I have often heard survivors of abusive leaders in the home and workplace confess their sins and in some way suggest the abuse they are living under is somehow a necessary result of their sin. There tends to be an immediate response to hardship (trial), by those who humbly follow the Lord, that there is a tit for tat in the workings of God’s sovereignty.
I am suffering = God is punishing me for my sin.
“I am sinful and so all this abuse has come upon me because of my sin.”
Mind you, it is not that there is no biblical evidence for such a view. Such as,
“When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and if they turn again to you and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to their fathers.”1 Kings 8:33-34 (ESV)
We certainly suffer because sin of our own making brings about a world of hurt. God uses the evil of others to discipline us. We need self-awareness.
The Sin of Others
But, there are also those times that we face trial not due to our own sin but simply because of the sin of others. Even though as Solomon says in this same prayer in 1 Kings 8 “for there is no one who does not sin,” it is also biblical to interpret trials as not necessarily of our own making.
The wickedness of the abuser’s heart brings all kinds of trouble on those whom he desires to control, manipulate, and crush (oppress).
And this should not be interpreted as the result of the victim’s sin . . . ever.
Aaron Hann’s recent Thesis 96 blog called “Spiritual Abuse Tactics in John’s Gospel” beautifully captures the spiritual abuse found in John 9. There a man, blind from birth, is healed by Jesus. Suddenly, he became the focus of spiritual abuse by the Pharisees. They said, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner” in verse 24 of that chapter. Tit for tat.
Jesus’ disciples say, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [John 9:1-2 (ESV)]
He is suffering, so he (or his parent who bore him) is a sinner. Tit for tat.
Jesus responds that it doesn’t work that way. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” He says, do not make that correlation. In another place the Lord says, “Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil.” (Is. 50:20)
Mr. Hann skillfully picks the Pharisees’ abuse apart and I encourage you to read his analysis.
A Helpful Example: Psalm 38
In Psalm 38, King David cries out to the Lord, confessing his sin but then seeking his release from the abusive treatment of others. Hear a section of the Psalm:
For I am ready to fall,Psalm 38:17-22 (ESV)
and my pain is ever before me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
I am sorry for my sin.
19 But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 Those who render me evil for good
accuse me because I follow after good.
21 Do not forsake me, O LORD!
O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!
Note, David’s confession in verse 18 and then his desire for vindication in verses 19 through 22.
David confesses, “I am sorry for my sin,” and then goes on to say that “many are those who hate me wrongfully.”
I cannot count the times that a victim of abuse has confessed their own sins to me as though it was their sin that created the abuse. But as David notes, their hatred is wrong. It is not due to his sin . . . it is just wrong.
Deal With the Elephant
We must be very careful that we do not create a tit for tat response to the humility of victims of leadership abuse and focus on their sin while missing the elephant in the room.
That elephant is the wickedness of a leader who does not share that humility.
It is rare that abusive leaders will ever humbly admit real sin like the victim will. They may be self-deprecating, saying they feel badly that they have hurt the victim. But, you will not hear them say, “I am so sorry that I have a wicked heart and have thought of the victim as less than human.”
But, this is in fact the heart of the abuser . . . and mind you, their abusiveness comes from the very depths of their being.
All the while, the victim is confessing their sin, beating their breast like the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), taking the abuse upon themselves as if it is a punishment for their own sins.
Hear the confession of the survivor of abuse. But, always seek the heart of the problem and that is in the heart of the abuser, not the victim. Do not be distracted by the wiles of the abuser as he projects his sin upon his victim.
And do not be distracted by the humility of the victim and miss the elephant in the room. The sin of the abuser.