Abuse creates a deep wound, leaving behind many emotional, psychological, and spiritual scars. Our experience of reality is altered, our view of the world skewed.
Above all, abuse teaches victims that they are worthless.
Anger is a step in the process of recovery from abuse, in much the same way that anger is a step in the process of grieving. As victims, we mourn what we have lost – what has been stolen from us. The time, the innocence, the confidence.
Initially, victims may have difficulty “finding” their anger about this loss. They will frequently rationalize the actions of their abusers – minimizing the harm done, and blaming themselves for events (though without cause).
The rationalization is simply how victims cope with damage so profound they can hardly describe it, and emotions that threaten to be titanic.
When Christians characterize victims’ anger as unacceptable, they imply – intentionally or not – that victims are unacceptable to God. Instead of freeing victims from abuse, this affected piety on the part of Christians reinforces victims’ sense of worthlessness. It pushes victims away from God, depriving them of His consolation.
In response, some victims will swallow their anger…just as they did in the abusive setting. However, abuse impacts us at a fundamental level. Denying our true feelings about it can produce numbness. When anger is denied, all our emotions become muted.
This is not a satisfying way to live. Worse, it puts us at great risk of depression which is often described as anger turned inward.
Detour to Christ
God understands victims’ anger. In fact, He shares it.
But rage can, also, consume us. If we nurse our very legitimate grievances long enough, bitterness will eat away at our lives like battery acid. Christ offers us a better alternative.
Anger is, in effect, a necessary detour abuse victims take to Christ.
And anger is a condition precedent to forgiveness, something many Christians fail to understand.
This is not to suggest that victims must endure Christ’s anger before they can be forgiven. Rather, victims must experience and release their own anger before they can freely choose whether or not to forgive their abusers, and move on with their lives.
“Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret—it only causes harm. For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the Lord, They shall inherit the earth” (Ps. 37: 8-9).
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