Back to Bible Basics

Four months ago, I concluded my verse-by-verse study of the book of Genesis. At that time, I decided I wanted to share more of my personal story and how I have found healing through the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have since related a good deal about my addictions and path to recovery, as well as the principles that helped me along the way. I also shifted into my earlier format of picking a single gospel principle and studying it from every angle.

It has been a fruitful four months, and a much-needed change of perspective, but at this point I feel ready to shift back to other forms of study. To start things off, I have had ten little thoughts and mantras that occurred to me over the course of my most recent studies, and I’d like to share them with you, one each weekday for the next two weeks. After that, I would like to go back to my verse-by-verse Bible study. I will pick up where I left off, ready to begin the book of Exodus. The first of these verse-by-verse studies I expect to post on February 20th.

I’m sure that periodically I will have a spiritual experience that I feel is worth sharing here, at which point I will certainly interrupt my verse-by-verse study to relate it. In general, though, I’m excited to get back to examining the small details tucked away in the scriptures. I hope you’ll be able to find it fruitful as well!

Perpetrator and Victim: Part Seven

The Place of Rescue)

Yesterday I made the point that both the perpetrator and the victim of abuse find themselves cut off from the presence of God. The perpetrator by their guilt, the victim by their despair. I explained that they do not have the power to bring themselves back into the light, either. Each requires an act of divine intervention to rescue them from the darkness.

It is not in the scope of this series to fully detail this rescue process. This process is outlined in the Gospel, it is conducted through the Savior, Jesus Christ. Anyone that searches for how one is “saved” in the Christian theology will find numerous explanations. For here I will simply say that this rescue or saving comes by accepting Christ as our Savior, and him redeeming us through no special merit of our own. It begins a new life within us, one of discipleship to Jesus.

My focus in this series has been to examine the hard path that precedes this saving grace. All of us have to be lost before we can be found, that is our common pattern in life. All of us are broken by others, and all of us break others in turn. Accepting these realities brings us to the bleakest place in our lives, but it just so happens to be the very same place where Christ’s rescue is waiting for us.

A dear friend of mine understood this concept and would often repeat the phrase “there is sacredness in suffering.” He understood the courage that it took to admit how guilty and broken one was, and he also understood that it was the prerequisite to a transformation for a soul. Nearly four years ago he passed in a tragic accident, leaving behind his young family. They have had their own “sacred suffering,” to be broken, and to be rescued to a new way of life.

New in the Light)

No one is rescued from the hole as the same person they were before they went in. They can be innocent again, they can be whole again, but they won’t be the same innocent or whole that they were before. That might be difficult for some to accept. Most of us spend so much of our time remembering how we used to be and trying to get back to it, but that’s something we just have to surrender.

This shouldn’t be considered tragic, though. The new person that emerges back into the light will not be equal to the person that went in, they will be indescribably better. We rise higher than we fall, our suffering and healing purifies and strengthens us into a purer form.

Of course, this is a transformation and journey that we never plan on. In the case of the victim it comes about entirely against their will. In the case of the perpetrator it does come about by their will, but they are ignorant of the full consequences they are calling forth. Most of us like to think that the greatest journeys of our lives will be ones that we elect for ourselves, ones that we choose deliberately and then carry out entirely by our own power. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those sorts of journeys are the most insignificant of our lives. The greatest journeys are the ones that catch us by surprise, even against our wills, and feature long periods where we are carried by various others. These journeys are far more dangerous, but the reward is far greater, too. There’s a reason why this is the sort of journey that all our literature has been obsessed with for thousands of years.

Parallel Journeys)

Here at the end I want to revisit a notion I mentioned in an earlier post. Many of us view the victim and the perpetrator as being two completely separate entities. We feel that each has entirely different needs from the other, that the only relationship that they share is those isolated moments of abuse.

But the reality is that both of these souls have a parallel journey to redemption. They both are prone to self-deception and false ideology, they both must overcome these lies to accept the hard truths, they both must come to despair so that they can then be rescued by the Savior.

And, indeed, each must deal with the other in their journey many times over. Even if they never see each other in the flesh again, each must come to terms with the specter of the other. No perpetrator will emerge whole without acknowledging the victim and doing whatever he can to make amends. No victim will emerge whole without accepting that the abuser is still their brother or sister and releasing their hate for them.

As I have suggested several times, I have been victim and perpetrator both. I have walked both journeys at various times, and I know firsthand the patterns of these paths. I know with all confidence that the way is hard, but also that it is beautiful.

Hitting Rock Bottom

Diving Deep)

“Hitting rock bottom” is a common phrase in addiction recovery and twelve-step programs. Addicts will include it when describing the shocking depths they descended to before they were willing to wholly commit to recovery. They lost jobs, were imprisoned, lost their families, declared bankruptcy, were excommunicated from their church, lost their physical and mental health, and perhaps even found themselves on death’s doorstep. In short, they sunk as low as they possibly could, and then, having “hit rock bottom,” they finally started to look upward.

This pattern is so common that some addicts will attest that no one will ever find real recovery until they first hit rock bottom. It’s not that everyone’s rock bottom is the same, but they claim that one must hit their personal moment of absolute devastation before they can recover. Some will even tell newcomers who haven’t suffered enough hardship from the addiction that they aren’t possibly going to get better until they first get much worse.

I absolutely disagree with such claims. I think there is a real pattern being recognized, but extrapolating that pattern to say it is an absolute rule for each and every single individual is a terrible mistake. No one should ever be told that they cannot yet begin the process of getting better.

The Power of Fear)

But as I just said, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real pattern occurring here. I saw it in my initial recovery group of six members. We each had our own highs and lows, but only one of us totally stopped working the program. I have to say, from the very first meeting I had my doubts about his commitment. The most obvious difference between him and the rest of us was that he was still young, unmarried, and had relatively little to lose if he didn’t get better right away.

Well, that’s not true, we all had just as much to lose, but for some of us the losses were occurring in the present, whereas for him much of the potential losses were still in the future. Since that time, I have met other young addicts who were able to stick to a program, even without their feet being held to the fire by the threat of losing marriage and family, but they are a small demographic in our ranks.

Fear of real and dramatic loss is one of the greatest motivators for change. It isn’t the only motivator, and people can achieve recovery without it, but there will always be more scared and desperate individuals in recovery than cocky and sure.

Pivot Points)

Of course, fear does not properly account for the phenomenon of getting sober after “hitting rock bottom.” Fear is an emotion that comes from potential unpleasant outcomes. Fear is always looking forward to a future experience, usually one that may or may not even occur. But “hitting rock bottom” would mean that the thing you were afraid of has already occurred. The loss has happened, the relationship has ended, the freedom has been taken. Fear has already been replaced with reality. So what else is it about these moments that might inspire real change?

Well, these are pivot points. They are moments that force a huge reality check on us. Up until these moments we might have been in denial, finding other things to blame for our problems, but huge tragedies like these usually make us take a hard look inside. We finally see ourselves as we actually are, and having gained that perspective we get to make a choice whether we will accept what we see or not. We have a chance to say to ourselves “no, I cannot tolerate this. I cannot be this way. I will do whatever it takes to change.”

Each new low presents a new chance to have that introspection and to make that commitment to change. They are stations along the railway, and at each one we have the option to change trains if we want. There is a train station when you are caught the first time. There is a train station when you lose your marriage. There is a train station when you go to jail. One might take the first exit, another the second, another the third, and another might never get off the ride at all.

Thus, “hitting rock bottom” really means the time you reach the pivot point where you finally decide enough is enough. Each person has a different point where this occurs for them, and it is based entirely on their individual personality and choice. Many of us are too stubborn to choose to change until we have suffered great loss, but as I have said already, I do know others who made a real change far sooner on their journey. It’s entirely up to you.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 41:50-52

50 And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Poti-pherah priest of On bare unto him.

51 And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.

52 And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.

As God had promised, there comes to Egypt seven years of plenty. But aside from just the bounteous grain this is also a special “time of plenty” specifically for Joseph. He has been made a ruler in Egypt, given a wife, and now the blessing of two sons. What a whirlwind period this must have been for Joseph! For a time, he was in the lowest pit of human existence, but now the riches are coming at a furious pace.

Manasseh’s name means “making to forget,” meaning that Joseph has been made to forget all the years of suffering, but also to forget the old life he once dreamed of. Once he was of the family of Jacob in Canaan, and presumably his ambitions were tied to those people and that place. But now he has been given a new station and a new calling to fulfill. This is his work now and this is his family. He can’t ever go back to just living under his father’s roof and tending the flocks.

In fact, one transformation that I imagine Joseph never anticipated is that he would be married to an Egyptian woman. That, of course, means marrying out of the covenant, something that was a typically an embarrassment to the lineage of Abraham. But while “strange wives” will become associated with the Israelite people giving up their God, this is not the case with Joseph.

Yes he is married to an Egyptian, yes he is in the employ of the Pharaoh, yes he is surrendering any ambitions related to his father’s house…but never is he giving up his worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph has the fortitude of spirit to become an Egyptian while still retaining all his covenants as well.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 37:12-14

12 And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem.

13 And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I.

14 And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.

So begins the great journey of Joseph. An innocuous errand will lead to his entire life being changed. Unlike his father and great-grandfather, Joseph didn’t know that he was about to leave his home. He had no bag packed and had said no goodbyes. He was plucked out mid-stride and against his will.

I also am noticing in these verses how the story of Joseph is representative of the savior. A father sends his favored son as a representative to his other children. The son comes to see whether his brothers have properly cared for their flocks, or have gone astray, and the brothers respond by trying to destroy him. But their attempt is in vain, for in both cases the favored son is led through the tragedy to fulfilling his great purpose.

So no, Joseph was not anticipating the detour that awaited him, but as terrible as his fate may have seemed for a time, God was in it, and it all worked out for the greater good.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 30:6-8

6 And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.

7 And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.

8 And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.

Rachel may have been prevented from having children directly, but God did allow her backup plan to work. Bilhah was able to conceive, and Rachel was as joyous to welcome her handmaid’s sons as if they had been her very own. What a turnaround from when she despaired to Jacob that she would die if she could not have any children!

Rachel despaired because she had been fighting for something that just wasn’t going to work out. In each of our lives there are these matters that don’t go according to plan, losses that have to be accepted. So long as Rachel persisted in her original path, she was only going to make herself more and more frustrated. Rachel instructing Jacob to take Bilhah to wife shows that she was finally surrendering those original plans and accepting things as they really were. It was only then, after being humbled and reformed, that she was able to find success.

And so it is with each of us. We all have times of trying to fit our square-peg dreams into our round-hole realities. We have our agenda, and we relentlessly pursue it, even when things stubbornly refuse to work out how we want. Eventually we have to be broken enough to let the old dream go and find out what divine role we were actually meant to fulfill.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 28:6-9

6 When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padan-aram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan;

7 And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padan-aram;

8 And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father;

9 Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.

Esau witnessed the blessing and charge that Isaac gave to Jacob, and he realized how his own marriage choices had distressed his parents. He therefore married his cousin Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael, Isaac’s brother.

But Esau’s motivation here was to appease his parents. Not an evil desire, of course, but hardly the best reason for following commandments. Esau’s chief concern was not obedience to God or to overcome his base impulses, but to find a quick solution to return himself to the good graces of other people.

But then, that is most often the case with each of us. Most of us try to do good things to appease some worldly influence, and then get frustrated that we can’t keep up that game for long. If we want to change, to truly change, it has to be founded in something more real.

The Epic Life- Romans 7:14-15, Acts 9:1, 4-6

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

COMMENTARY

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord
And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks
Yesterday I mentioned that we might be kept from our great life only by a decision that we are unwilling to make. I suggested that we come across an action that is essential for us to do, but which feels like it would break us to make.
I believe Paul’s words describe that situation very aptly. “What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” These sentiments apply both ways between our spirit and carnal natures. These sides of us are in constant conflict, despising the actions of the other, doing the things that the other forbids.
Saul had a life as a persecutor of saints. He hated the gospel of Jesus, he spent all of his energy to destroy it. But through it all he “kicked against the pricks,” wounding his spirit, denying the epic life that he was meant to live.
For him to live that great life would require him cross that fundamental divide and break the man he was. He must become the very thing he hated: a disciple of Jesus. Amazingly he did it, and Saul (the part that hated Jesus and would not follow him) had to die along the way. Saul ended, and now began the great and epic life of Paul.