We get hurt. All of us. Some of us terribly.
And when we do get hurt, it is almost always at the hands of others. We live in a broken world and people wound us, causing us damage and leaving us to handle the pain and problems resulting from the behaviour of others.
The truth is, it is horrible to be the victim of somebody else’s bad behaviour. They’re the ones in the wrong and we’re the ones left with the broken pieces of a damaged life. It just feels so unfair. It is so unfair.
We feel the need for our pain to be understood. We have a desire for recognition. We want to be validated that our suffering was real and significant and horrible. We want those who have hurt us to realise what they’ve done.
All of us need empathy and compassion when we have been hurt. But there are so many different ways to respond to these things and not all of them are healthy either for us ourselves or those around us.
In struggling to know how to respond to the unfairness and injustices we experience, sometimes we can find that we become trapped in a place of ‘victimhood’, or ‘a victim mentality’.
We can live out of a place of thinking that the world is against us, that those around us are deliberately and/or directly trying to make life difficult for us, that everything is negative and out of our control and that we can’t affect or change things ourselves. We might fall into thinking that ‘everyone else’ is better off than us, that it’s ‘alright for them’ and we can find ourselves feeling impatient and unsympathetic to the needs of others in our lives. Behind this we can be feeling quite desperate ourselves. So, as a consequence, we can become acutely aware of our need for sympathy from everyone around us while we ourselves can become preoccupied with ourselves and so respond to others with less love and grace than we might have done before we were so hurt.
An additional problem comes from the enemy of our souls. He will encourage us to embrace victimhood and self-pity. Sometimes people say that Satan only discourages us, and it is true that his discouragement to follow Jesus can be relentless. But he also encourages us – he encourages us to choose our own way rather than the way that Jesus would lead us to freedom! He will say to us: “Yes, you are the victim here. They were wrong and you are right. Go ahead, feel sorry for yourself, it is entirely justified”.
When we get hurt, out of that place of deep pain, Satan can then tempt us to sin as he appeals to the worst inclinations that lay hidden in our hearts. The enemy wants to lead us into a specific trap, one from which it is notoriously difficult to get out: the pit of self-pity.
Self-pity is by definition self-focussed, self-centred and ultimately leads to selfish behaviour and sin. Usually, when self-pity rears its head, self-righteousness is not far off either. Self-pity takes our eyes of Jesus and focusses instead on the injustices done to us. It never leads to healing. Self-pity is like the final nail in the coffin for those who have been badly hurt by others.
There’s also a danger in the culture around us that would encourage us into this trap. This is the ongoing worldly narrative of oppressor versus oppressed, of victim versus aggressor. This narrative re-enforces what the enemy wants. He wants us falling prey to define our identity as that of a victim and for us to be enslaved to ongoing self-pity.
In our woundedness (which is not our fault), we can then sin (which is). When we relate to the world from this perspective, we can hurt others. We can fall into sinning against the people around us, sometimes especially those we love.
Maybe seeing these things written out here we recognise ourselves. So, what can we do?
Through the Bible, God shows us a better way: He shows us the road to lasting healing.
Through God’s Word, and especially through the example of our Lord Jesus, we can find ways to deal with the injustices done to us, to find true healing from our pain and to walk out of the traps of self-pity and victim-identity into the liberty and our true, God-given, victorious identity.
God cares deeply about justice and, what’s more, He understands our pain. He cares so very much that the Bible tells us that ‘He stores our tears in a bottle.’ We, and our pain, are very important to Him.
He knows we face injustice because Jesus faced it too. Jesus was unjustly condemned, consistently judged, and misunderstood and ultimately tortured to death. And all that without ever having done anything wrong. We might say that Jesus, from a human viewpoint, was the ultimate victim of injustice.
So how did He behave in face of this torrent of abuse? When we read the descriptions above about feeling like a victim or knowing the bitter taste of self-pity, we can look at Jesus and ask if we recognise any of those symptoms in Him. He was treated so unjustly and yet we don’t actually see him feeling sorry for himself or lashing out against those who sinned against Him. Rather, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly: He trusted God and kept Himself from all sin.
This is the key to our spiritual victory: we are not responsible for what others do to us, but God has made us accountable for how we choose to respond.
We all have the duty to guard our own hearts against sin, to keep ourselves pure from defilement, and to commit ourselves faithfully into the trustworthy hands of our Father in heaven, who sees, weighs, and correctly judges everything.
This walk of discipleship, of following in Jesus’ footsteps, is not easy. In fact, it is incredibly difficult. Jesus wants to take us by the hand and teach us how to walk through injustice and pain.
Here are some pointers that can help us on this transformative journey:
This growing understanding of our true identity as a child of God is what brings lasting healing. It must have been the one thing Jesus held on to when everyone else turned against Him: He knew that He was God’s beloved Son and nothing and no-one could take this from Him. It must have helped Him to resist falling into self-pity or a victim-identity. He knew He could trust in His Father God, no matter how others treated Him.
In his famous passage in Romans 8, the Apostle Paul says to the Roman Christians: ‘in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us’. What fantastic news to know we are more than conquerors! We’re not victims but we are victorious! So, what are ‘all these things’ that Paul was referring to? They included many hardships, difficulties, problems, oppression, persecution and pain. But just as the Christians in Rome could be more than conquerors in the midst of all these things, we too can take courage: in Jesus we are more than conquerors as well.
For Paul, the reason for this victorious note was the same as with Jesus: it was rooted in the knowledge that in the end, irrespective of what other might do to us, we truly are children of God.
God understands how we can fall into (a) becoming a victim or (b) sinning against others because of our own pain. He doesn’t condemn us. He loves us. But He wants to help us walk through our pain and lead us through the process of forgiveness (c) and out into better pastures, where abundant life awaits, and we are free to live as His beloved child (d).
At our Ellel centres we have ministered to countless people, many of whom have suffered unspeakable things at the hands of others. From all the decades of experience, we can say with confidence: God can bring true healing and lasting restoration to anyone who has been unjustly treated, victimised, or even abused.
Maybe reading this is a first step to letting Him lead you in navigating the pain and journeying towards the ‘life in all its fullness’ that Jesus came to bring.
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