Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 1: Acknowledge the Power of Your Actions
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 2: Know What God Requires
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 3: Make Your Action Plan
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 4: Get Ready for War
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 5: Master Your Biggest Enemy
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 6: Fight This Fight
It’s intimidating to try to tackle even one dimension of a topic as vast and multi-faceted as resisting abuse. As we all arm ourselves to walk through our still-very-present culture of harassment and exploitation, there are countless things we’ll need to study outside the scope of what this series has touched on: practical issues like how to recognize a predator’s tactics, or how to build our own self-defense strategies and arsenals; legal issues like how and when and to whom to report; spiritual issues regarding things like recovery, true forgiveness, and identity; ecclesiastical issues like what to do when your church won’t help.
But where this huge, complex battle starts is with the simple conviction that it is worth fighting, and that, win or lose, there is right that we can do. As soon as we truly believe this, and see this battle as being bigger than ourselves and our abuser, we’re on a good path – for resisting, for fighting, and for healing.
One of the main things that abusers try to convince women of is this: You are nothing; you are not better than this; no one will ever care that this has happened to you; no one will ever listen to you; this is who you are now; you have no chance of success in resisting or reporting; don’t even try. You’re not worth fighting for.
On the other side, feminist voices tell us: If you feel that what he did was not consensual, then it was wrong, and if you feel that it would be more empowering to you to resist or report, then go ahead… but it really all comes down to what you personally want right now, and no one should expect you as a woman to have to do something you don’t want to do. This is only worth fighting if you feel like it.
Too many Christian voices tell us: You just need to forgive and turn the other cheek; bringing consequences for sin isn’t loving and isn’t forgiveness; it will really damage the reputation of Christ to have things like this brought to light in the Christian community; you’re a sinner too, so you have no right to point a finger at him. It’s not Christian to fight back.
And then we look at our tortuous legal system and get the message: This battle is going to cost you everything and you’re not going to win. It’s not worth it to fight back.
But these are not the truth; these are lies. One woman who did not believe these lies was Rachael Denhollander.
It would be hard to be in a much more vulnerable and powerless position than 15-year-old Rachael during the year that her physician, Larry Nassar, repeatedly sexually abused her on the therapy table, and when people she trusted to help her hushed her instead. But later, as an adult, she was convinced that “a swift and intentional pursuit of God’s justice” was worth attempting again. “I made this choice knowing full well what it was going to cost to get here,” she said, “and with very little hope of ever succeeding. I did it because it was right.” What Rachael did not know is that hundreds of other Nassar victims were waiting, silently, for someone else to go first.
Rachael was not waiting for another victim to take on Nassar first. She was willing to lead out alone, taking her “shot in the dark” with no guarantee of anything except of what she stood to lose – reputation, privacy, relationships – because of her conviction that “these things are evil, and it is biblical, right, and godly to pursue justice. …Obedience means that you pursue justice and you stand up for the oppressed and you stand up for the victimized, and you tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.” Rachael’s courage, conviction, and thoroughly-prepared legal case was enough to break the previously-impenetrable dam; a further 156 women came forward and testified against him in the court hearing that sentenced him to 175 years in prison.
Rachael chose to see the countless barriers against her cause – the power imbalance between her and her abuser, the vast community protecting him, her past experience of being shut down, the personal costs of speaking up, the pain of having to re-live the trauma, the opposition from unbelievers and Christians alike at every step of the way – as “a reminder: These were the very cultural dynamics that had allowed Larry Nassar to remain in power. I knew that the farthest I could run from my abuser, and the people that let him prey on children for decades, was to choose the opposite of what that man, and his enablers, had become. To choose to find and speak the truth, no matter what it cost.”
Rachael knew that all the things that make this battle hard are the things that make it worth fighting – and that “it would be worth it regardless of the outcome.”
Women like Rachael find strength in combating lies like the ones above with these truths:
- Truth: Every victim is precious in God’s sight – before and after the crime. The sanctity of a body and soul created in God’s image is reason enough in itself to fight against harm to that body and soul – during and after the crime, whether the victim is ourselves or someone else.
- Truth: Our worth and virtue are not defined or determined by the sins others commit against us.
- Truth: We are not responsible for the sins others choose to commit.
- Truth: There is nothing we can do to “ask for” or “deserve” someone sinning against us.
- Truth: God’s Word defines what is right and wrong for us and others to do. No one has the prerogative to decide this for him (or her) self.
- Truth: God calls men and women equally to the standard of doing the right thing when it’s hard, and knows that they’re both equally capable of it.
- Truth: God commands that His people do justice and love mercy. Justice is part of His loving character and part of how He wants wrong to be resolved. Forgiveness alone is not always the answer.
- Truth: Bad men are not invincible. God is not lying when He says that a man’s sins will find him out (and we have all seen proof that that is true.)
- Truth: Whether we’re guaranteed to win is not what makes a battle worth fighting. The rightness of the cause is what makes the battle worth fighting.
The battle is worth fighting. But we’ll only have the courage to do it if we’ve first fought the battle within. We can’t completely abuse-proof ourselves; that’s impossible. But what we can do is be preparing ourselves for the battle by daily, internally, choosing righteousness over sin, truth over falsehood, and the fear of the Lord over the fear of man. There is a component of this battle that we must be fighting every day.
Purified by Fire
If we’ve made mistakes – large, small, we’ve all made them – we shouldn’t see that as something that gives us less to fight for now. Our purity is not worth less if we’ve done things we now wish we hadn’t. And if we’ve suffered outright crimes that we weren’t able to successfully resist, that doesn’t in any way detract from our innocence in the Lord’s eyes. We are not damaged goods. And we have no less to fight for.
The concept of purity that says “If you’re a lollipop that’s already been licked, what do you have left to protect?” is completely antithetical to what God says about purity. Purity is not an innate, inborn quality that another person can steal or sully. It’s also not something we have finite amounts of that can be all used up. Purity is something Christ works in our naturally impure hearts, as He takes us through His refining forge of tests and trials (James 1:2-4, James 1:12-15, 1 Pet. 1:6-7). As we deal with men (of any kind), we need to be not so much focused on protecting some kind of natural “purity” we are assumed to have been born with, as on the attaining of purity through faithfulness in those very messy situations as Christ leads us through them.
In Ephesians 5, we see that even Jesus’ own Bride was not naturally pure. She had to be sanctified and cleansed “by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26) before she was ready to be presented before her Groom. In King David, we see a heart that was already “after God’s own heart,” but which still called out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psa. 51:10) – “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psa. 51:7)
When we hear the phrase “a virtuous woman,” as we looked at in Part 4, many of us think God is describing a woman who’s pious, chaste, and unspotted. However, the Hebrew word for “virtuous” that God chose to describe His ideal woman in Proverbs 31 means something more like valorous, strong, powerful, and mighty in battle. The woman’s “virtue” has nothing to do with her past – it has everything to do with what she’s fighting for now. A virtuous woman is a woman who fights for righteousness against the sin without and the sin within. A clean woman is a woman who has been and is being washed clean by Christ’s blood and the water of the Word. A pure woman is a woman who is being purified from her own internal sin – tested, matured, and refined by fire. The good news is: if we are His, He is using even the ugliest situations in our lives to work these things in us.
On our own, no amount of natural power, beauty, intelligence, or confidence can give us the strength to resist evil and fight for righteousness. Feminist mantras can’t give us this. Women’s marches can’t give us this. Even the #MeToo movement and the world’s sympathetic ear can’t give us this. Only God can give us this. Let us turn whole-heartedly to Him as our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, Friend, Comforter, Counselor, and Dread Champion (Jer. 20:11)… and prepare ourselves to fight the good fight through whatever tests He has coming.