All of us have been victims of sin. We’ve been hurt by what others have done to us, said to us, or withheld from us. We’re all damaged in some measure as a result.
And, if we’re honest, we know that we’ve also hurt others. We may have apologized, or we may have simply walked away hoping that bygones are eventually forgotten. But in our heart of hearts we still have some sense of grief over our conduct.
Here’s the point: in some measure we are all both victims and victimizers. We have both damaged others and been damaged by others in the ebb and flow of life in a broken world.
How, as believers, do we deal with this?
First, we need to express heartfelt sorrow for what we’ve done to others if and when we have a chance to make things right. When we’ve hurt others the pain won’t just fade away over time: the problem needs to be faced and resolved.
As another stage we should also recognize the self-blinding nature of sin. Only the Spirit’s eye-opening ministry can help us see our deepest faults—as we ask him to search our heart—and then to deal with whatever he brings before us. This is repentance.
Second, when we’re the victims—and, especially, when the victimizer is not repentant—we have another road to travel. That road takes us to the cross of Christ. There he teaches us how to meet the injustice and evil that comes to us as part of our living in a fallen world; yet without our becoming enslaved by that evil.
By that I mean that we must embrace the seeming paradox of the cross: that Jesus was both the ultimate victim of sin, yet never an actual victim.
He was the ultimate victim as he took our sins on himself and swallowed death for our sake. He was sinless yet he was made to be sin on our behalf. He felt the pain of death and cried out in his painful desolation as he was forsaken by the Father.
But the story does not end there. The greater reality is that Jesus attacked sin and destroyed it. He was the hunter and not the hunted: on the cross he conquered the realm of death that had once been the bastion of Satan. The great victimizer was judged and his power was broken.
This truth is huge . . . and not readily grasped. As believers we must see a two-sided quality in evil. That God uses evil for good even when our foes mean to hurt and harm us. He is never the author of evil but he always rules over it whenever a perpetrator spins his evil web. This lesson from Joseph (summed up in Genesis 50:20) is that whatever an enemy may intend for evil, God means to use for good.
How and why does God do this? Short of eternity we may not know in all the particulars, but we can at least affirm two “goods”. One is that sin is exposed so that we begin to finally grasp what sin and death offer us: nothing but pain. And we also learn that God knows our hearts better than we do and, after exposing our sin, invites us into his arms as the Father embraced his prodigal son in Christ’s parable.
So the real victimizer is me. And you. And all who think we can find fulfillment in our freedom—that is, in our freedom from God’s goodness and love—are actually trapped in the cycle of unending victimhood. And when this malignant freedom washes back and forth as in a pan of liquid that sloshes from one side to the other—spilling out in both directions—we remain myopic. Sin is what comes from “the other side” when it harms us. Yet we all have contributed to the sloshing in this fallen world. We are, in that sense, all self-made victims.
And for this we want to blame God? We find instead that in the Bible he is waiting for us to see how profound our problem really is. Only then do we cry out, “Lord, save me!” And then we see him enthroned—raised from the death of the cross—with open arms reaching out to embrace us.