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How the Son Re-Names and Rights Reality
Last week we began a three-part series in John 10 looking at the distinct work of the Trinity in healing survivors of spiritual abuse. To quote Dan Peters again, healing for spiritual abuse should be “boldly tri-personal in its shape.” Having focused on the re-knowing work of the Spirit, we will look at the re-naming work of the Son. But first, consider another aspect of trauma caused by spiritual abuse.
The insidious, soul-rending heart of spiritual abuse is that it is harm caused in the name of Jesus. It is injury inflicted under the (supposed) authorizing supervision of the Chief Shepherd. Whether perpetrated by a pastor, a group of elders, or even an entire church, this is not just a context where care is expected and wounding happens instead. That is true of almost all forms of abuse, whether by parent, spouse, trusted family, doctor, etc. More than all that, the spiritual abuse victim expects spiritual care, shepherding protection and provision in the deepest recesses of the soul, and those expectations are exploited for feeding egos.
Except, it is not always clear to the sheep whether they are being fed or instead are being fattened up for the wolves to eat. There’s a reason Jesus’ image of wolves in sheep’s clothing has so permeated our imagination for over 2,000 years. When what we thought was real (this is a shepherd) turns out false (this is not a shepherd, it’s a wolf), our world turns upside down. Right is wrong, left is right, and the maze only leads further in, never out.
The first thing needed to escape the maze of spiritual abuse is to actually recognize you are in a maze, not a sheepfold. You need things to be called by their proper name. What has been misnamed must be re-named. And that is just what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does.
Jesus is the Word (logos) who is from God (theos), who is God, and who explains God (John 1:1, 18). This is what theology (theo-logia) is all about, and one of the marks of a true theologian, according to Martin Luther, is “saying what a thing is.” When we remember that the healed blind man of John 9 is still present for the message of John 10, it is striking to consider how Jesus named this man’s experience. Here is how he might have heard Jesus’ words:
I thought the leaders of my synagogue, who knew me since I was born, were my shepherds, but now thanks to Messiah Jesus I see they are thieves, robbers, strangers, and hired hands (v. 1, 5, 8, 10, 12).
I thought I was receiving protection and provision, but now I see they were controlled by selfish motives (v. 10).
I thought the synagogue leaders owned me, but Jesus said I belong to God, and these are mere hired hands who do not own me (v. 12).
Because I thought the leaders owned me, I thought they could demand my obedience, but Jesus said I am right to listen to his voice, not theirs (v. 12, 3-5).
I thought they cared for me, but Jesus put words to what I suspected yet didn’t want to believe, that they really care nothing for me (v. 13).
When they threw me out, I thought I was isolated and completely alone, but Jesus found me and helped me see that I truly belong to him and his flock (v. 16-17)
There are surely other facets we could consider in this rich passage, but these are some of the ways Jesus guides this man out of the maze of spiritual abuse and into the flock of the Good Shepherd. Jesus rights his world. And that righted world is the hand of the Father, to whom we will turn next Friday.
Quote from Diane Langberg
God is ever and always, with no shadow or turning, both light and truth. He is truth. He is light. Light exposes the truth. It exposes beauty and horror. Clean and filthy. And truth always calls what is exposed by its right name. “White-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones” is both exposure and truth. To cover-up or even slightly shade, deceive or rename anything the light exposes is ungodly. The Light does not flinch. The Truth does not water down. You see it is only light and truth together that expose the cancer; call it by its right name and enable healing to occur.
Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse: Creating Healthy Christian Cultures, by Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys.
I wonder where this reflection finds you? Is there confusion in your own church world? Do you feel unsure about the human voices you hear and whether they are truly representing the Good Shepherd? Or are you walking alongside someone in a season of doubt and confusion after being spiritually abused? In either case, Jesus really is the answer. As the God-man who reveals God, he has spoken in Scripture to you and the people you help, and has given you what you need to call things by their proper names. Truth really does set free (John 8:58). At some point, a much needed truth that sets spiritual abuse survivors free is the freedom to cry “wolf!” and know that, even if no human ears give heed, Jesus knows, sees, and agrees. To know Jesus’ assessment we need to know his Word. Do you know where to turn in Scripture to help discern spiritual abuse? John 9-10 is just one of many. Leave a comment and share which Bible passages have helped you most in this spiritual discernment.