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Safe in the Hands of the Father
One of the most notable traits of post traumatic stress is hypervigilence and hyperarousal. After being severely wounded, our minds and bodies set to semi-permanent high alert mode. It’s as if Defcon 5, the defense readiness condition in times of peace, is no longer available. A traumatized body might range from Defcon 4, which is for increased intelligence gathering, to Defcon 1 and maximum readiness for immanent war.
This high alert status keeps danger somewhat at bay. The problem is, our bodies weren’t designed to live in a state of constant arousal, and we can get stuck in avoiding potential triggers to manage the fear. This avoidance, whatever form it takes, never heals the wounds. Rather than avoid stressors, healing comes from finding safety in the face of fear. Safety is the treatment, as Stephen Porges put it1. And safety, according to Jesus, is what the Father gives to spiritual abuse survivors.
We will look closely at Jesus teaching about the Father in John 10 to close out this three part series on finding healing for spiritual abuse in distinct, personal relationships with the Triune God (see part one on the Holy Spirit and part two on the Son). But before we look at the Father’s work, let’s consider further how Jesus expresses the wounds of spiritual abuse.
He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. (John 10:12)
This image of wolves snatching and scattering sheep is a clear echo of OT prophetic speech against Israelite leaders-turned-wolves. In the Septuagint, the word for “snatch” is used in Ezekiel 22:27:2
“Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain.”
And a form of the word for “scatter” is used in Jeremiah 23:1:
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD.
These allusions signal, to me at least, Jesus’ awareness that God’s sheep have suffered under the oppressive snatching and scattering of wolf-like religious leaders for centuries. He also knew that this oppression would not end completely in the present age (Matthew 7:15).
I imagine Jesus thinking of the blind man when he answered the Jews at the Feast of Dedication in John 10:25-30.3 Jesus was aware of the trauma that would ensue from being scattered and snatched by wolves. Being snatched is the first thing a wolf does, but that’s not where it ends, as Ezekiel 22:27 makes clear: “like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain.”4
Being snatched and eaten by religious leaders will lead to living somewhere between spiritual defcon 4 and defcon 1. There’s something rustling in the bushes—run! A dog in the city snarls and barks at something—call for help, it’s barking at me! Or more tragically, any number of church triggers—get ready to hide or go on the counter attack!
The constant fear of being snatched again and wounded can only be healed by safety greater than the thing feared. And when the thing feared is a man who (allegedly) speaks for God, it is difficult to imagine that safety coming from God himself. But that is just what Jesus promises, because sheep must know—and likely be reminded over and over again—that God is safe.5
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27-29)
Notice the same word “snatch” as used in John 10:12. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Yes, you may have been snatched and attacked, and even scattered from the visible flock of God, but know this: you really are still safe in my Father’s hands. No one is greater than the Father, and you cannot find safety greater than his gentle, loving hands. The wolves in shepherd’s clothing might think they can snatch you and ravage you, but you are safe in the protecting hands of God the Father.”
This isn’t to say that God doesn’t allow sheep to be snatched by wolves. Painfully, tragically, mysteriously, he does. There is a paradox here. How can Jesus say “the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (John 10:12) and also say “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29)? Sure, there is the sense of the security of our eternal life in God (John 10:28). But is there more going on here? I think so.
Jesus offers spiritual abuse survivors reassurance that the snatching and scattering they experienced was not an act of the Father. If they can never be “snatched” from the Father’s hand, then the “snatching” they endured at the hands of wolves was something different. So whatever they might be drawn to conclude about God the Father from such abuse, he certainly did not approve it. The shepherds acted from their own fleshly hunger for sheep, no matter what words of God the Father Almighty they may have twisted to their dark ends.
To think that the Father condoned such abuse is one of the most dangerous beliefs a spiritual abuse survivor can wrestle with. They need the safety of knowing the Father is a safe God. Jesus, being the Good Shepherd, brings them to the Father who will hold them in his almighty hands. And the Good Shepherd does more than that: he gave us his Word as a constant reminder for fearful, traumatized sheep:
Fear not, little flock; no matter how many wolves prowl or how loudly they growl, it is the Father’s good pleasure to hold you safe in his hands.
Quote from John Owen
Men are afraid to have good thoughts of God. They think it a boldness to eye God as good, gracious, tender, kind, loving: I speak of saints; but for the other side, they can judge him hard, austere, severe, almost implacable, and fierce…and think herein they do well. Is not this soul-deceit from Satan? Was it not his design from the beginning to inject such thoughts of God? Assure thyself, then, there is nothing more acceptable unto the Father, than for us to keep up our hearts unto him as the eternal fountain of all that rich grace which flows out to sinners in the blood of Jesus.
If you are a spiritual abuse survivor, can you believe today that God the Father is a safe, protecting God? I encourage to you take some time and meditate on God the Son’s comforting reassurance that God the Father is good and safe. The image of God’s hands is a powerful one in Scripture. Jesus himself put his faith in the hands of the Father when all went dark and no one else was there to protect him (Luke 23:46, and see Psalm 31:5, 15).
Badenoch, Bonnie. The Heart of Trauma: Healing the Embodied Brain in the Context of Relationships. W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.
As well as other similar uses in Ezekiel 22:25, 19:3, 19:6, Isaiah 10:2, Micah 3:2 (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g726/lxx/lxx/0-1/).
Assuming, because of the change in time and location in 10:22, that the man probably wasn’t present.
The Message actually renders “snatch” in John 10:12 as “ravaged” because the sense of being captured or taken is already present in the next verb “scattered” (see NET translation).
Apologies to Mr. Beaver, but if there is a sense in which Aslan wasn’t safe, surely there was a deeper sense in which he was truly safe.