One of my clients was a poor family who lived in a run-down part of town. Every month I would meet them in their home to collect their insurance money. Afterwards, we would sit and talk. One day I noticed that the clock was wrong. It said nine o’clock when, in fact, it was noon. Finally, I mentioned it to the husband and wife. Tears came to their eyes. ‘That was the moment our boy died ten years ago’, the husband whispered as he held his sobbing wife. I looked away at the clock once again, and understood. The clock had stopped in their lives at the moment they lost their boy.
Stopping the clock
The pain of friendly fire can stop the clock. When wounded by a friend in our own house, it is hard to go on. There is no pain like it. This happens to Christians who are hurt by other Christians and who fail to identify their pain with Christ. The clock stops. They go through life, month after month, year after year, and often church after church, but in many cases the clock stopped in their lives years ago, when they were hurt. They were disillusioned. They were heartbroken. They would never be the same again.
How many reading these words are living their lives with the ‘clock stopped’?
Today victimhood seems to be an accepted way of living. As a gospel minister, I see walking-wounded victims of abuse, of scandal, of failed marriages and of unhappy childhoods. I can also feel a sense of being wounded, a tendency towards victimhood, in my own being. It is part of the fallen condition of our humanity.
However, living as a victim is not living at all, because life cannot go forward when the clock has stopped at the point of our last betrayal. God did not intend that you should live as a victim. That is not the gospel way. Victimhood in the body of Christ may be normal (for who goes through life without some chinks in their armour?), but taking on the identity of a victim and living like that for years is not the gospel way. Now, I do not propose a moralistic answer that just says, ‘Shape up; stiff upper lip. Chop, chop. Get up and get on with it’. Neither is that sort of unbiblical Stoicism, which denies the human pain that we all may feel, a pathway to healing, but, rather, it is a formula for a more complicated disease of the soul.
The way of the gospel
There is another way: the gospel way, the way of the cross, which will lead to deep healing for this abysmal lesion in the body of Christ, the church. But I warn you, it will involve another kind of pain — the pain of Christ’s cross. However, Christ’s cross will bring resurrection, and the new life he brings will also make the clock start ticking again.
In the gospel story, revealed over time from Joseph through Paul and down to your life and mine, the person or situation that seeks to destroy us becomes a channel through which the hands of a sovereign and loving God can reach to save us. This is the gospel. This is the preaching of the cross, where the ‘emblem of suffering and shame’ became the sacred sign of victory and new life. Embracing this pattern of living, admittedly contra mundum — against the wisdom of this world — leads from victimhood to victory. But it is not an easy road. It is, however, the only road to healing.
Joseph, Moses and Paul
Turning to the Old Testament, this is what we perceive in Joseph’s capacity to forgive his brothers after they literally ‘ditched’ him (and Joseph’s boastful preaching about his dream of superiority over his brothers is understood to be connected to this retribution, however unjust). Wisely, Joseph identified his pain with God. In God’s purposes, the pain was intended to bring about a blessing. Being hurt by his brothers made sense. The pain of false accusation made sense. The trial of unjust imprisonment was good. The years of separation from his father were good for him. He was saying with Moses: ‘Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil’ (Psalm 90.15).
The power at work in the life of Joseph is what you need in order to get past this hurt. It is the power that was present in Paul when he said: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2.20).
In Philippians, Paul embraces the pain that comes at him as other Christians seem glad that he is in prison and, in so doing, identifies with Jesus Christ. This allows Paul to move from being victim to victor.
From victim to victor
Isn’t that what you want for your life? Isn’t that what you desire for your church, which today, as you read this, may be fractured from the pain of infighting and rips and tears in the bridal gown of the church? There is hope here in God’s Word, and there is healing for the walking wounded.
What I shared with hurt people that I have met with in the past is the same message that I want to share with you today as though I were your pastor. For believers hurt by other believers, for loved ones hurt by other loved ones, for anyone feeling like a victim of another person, or maybe just feeling betrayed by life, you can move from being victim to victor and deal with the pain of betrayal or suffering by taking three severe steps.
We see these steps being taken by Paul, who is in prison as a result of the plotting of his own people (Philippians 3.10-11) and by Joseph, who was mistreated by his own brothers (Genesis 50.19-20).
We also see the goal before us who are the wounded: ‘That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead’ (Philippians 3.10-11).
Let us now begin our journey to explore these crucial steps that the Holy Spirit will show us…
‘O my Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who knew loneliness and betrayal and heartache on the cross, teach me to bring my questions to you. Help me now to sit at your feet and learn the way of peace. Help me to appropriate the gospel of your grace to my life. Help me.’
This is an edited chapter from the book Hit by friendly fire: What to do when fellow believers hurt you by Michael A. Milton, published by Evangelical Press (£4.99, ISBN 978 0 852 347 768), and is used with permission.