*Today’s post is written by Nate Brooks and Anna Mondal, authors of the brand new mini-book Help! Our Sex Life Is Troubled By Past Abuse.
The next time you’re at church, take a look around. If the statistics hold true, twenty-five percent of the adults in the room either have been, are, or will become victims of sexual abuse. The majority of worshipers will not be in abusive relationships at the present time, but the pain of sexual violation doesn’t go away when the abuse stops. Dark shadows continue to be cast into the present.
God designed marriage to be a sharing of the fullness of yourself with another as two become one. This divine design means that the hurts and the horrors from the past naturally affect both spouses. No husband or wife can ever look at their spouse and say that challenges arising from sexual abuse is “your issue.” As soon as vows are exchanged, these challenges become “our issue.” If you are an abuse survivor’s spouse, you have the chance to image Christ as you “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) and “remember…the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily” (Hebrews 13:3). You have a unique, God-given opportunity to be God’s gift to your spouse as you both work to heal and grow.
Intimacy, The Fall, and Sexual Abuse
Sexual intimacy isn’t a human invention. Despite God’s relational blessing on humankind – “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), our first parents disobeyed God’s intent for their flourishing and sinned against him by listening to the deceiver’s voice. Their sin produced shame, fear, and hiding (Genesis 3:8-10) as they felt the need to cover up and run away from God. But Adam and Eve’s fall did not turn sex into something evil or ugly. God’s desire for humans to enjoy intimacy was not erased by the entrance of sin into the world (see Song of Songs). Even amid the world’s wreckage, God promised a Savior, a descendent of Adam and Eve, showing again God’s blessing on and delight in marital sex (Gen 3:16). In this post-fall world, we experience sin’s evil effects on sex, but also God’s offer of redeemed sexual intimacy.
The big story of the Bible is one of redemption. Though it is a book of hope, the Bible does not sanitize the ways in which human beings sexually exploit each another. A quick thumbing through of the Bible reveals stories of sexual assault, rape, incest, and other forms of sexual exploitation. Scripture names sexual abuse as a vile sin that happens in a broken world. Sexual abuse is not invisible to God, and that’s good news for people who need his help. A Bible that never mentions sexual abuse would be a Bible that leaves us wondering if God’s promises really applied to that particular evil.
When we have questions about lingering pain from past sexual abuse, Scripture points us toward Jesus Christ. He suffered injustice, oppression, exploitation, and betrayal. At the cross, he endured agony as a man whose human soul and body felt every cruelty inflicted upon him. Christians worship a Savior who entered our world and suffered like us. Like abuse victims who may have been preyed upon by family or friends, Jesus knows what it’s like to be victimized by his own. He was abandoned and betrayed by his closest friends. He was tortured by authorities who should have upheld justice. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.” Violent, shame-filled abuse is not a category foreign to God, but one that he personally endured in his own, incarnate human body.
Recognizing God’s real experience of horror and humiliation gives us hope that the Bible’s message of renewal applies to sufferers of sexual violence and their spouses. God is not in an ivory tower, clinically researching your pain from a distance. Rather, he personally knows pain and he knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed with sorrow (Matthew 26:38).
The Transformative Love of Christ
Our suffering savior is also our triumphant savior. His great love for us is transformative. When he sets his love on his bride, he works for her healing, liberation, beauty, and joy—and this brings him glory (see Isaiah 61:1-3). God gives us a glimpse of this in Ephesians 5:25-27:
Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless.
Jesus’ love is self-giving and splendor-bringing. He doesn’t love us because we’re beautiful and holy, his love makes us beautiful and holy. Husbands specifically are called to love their wives just like this: “In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies…provid[ing] and car[ing]…just as Christ does for the church” (Ephesians 5:28-29).
If you are a husband, you are called to love your wife like Christ by nourishing and cherishing her like you would your own body—because in the union of marriage she is your own body. If you are a wife, you’re called to joyfully receive this love as you honor your husband. If you’re a sexual abuse survivor who is part of Christ’s body, he is transforming you into wholeness, and he’s allowing your spouse to be part of the redemptive process. Married sexuality is a participation in the divine reality of God’s love. Take heart – your sexual flourishing matters to God because it reflects how intimately he cherishes his bride. And since it matters to God, his power will be working in you to help you move towards that flourishing.
 Peterson, C., DeGue, S., Florence, C., & Lokey, C. N. (2017). Lifetime economic burden of rape among U.S. adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Advanced online publication. doi:10.1016/j. amepre.2016.11.014. See also https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/violence/VAW_infographic.pdf?ua=1.