be a very real source of confusion. []

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