the Hope of Survivors

Whiplash and Sin—Samantha Nelson

(From the July 2006 edition of HopeSpeak)

On April 8, Steve and I were stopped at a red light when we were suddenly struck from behind. The impact was hard and we felt pain in our necks and backs immediately. As we pulled over and Steve got out to examine the damage and speak to the other driver, I could feel my left arm and leg going numb. I called the police and, while we waited for an officer to arrive, we both began to feel various pains throughout our bodies. It was late when the officer arrived and, thinking we’d feel a little better in the morning and within a few days we’d be fine, we refused to go to the hospital. Unfortunately, the pain did not go away; it got worse. We began chiropractic treatment, which helped some, but we were not prepared for what would take place nearly two months after the accident.

On June 2, I had been complaining to Steve most of the day that my neck was hurting and there was a persistent burning sensation. Not being one to take medicine or rush to the doctor, I just lived with it and we went about our errands. As I slept that night, I was awaken each time I turned over by the ever-increasing knot forming in my neck. By morning, I was in excruciating pain, unable to move my neck or head at all, unable to lift myself up on my own without experiencing severe muscle spasms from my neck to my shoulder. Through my tears and screams of agony, Steve helped me get around so we could go to the chiropractor for an emergency visit and see if he could help. He said he could not adjust me because my neck was too swollen and the best thing I could do was keep ice on my neck and shoulder until the swelling went down and then come back for an adjustment. I spent the next few days with an ice pack on my neck and it did help to relieve the swelling and some of the pain but definitely not all of it. For both of us, there is ongoing pain.

I don’t intend to bore you with anymore details of my aches and pains. The point I want to make, and felt this experience served as a wonderful illustration, is that sin has consequences. Just as we thought we would be fine and later discovered there were lasting effects from the accident, many people believe they can sin and face no consequences. In Numbers 32:23 we discover sin—and its consequences—always have a way of surfacing, “…ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out.

Daily we are in contact with people who are hurting and in pain (emotional, spiritual and often physical) because of someone else’s—a pastor’s or spiritual leader’s—sin and, possibly, even their own. At times they seek to protect the one who has hurt them, fearing what will happen if word gets out. What might the consequences be? Unemployment? Damaged reputation? Blame? Well, yes, these and many other outcomes are quite possible when pastoral sexual abuse is exposed. Does that mean we don’t bring it to light and provide help and healing to all affected by it? No, I don’t think so. Ephesians 5:11 states, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” As difficult as it may be, when a spiritual leader is involved in sexual misconduct and abuse, it must be exposed. It must be stopped. Why? Because if it’s not, it will become as a cancer and will eat away at the heart of the church—Christ’s beloved Bride.

It’s important for me to clarify we are speaking of the few spiritual leaders who go astray and turn from God. We praise the Lord the majority are God-fearing, respectable and morally upright men (and women) who would rather die than sin against God or His sheep under their care. Many pastors who take advantage of their power and position to abuse others do so because they think there will be no consequences. They think, “If I’m caught, I’ll tell people she tried to seduce me. Everyone will believe me; I’m the pastor.” Or many believe they will be relocated to a new church, a new position, when the abuse has been discovered. I am deeply saddened to admit this happens more often than we’d ever care to believe. Some have even claimed to be God’s “anointed” while they have been engaged in such sin and, by their power and persuasion, have convinced the victim that they are not guilty of any wrong at all. They are, in their deceived minds, “untouchable.” They believe God is with them no matter how heinous their sin, and that He will bless and prosper them even in their sin. Sound far-fetched? It may to some of you, just as it did to us many years ago but, sadly, these are actual comments pastors have made while abusing a member of their congregation, someone entrusted to their care, someone they were to edify for God’s Kingdom, not destroy by their own sinful acts.

Galatians 6:7 warns us, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” There are consequences to sin—some immediate, others delayed. Whether the pastor is terminated, or whether he is protected and relocated, consequences will come. Just as a whiplash injury can flare up at any time, those who stray from God, those who intentionally use His name in vain, will face the sure results of their evil course.

There are consequences for the victim from day one. There is a breakdown in her family life. There is a sense of guilt and shame, a wonderment that one is even in such a predicament. There is a disconnect from God and an ever-growing resentment and anger at times for God “having allowed” this to take place. There is a bewilderment that no one seems to notice or care about what is happening. There is a desperation as many reach the point of depression, self-injury and suicidal ideation. There is a feeling of betrayal—by God and the pastor. Then, there is the belief that one is lost, lost for eternity, with no hope of life or healing. Praise God He has raised up a ministry to provide hope to those who have lost all sense of it! I ask you again, are there immediate and ongoing consequences to sin? Yes, there are.

What about the pastor who is controlling the situation and trying to convince the woman God intends for them to be together, despite all Biblical evidence to the contrary? Does he face consequences? Yes, although they are not always readily apparent. The first consequence is the loss of genuine communion with God. For a pastor to allow his mind to stray to thoughts of seducing a counselee or member of his congregation, there has been a breach in the relationship between him and the Lord. He has unplugged himself from the Source of all power, and is left to his own devises and vain imaginings. Whether he senses his danger or not is almost irrelevant, as his mind focuses only on the object of his desire, his new “idol.” His thoughts become absorbed in her, and he loses sight of God almost entirely. His sermons become empty words, void of the Holy Spirit. God does not work through those who are in league with Satan.

His family suffers as well, often unaware of what is going on and unable to comprehend the sudden changes in him as father and husband. Other church members find they can no longer count on their pastor, as he is preoccupied and “busy” all the time now. When the word gets out, as it inevitably does, not only has the pastor shattered his family’s life and that of the victim’s, he’s also shaken the entire congregation to their very core. God ends up on trial, when He has done nothing wrong.

There are lifelong consequences to pastoral sexual abuse, for the victim as well as the spiritual leader. Like a whiplash, pain and symptoms may flare up unexpectedly from time to time and in the worst possible moments. There is a nagging fear that God will not hear, that He will not save, that He is distant, unforgiving, and unloving. I want to encourage you that “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” (Psalm 126:5) Your tears, pain and sorrow are not in vain, for God will heal you and you will be drawn closer to Him as you allow Him to work in your life.

God is faithful to forgive all who sincerely repent of their sins and desire forgiveness. May Romans 6:22-24 encourage you, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18