At Living Without Lust, we spend most of our time helping what our culture calls “perpetrators.” Our first conversations with individuals normally involve the pain inflicted on others through acting out, secrecy, lying and deception. This stage involves exposure and truth-telling. The recovery that follows, if it is true recovery, must involve living differently, more transparently, and a desire to begin to serve and love others. Both living amends (actions not words) and sorrow for past behavior are essential life changes that must accompany all authentic recovery. When deciding to continue a marriage, a spouse often wants to know “Is true change possible? Is it happening? Are there reasons for hope?” It takes a while before anyone can answer these questions.
Unfortunately, the “Me Too” movement has further divided the world by falsely viewing people as either abusers or victims. It’s normative worldview is to see men as abusers and women as victims. But this is a caricature of both sexes. It cannot describe individual behavior. In a world where virtually the same number of 18-31 year old men and women are regularly viewing porn, this makes no sense. (Source: Barna)
The Me-Too response has been largely to dis-empower men and empower women. Because of male sexual misconduct, many organizations have promoted women to roles previously held by men. Others have encouraged women to replace male elected officials by running for office. But gender group-think takes us out of individual responsibility before God for our own behavior. A leading sex abuse therapist reports that women abusing boys sexually is one of the most misunderstood and under-reported crimes anywhere. The reason, he says, is our attitudes about sex, which causes us to deny the reality of abuse. We cannot generalize individual behavior based on gender. The truth is men and women are both perpetrators and victims. “Every saint has a past and every sinner a future.”
What are we to do with perpetrators? Due to the damage perpetrators have inflicted on others, whether men or women, we are tempted to wash our hands of them. We would much rather help victims and so we should. They need our help. But what about the perpetrators? They will have to face consequences over time. This is natural and inevitable. We reap what we sow. Pain is a great, though sometimes not decisive, teacher. There is a long road forward to a new life. Real recovery means there can be no going back.
Unlike much of our current attitude, the Scriptures make it clear that God does not wash his hands of perpetrators. Rather, he seeks to bring us to the end of ourselves and re-shape us, like the clay in the potter’s hand. (Jeremiah 18) God did not wash his hands of Moses despite his secretive murder of an Egyptian. (Exodus 2:11-14) How could a murderer become a deliverer? Not immediately. But over time? Just watch.
How easy it is to think of ourselves or others as “damaged goods,” “washed up.” Yes, there are sins “unto death,” (1 John 5:16) things so crippling that God removes us from the land of the living. But most of us are not in that category. We are down but not out. Why do so many people have “Never Quit” bumper stickers on their vehicles? Were they tempted at one point to “quit and stay quit” as a pastor friend of mine used to say? It seems many of us who are going through difficult trials allow quitting thoughts to seep into our minds.. But God never gives up on us, even when we are tempted to give up on ourselves.
After Samuel names David “the man after God’s own heart,” (1 Samuel 13) David commits a series of sexual wrongs and crimes in the episode with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. It turned out the “man after God’s own heart” was a lustful, entitled, lying, murderer. After Nathan the prophet confronts David, negative consequences ensue that change David’s line irrevocably. He subsequently repents and allows God to redirect his life, as recounted in Psalms 32 and 51. But the “everlasting covenant” remains and is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. Like a river running to the sea, winding its way around obstacles, the purposes of God seem to take into account human frailty, rebellion and bad behavior in general.
In the New Testament, two of the greatest perpetrators are pursued directly by Jesus. In Luke 19, Zacchaeus is portrayed as a greedy, cheating tax collector, despised by all. But Jesus says, “I must come to your house today.” Saul, the church persecuting, murderous fanatic, is pursued by Jesus on the Damascus Road. Did Stephen’s martyrdom pave the way for this personal encounter? Likely so. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” No one wanted to believe the change. “They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.” (Galatians 1:23-24)
Why would God choose “the chief of sinners,” what we would call a “perpetrator,” to fulfill his mission? Why not start clean and fresh with someone else? In sexual addiction recovery, we have learned that most “perpetrators” are actually strong men with a life-controlling weakness. We possess a misplaced hunger and thirst for transcendence, connection and intimacy, one the enemy cannot allow to find its true home. Stephen possessed a connection with Jesus Saul could only dream about. But he discovered it on the Damascus Road. In the case of addicts, the enemy has stolen both our birthright and our blessing. Jesus wants to give it back. This is the “impossible joy” the enemy wants to derail because it witnesses to the sovereign love and power of God. As He met these men of old, so he desires to meet us today. And when He does, he will not only restore us. He will use us in the lives of other broken people. The enemy wants us to throw in the towel. Jesus wants us to use the towel to wash other addict’s feet.
Years ago, Bishop Festo Kivengere wrote a book called I Love Idi Amin. The book was considered radical at the time. How could an Anglican bishop love a mass murderer? Because the transforming power of Jesus’s love identifies with both the dignity and darkness inside every human soul. It does not sit back in distancing judgment. As Jesus did not shrink back from us, so His love today embraces the most heinous perpetrator. You see, both the dignity and darkness of Idi Amin is also in me. It is also in you. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo spoke of the reason for his compassion for the creature Gollum. “I have to believe he can come back.” Not every perpetrator will come back. But many who seek a transforming connection can come back if we help them make the divine connection, lived out in a recovering community, with a love that never fails.
I recently heard a talk about deep suffering a man endured. He and his family spent 5 months in a hospital with a daughter facing death from heart disease. Her courageous battle, even up to accepting death in prayer if need be, affected many in the hospital. She eventually recovered. When the family finally left the hospital for good, he thanked the staff for all they had done. The head physician replied, “No, I want to thank you. The presence of your family has transformed this hospital.”
The man said, “I have learned to stop asking why God allows problems and difficulties and started asking what God’s plan is right in the middle of them.” As we do this we will understand that the world is not divided into perpetrators and victims. It is united in brokenness with a God-shaped purpose that is greater than we can imagine and includes us all.
Jesus himself calls us to this great work of redemption. He invites us to join together for the ride of our lives, as we watch the dry bones come together and live again.
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