This quotation from Joseph to his brothers—after everything has been revealed at the end of Genesis—has always stuck out in my mind. Is Joseph insane? So God was doing "good" to him when his brothers beat him up and threw him in a pit? Or maybe God meant it for "good" when they sold him into slavery where he landed a nice, cushy job, until God did "good" to him through Mrs. Potifar’s false sexual harassment accusations that landed him in Pharoah’s jail. Gee thanks, God. Where can I get more good stuff like that? These are gifts?
God MEANT this to happen to me??
We confess that God is Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, that He gives us all we have and provides for the needs of every living thing. He protects us from all danger and guards us from every evil. And we confess that He does so out of Fatherly and divine goodness and mercy. God doesn’t have accidents, God doesn’t need "do-overs", He doesn’t forget or make mistakes. God never says, "Whoops!" We confess these things…but we don’t believe them very well.
Ok. So somehow, we’re supposed to believe God meant it, since that’s what we confess. That’s just twisted. Why would God mean for me to be in an abusive relationship? How could God possibly mean for me to be raped? There are a couple of ways to look at the situation.
This is the worst thing that could ever happen to me and my life. God is out to get me. He is punishing me for my sins. God doesn’t care about the details of my life. He’s teaching me some lesson. I chose to be in a relationship with this man, and now I’m stuck taking my thumps. Literally. And now I’m at the end of my rope and not sure how much longer I can hang on.
Can a person get much more turned in on themselves than that? That’s a full on pity-party. That’s faithlessness. That’s thinking and believing as though Christ never came for you. It’s selfish and it’s idolatrous. "I should be the one who’s God – I’d never let a mess like THIS happen!"
The alternative is not the opposite, that this suffering is the best thing that could happen in my life. But it’s certainly NOT the worst. The worst would be if those things really were true – if Jesus had not come and already taken God’s punishment for your sins. He has. It’s not. God does care about the details of your life, even more than you do. Do you love your child enough to care and know how many hairs are on his head? Do you even know how many are on your own? The only "lesson" God is interested in teaching us is the Gospel, that we may believe and be saved. Even when He uses the Law – it’s to bring us to faith in the Gospel. And even that He gives us. We don’t have to depend on ourselves or our ability to hang on in the suffering and continue to believe contrary to all the messages we tell ourselves like the ones above. He sends the Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, teach, and keep us in the one true faith unto life everlasting. It’s not up to us at all. This is not the worst that could happen to me.
God does not mean for the worst possible thing to happen to us. That’s the last thing He means for us. In giving Christ all the worst things that could happen to every human being since Creation, we are given all the best things the Only-Begotten Son deserves. He didn’t deserve God’s punishment, but He took it because in Christ God loved us and meant for our salvation and deliverance from sin, death, and the devil.
So being abused is a good thing?
Abusers* often tell their victims that they do it for her own good, to teach her a lesson. She had it coming. If she would only listen and pay attention in the first place, such strong reactions to get her attention wouldn’t be necessary.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a difference on the outside between an abusive husband and our "loving, heavenly Father" who sends us "gifts" we really don’t want. We joke about God giving us the proverbial slap upside the head with the Law, but if a husband actually does it, it’s abuse. How is the same type of treatment a gift from one source and abuse from another? In fact, it’d probably be straight-out denial to call such abuse a gift. No one in their right mind would do that.
It’s not hard to imagine wanting to believe that this man, who says he loves you and would do anything for you, just lost his temper. And when you examine your actions and motivations, you have to realize that he’s right, you should’ve known better. You pushed those buttons you knew all too well should be left alone. You are guilty of all his accusations. You were stupid and thoughtless. You might as well be a waste of skin.
Next time, do better. Tomorrow, make sure even more details are covered. Do whatever is necessary to appease him and his wrath. Avoid anything unpredictable, take care of every little thing that might upset him. If everything goes well and nothing sets him off, you’ve succeeded. One day, you will get everything right and hopefully he’ll see, he’ll realize, how important you really are, how much he really loves you. And then you’ll live happily ever after.
Abusers abuse not because they’re particularly sadistic or mean or don’t love (in their own strange way) their wives. They abuse because they have a need to obtain and maintain control over another person and believe that they are justified in using fear and violence to do so. When he is choking you, lifting you, literally, feet off the ground, honestly considering whether or not to kill you, it is NOT for your good. But in his mind, he must make a point, must put the "fear of God", or at least of him, into you.
To an abuser, everything he does is for his own good. He must keep control over the relationship by whatever means possible. That’s not how God is though. We learn from the Lord’s Prayer that we get to consider God not just a sovereign Lord ruling His Kingdom, but like a loving Father. In Christ, He really does love us and always does what is good for us. Rather than let us suffer in our own sinfulness and its eternal effects, He sent us His own Son to take all that upon Himself. Instead of punishing us as we deserve, giving us what we have coming, He punished Christ, and in turn gives us all that is Christ’s too!
On the Cross, Christ earned our forgiveness, eternal life and salvation which He gives to us in Baptism. On the Cross, Jesus, bloodied and suffering, glorified God and bore living, breathing, and dying witness to God’s love for us. In the bearing of the crosses in our lives that shape our vocations, we bear witness of God’s faithfulness to us in Christ. The faith that we have been given, the Jesus we have been given, continues to glorify God even as He suffers for us.
That’s how faith can receive even a cross as a gift from our Heavenly Father who loves us. Yes, there is immense suffering. No, we would never choose the crosses we have and most of us wouldn’t wish them on our worst enemy. But we don’t need to fear. God will not give us what we have coming. He will not treat us, will not let us suffer as we truly deserve. Even as a victim of rape and abuse, we have been given faith which clings to God’s promises in Christ given to us in Baptism. Even with all the physical and psychological scars that abuse effects in us and our lives we may, by faith, by Christ, alone, rejoice in each day and gift that we are given. Even the ones that only faith sees as gifts until the Last Day when faith is no longer needed, when we get to see. In Baptism all our sins and flaws are washed away. In God’s eyes, we are blameless, flawles
God hasn’t forgotten about us and left women to fend for ourselves in abusive relationships. He doesn’t make mistakes and there are no such things as accidents. Nor are there coincidences. We cannot become unbaptized, we can only reject His gifts and deny Christ, despairing as though He had never come to save us at all. He did send Christ, our sins are forgiven.
Does it get any better than that?
* While I acknowledge that abuse occurs in all arrangements of intimate relationships, male-female is most common and I will use terms according to a heterosexual marital relationship.