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A Theology of Sexuality and its Abuse: Creation, Evil, and the Relational Ecosystem, Part 2, by Andrew J. Schmutzer

The Distortion of Worship

Pollution corrupts by addition, combining what should be kept apart.142 This polluting effect of sin inhibits worship through idolatry. “In idolatry a third party gets in between God and the human persons, adulterating an exclusive loyalty.”143 By God’s design, intact families require sexual fidelity, so an incested child naturally begins to wonder if their abusing mother or father is their guardian or lover. The new abusive dynamic compromises the intended relationships by contaminating individuals, severing communities, and so defiling the victim’s proper orientation to God.144 Third parties are always wedge-shaped.145 Throughout Scripture, idolatry and adultery are mirror images, theologically (Ezek 6:9; Mark 8:38). When personhood is misplaced, the symphony of doxology is muted. Exploring sexual abuse, Alistair McFadyen also notes this distorting effect on worship:

Sin is hence, not so much free choice, as spiritual disorientation of the whole person at the most fundamental level of life-intentionality and desire … In all our relations, we live out an active relation or misrelation to God, we enter the dynamic of worshipping God or other forces and realities. Sin is therefore living out an active misrelation to God … Genuine transcendence, and so the grounds for genuine joy, are blocked.146

Understanding how worship can be disoriented for victims of abuse means helping them wade through the contaminating and dividing effects of sin—whether as self-idolatry or other-idolatry. Caring for the abused requires us to bring counter-dynamics into their relational ecosystem. Healing may take time, even a lifetime. But between the forgiveness of the good Pardoner and the healing of the Great Physician,147 a survivor’s worship can be renewed and even strengthened. That said, healing from abuse cannot be scripted. Restoring worship, however, may be the most precarious stretch of the journey home. Many wounded leave the path right here, at the juncture of joy.

Facing Sin’s Organic Continuum

Long after the sin may have been forgiven, the consequences can live on as part of the organic continuum of sin. This points-up the shortsightedness of the “blame-justification” model to address the multidimensional nature of evil surrounding SA.148 As Mark Biddle explains:

[T]he biblical notion of sin as a mishandling of the uniquely human calling to bear the image of God in creation implies responsibility not only to God—first and foremost, of course—but also, in fulfillment of the call, to other people and to the created order. Forgiveness must, therefore, include remedy and healing … [for] the real injury that outlives the act of wrongdoing.149

Helping victims move toward remedy and healing brings real-time dignity to real injuries. These are the raw, if not fresh moments, for the scripted certainties of juridical claims tend to slip out the back when the ambiguities of sin show up. But the subtler and more pervasive danger of modernity’s “turn to the subject” (noted earlier) runs aground here as well. When the autonomous self remains unaccountable or some consequences of evil are minimized because the harm was “unintentional”—then that act is placed beyond the realm of redemption.150 Increasingly, “[T]he nexus of sin and its consequences—its afterlife in the everyday world—has no place in the popular Christian mind.”151

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Category: Fall 2013, Ministry, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Andrew J. Schmutzer, Ph.D., is a Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, IL). He regularly writes and speaks about sexual abuse from a theological perspective, to help equip churches to care for the abused in their midst. Andrew is the editor of the collaborative book, The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused (Wipf & Stock, 2011), a contributor to numerous books including Finding Our Way Through the Traffick: Exploring the Complexities of a Christian Response to Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking (Regnum Books, 2017), The Moody Handbook of Preaching (Moody, 2008), Naming Our Abuse: God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel, 2016), Between Pain and Grace: A Biblical Theology of Suffering (Moody, 2016), and Genesis: See Our Story Begin (NLT Study Series). He is one of the editors of The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul (Moody, 2013), and author of Be Fruitful and Multiply: A Crux of Thematic Repetition in Genesis 1-11 (Wipf & Stock, 2009). He can be reached at aschmutz@moody.edu.

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