Invitation To Grace, Not Vengeance

Patrick O’Malley’s comment on this thread struck me this morning, a prime example of caricature, and of the human desire to make ourselves into gods:

If God were smart, and Kevin were wrong, what if God made Kevin one of those victims for his entire afterlife?  That would make God pretty smart and pretty just.

This notion of punishment and vengeance is pretty much at odds with the way God works. Our Christian tradition tells us that God made himself the victim on behalf of the whole of humanity.

After college and many years before I met my wife, I was blessed by a very special relationship–the first woman I knew that I ever imagined marrying. While the relationship lasted only months, it did teach me a lot about the nature of love and of self-sacrifice. It showed me what it was going to be like to marry someone.

My friend shared with me her experience of being sexually abused. It was not only the first time a person had ever shared such personal and intimate knowledge with me, but it gave me a window into the intense suffering of an abuse victim. We cried over it. We prayed about it. Years later, at her wedding, she confided in me that my openness was able to help her to form healthy relationships with men, and indeed, she met her future husband just a few months after we broke up. I have long since lost touch with her, but I still remember the precious gift I received: her confidence in me.

This is more in keeping with God’s quality of intelligence and justice than scattershot attacks on those who don’t align with the anger and bitterness. I do think there’s a time to be angry. But I’m also concerned that those who soak themselves in anger do little good for those they propose to help. It seems to be more about punishment and personal gratification. And let’s keep in mind that on the thread linked above, Kevin is not a child abuser. He’s only calling into question one victim’s account. In this one instance, he’s a skeptic. And perhaps there’s something to his skepticism, as the victims of the incident are divided in their recollection of what happened.

The Christian response, which I think nearly all of our bishops have fumbled, is to imitate Christ. The Christian response is to walk with victims and survivors, not to go to war with the objectors. The Christian response is to take upon ourselves the suffering and anguish of the abused, not to wish suffering on the sinners, let alone the skeptics.

Saint Paul had the measure of it:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

Christ’s justice is to take upon himself the sufferings of victims and perpetrators alike. The intelligence here involves the hope that the cycle of evil will be broken and that grace can somehow break through. In my experience, nothing was to be solved by hunting down my friend’s offender and instigating a fight. But much was accomplished by praying, holding hands, and being a trusted friend. In doing so, a victim became that much more a survivor. And God’s invitation to grace was accepted.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Scripture, sex abuse. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Invitation To Grace, Not Vengeance

  1. crystal says:

    Your friend had a good friend in you. I never had a r friend who was comfortable hearing about my abuse so I’ve never talked about it. It mostly seems like the kind of thing no one wants to know more about and I guess I can’t blame them.

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