“New life,” biblically speaking, is eternal life in Christ, not a flowery promise of life improvement here on earth. The gospel is glorious. It directs our gaze off of us and onto God, who humbled Himself, demonstrated His great love by suffering a cruel death on a cross to save us, adopts into His family those who believe, and transforms us.
July 18, 2019
Caution: This article contains personal stories, which may trigger traumatic memories.
She was just a teen when the unforgettable happened; in her own words:
I was just a regular freshman girl. Going to school and everything is fine. Being with people you think that are your friends when in reality one of them can betray you in the worst way a “friend” can. Mid March and most things are fine. I wake up, go to school, stay after school and make up a test. I find out that there’s a school baseball game and everyone is going. I called my mom to tell her I was staying for the game. In the meantime I go to a nearby park with a “friend.” It’s around 6pm and it’s starting to get dark. We are sitting on the bench when he tries to kiss me. I push him back and he asks me what the problem is and I tell him. He stops me in my tracks and tries to talk me into it, and I refuse. He tries again but this time with anger. I tell him loudly “NO!” He gets mad at me for yelling at him, punches me and I fall to the ground. As I lay on the ground I feel weak and helpless. Next thing I know I am being raped. Helplessly trying and trying to push him off, crying, yelling…Nothing went on in my mind—all I felt was pain. It happened…anger, it’s what I felt. Angry at God for letting it happen to me! The next few weeks I felt sadness, anger, worthless, and unpure. I blamed myself because somehow I let it happen. I had lost all hope in life. I thought about suicide and I told no one what happened.
That was a portion of a letter I received from a girl in my youth group over a decade ago. You can’t help but sense the depth of agonizing pain she felt during the harshest time in her young life. She overcame those dreadful feelings and today is a very happily married woman with children. Through Jesus she found freedom from the chains of her past, and so can you. It can’t be said that it will be like nothing happened—when a person rubs over a scar an excruciating memory may come back—but your heart can mend and you can move forward through the grace and strength of God into a far better place than you may find yourself today.
Jesus said, “[God] has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives…, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). The Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He is “a father of the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5). God is holy, just, and love. He deeply cares about you and wants to help you through this. He came to bring healing from the horrible things you have suffered through, but ultimately to address your greatest need, forgiveness for your own sins. (To avoid confusion, there is no sin in being cruelly taken advantage of.) Visit this page to learn more about what Christ did and how your sins can be forgiven.
It Was Their Sin, Not Yours
It’s estimated that one in four girls and one in six guys are sexually abused before they turn age eighteen.1 More than one in three women and nearly one in four men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact at some point in their lives.2
In an online poll of nearly four hundred rape victims, over half said they felt responsible for some part of the rape.3 However, you are not responsible for someone else’s crime. It’s not your fault. No one at any time, for any reason, has the right to force themselves on another person. Nothing justifies rape. Nothing. You are the victim, not the criminal. It was not your fault.
Below are some common excuses victims make for their abusers:
- “I shouldn’t have been dressed so provocatively.”
- “I should have been smarter.”
- “If I would have fought harder, it wouldn’t have happened.”
- “It was my fault; I was drinking.”
- “That’s just how guys are; he still loves me.”
- “I must have led him on.”
Many rape victims blame themselves. They feel it was somehow their fault that someone overpowered them. It’s common to blame yourself, but the simple fact is that it is never your fault. It doesn’t even matter if you planned on having sex, but changed your mind at the last minute. If you didn’t give consent, it is no longer sex; it’s rape. You didn’t ask to be raped, and you didn’t deserve it.
“It’s common to blame yourself, but the simple fact is that it is never your fault.”
Children are always victims when someone sexually uses them. The child may have willingly been involved in the act, but the child is still a victim. Because of their age, children lack the mental ability to understand that what’s happening is wrong. If they do realize it’s wrong, children often don’t say anything out of fear or guilt, believing it’s their own fault. It’s never a child’s fault. Child molesters are often a relative, neighbor, or family friend, and they typically use manipulation instead of physical force. They give affection or gifts to build trust, and then they sexually approach the trusting child. A young child can run around naked and never be guilty or “deserve” getting molested. Don’t blame yourself for someone else’s sin. You were a child.
Wiping Away the Shame
He began being molested by a next-door neighbor when he was six and it lasted until he was twelve. For years the young boy thought it was normal, so he never told anyone. As the boy got older he began to notice this wasn’t happening to his friends, but he was afraid to tell his abuser he wanted to stop. Eventually, he built up the courage to tell his parents what had been happening. The police were called and the man was sent to prison. While the molester was now behind bars, the child still saw him every day… in his mind. The boy couldn’t escape the memories of what had happened.
“You don’t deserve to feel guilty or shameful. You are not responsible for someone else’s crime.”
For years that young man I know struggled with thinking he was less of a man because of what happened. He felt humiliated and disgusted with himself. He did poorly in school and had a very hard time making friends. He was consumed with shame until the day he began to focus more on Christ than his circumstance. He agreed to look past what he felt and acknowledge the truth that he wasn’t to blame. Since that time God dramatically transformed his life. He was the class president and graduated high school at the top of his class. Then he went on to college and eventually started a successful business.
Shame is the most common feeling victims of sexual abuse experience. Author Christa Sands said, “Shame differs from guilt in that guilt says, ‘What I did was bad’ while shame says, ‘I am bad.’”4 You don’t deserve to feel guilty or shameful. You are not responsible for someone else’s crime.
Although you are not worthy of what Jesus did on the cross for you (nothing we have done earns our salvation), you are not worthless; you are worth Jesus’ precious blood! What an abuser did shows who they are, not who you are. Some people feel they’re undesirable, unlovable, or ugly because someone abused them. That is not true. You are of extreme value. You’re not messed up, your abuser is!
A key is to hold tight the example Paul gave us in Philippians 3:12–14:
I press on…; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
No matter how much you desire to drive a car, you won’t get anywhere if your foot is on the brake and your eyes are fixed on the rearview mirror. If you want to move forward, you need to keep your eyes on the road ahead and put your foot on the gas pedal. When something horrific and traumatic happens in a person’s life, there is a natural tendency to fall into a sort of shell-shock, where the event is constantly replayed in the mind. The memory of abuse is regularly revisited, inviting back all of the debilitating pain and keeping the wound fresh and open, never giving it time to mend. Paul forced himself to live a life of “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” He focused on the upward call of God. And that is exactly what you need to do. It can be extremely beneficial and healthy to open up and share about what you’ve been through with the right person, but it very quickly grows toxic to day after day resurrect horrible memories in your own mind. There needs to be a shift to gaze ahead, rather than be fixated on what’s behind; “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
“What an abuser did shows who they are, not who you are.”
The Bible says, “And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13, NLT). You are God’s; your identity is solely in Him. Who you are “in Christ” is what defines you, not what you went through. You are not the crime committed against you, you are God’s beloved son or daughter. What you feed grows, what you starve dies. Own who you are “in Christ”—forgiven, freed, loved, valued, adopted. Focus on the truth, not the lies, and when you do, you’ll find the hold of your past will loosen its grip on you.
“Why Did God Let This Happen?”
Listen as one person opens up about her pain:
I was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused by my father when I was young. I’ve been in counseling for a long time, but I still can’t stop being angry about this. I want to know where God was when I was being abused. Why didn’t He make my dad stop? I grew up feeling hopeless and helpless and believing God didn’t care about me…I want to know why God let this happen to me?
There are no quick and easy answers as to why God allows suffering. We live in a broken and twisted world where terrible things happen every day. God allows us to do great good to our fellow man or great evil. Many do evil. It stems from the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, when sin, along with suffering and death, entered the world (Romans 5:12). This world is not the way it was meant to be.
In the classic football movie Rudy, the lead character goes to church seeking answers. He talks with a minister about his discouraging situation and is told, “Son, in thirty-five years of religious studies I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts: There is a God… and I’m not Him.” Until Heaven we won’t fully understand why God allows terrible things to happen, but one thing we know through the cross is that God is love. Rather than being bitter at God and taking on an arrogant, rebellious attitude due to our lack of understanding, we should humbly trust in His integrity and run to Him in our time of greatest need.
Learning to Trust God Again
Because they can’t understand why God allowed such vile crimes to take place, some victims turn away from God. They choose not to trust Him, because they secretly feel that He isn’t trustworthy. Don’t fall into that trap.
“Instead of running from God, you need to run to Him.”
God is not to blame for what happened to you, your attacker is. God is not capable of sinning. He is always good and just.
Instead of going to God for help and healing, some decide to trust in other things. Some turn to alcohol or drugs or sexual promiscuity, or become either a loner or overly dependent on relationships. God has not failed you; a human being’s sin has hurt you. Instead of running from God, you need to run to Him.
God wants to give you peace within, but you have to trust Him. The Bible says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). God will bring the peace, but your part is to have your mind fixed on Him and trusting in Him.
When you’re scared and feel alone, one of the most precious and meaningful things someone can do is tenderly grasp your hand, look you in the eyes, and let you know they are with you. God wants to do the same thing for you as you walk through your pain. God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4). You can either trust in yourself, trust in your past, or trust in God—the one who created you. Will you trust and let Him help?
The Key to Finding Freedom
After a church service a woman and her friend came over to me seeking advice; she told me that she couldn’t sleep in her room. She felt a sense of fear and evil in the room that was too strong for her to bear. Whenever she tried to lie down she felt overwhelmed and had to sleep in the living room. When I asked if her room was linked to a terrible experience, she broke down in tears and said that her uncle had raped her there and she had been battling with nearly unbearable depression and suicidal thoughts ever since. She was traumatized, scared, and bitter.
“Forgiveness is not excusing someone’s sin. Excusing means you ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen—forgiveness is the exact opposite. Forgiveness means you see how awful it was and choose, because of God’s love, to still let go of it.”
One of the very first steps for her to find freedom was to let go of hatred and forgive. “But if I forgive him, that’s like saying it was okay!” No. Forgiveness is not excusing someone’s sin. Excusing means you ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen; forgiveness is the exact opposite. Forgiveness means you see how awful it was and choose, because of God’s love, to still let go of it. Forgiveness is not saying, “It’s okay.” It’s saying, “What you did was vile, but because God has let me go, I let you go.”
Jesus said, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). Not forgiving doesn’t punish the person; it punishes you. Vengeance is the Lord’s—not ours. It’s been said bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Let me say this to those of you who know your abuser: Forgiveness does not mean everything should go back to the way it used to be. You must be wise and protect yourself from being victimized again. Having no contact with your abuser is usually best.
I also encourage you to call the police. Remember, if someone abused you, the person could also do it to others. Many rapists and pedophiles (those who sexually victimize children) are repeat offenders. They may keep on hurting others unless they’re reported and get help. Going to the police isn’t a way to get revenge; it’s a way to see that what happened to you doesn’t happen to others.
Comfort for the Scarred Soul
An awful experience such as rape or molestation makes deep wounds, which leave scars. As your life goes on, when you’re reminded of those scars you’ll remember the pain. Let those old hurts remind you to pray and lean on God. Nothing will undo what happened to you, but the Holy Spirit can bring strength, comfort, and healing. He can soothe your pain and refresh your soul.
Ask God for His help, as often as you realize you need it. You need His help to forgive and re-forgive your attacker (in your heart) when the pain resurfaces. Seeking God’s help and forgiving are choices that each victim must make. Share your heart with your Savior and draw from His warmth and strength.
Nourish your soul ever closer to God through daily Bible study, prayer, being weekly plugged into a good church, building friendships with others who are following Christ, and sharing the good news of the gospel with those who don’t believe. Colossians 1:16 says, “All things were created through Him and for Him.” Your life was made by God, for God, and should be about God; keep Him as your top priority.
Don’t Suffer in Silence
It’s said that the emotional pain that comes from sexual abuse is like a bad toothache. It’s a constant pain that victims learn to deal with. Some of you have gotten used to your secret pain. You know it’s there, but you choose to ignore it. However, the pain often won’t go away by ignoring it.
Another critical key in the healing process is talking about what you’ve been through. Please, don’t stay locked inside the prison of silence. Not only will talking with someone be a huge relief, but it will also help you work through confusing thoughts and any wrong beliefs you may have unknowingly formed through the abuse.
You may feel scared, embarrassed, ashamed, or wonder what others will think of you, but for your own sake, it is so valuable to share. Not everyone is trustworthy, but find someone who is and talk with that person. You can speak with your parents, a pastor, a school guidance counselor, or a Christian counselor.
Serious depression can lead to suicidal thoughts. If you ever feel suicidal, speak with someone immediately. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 800-273-8255. All calls are confidential. Most suicidal people don’t want to die; they want to end the pain. There is hope. You can get through your pain and live a long, happy life. Your tomorrow can be better than your yesterday. You can get through this. With God, there is hope.
There is Hope for the Abuser
If you are the attacker—you molested or raped someone—there is hope for you as well. What you did was not unforgivable. God wants to forgive you and help you find freedom from those chains of sin and change your heart. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” To be made new, to be “born again,” you need to be “in Christ.” Today, at this very moment, repent and put your faith in Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can give you a new heart and free you from the bondage of sin. Visit this site to learn more about what Christ did for you and your next steps to grow as a follower of Christ.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prevalence of Individual Adverse Childhood Experiences,” 2014, https://web.archive.org/web/20160404140139/http://
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Preventing Sexual Violence,” 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/features/sexualviolence/index.html.
- Mister Poll, “Rape,” May 2006, http://misterpoll.com/results.mpl?id=3813953935.
- Christa Sands, Learning to Trust Again (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1999), 37.