Can Others Harm Us If We Have Faith?

Pastor Wade Burleson and I had quite a discussion recently on his blog over his article 15 Words And 15 Seconds That Save Any Marriage. I’m sure those who know me are not surprised that I took issue with what he wrote. In the comments, he was quick to say that it was not intended for abuse victims. This led to quite a discussion, and one that made me sad for the state of the Church, because I think Wade’s perspective is both common and harmful.

In a nutshell, Wade asserts that neither circumstances nor people are the source of our inner trouble or pain. He readily admits that people can hurt us externally, but that ultimately this does not harm us at the level of our inner peace. He pulls this distinction from Philippians 4:11:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

The crux of his argument is what it means to be “content”. Wade suggests that it means we are “self-sufficient” and thus cannot be harmed “internally”. I disagree, strongly. I believe that the idea of being “content” does not mean we are invulnerable to the effects of a sinful and broken world. I do not see any reason to believe that we cannot be harmed.

I do believe that a Christian who has faith in Christ can find encouragement in knowing that his or her soul is safe, ultimate victory is assured, and that our condition before God is clean and perfect. To quote Horatio Spafford, I can find inner joy by recognizing that “it is well with my soul”, even when “sorrows like sea billows roll”. But I do not believe that the “wellness of the soul” means we cannot be harmed. It’s a promise of a perfect future in an imperfect and hurtful world. And that “inner joy” (or the “contentment” to use Paul’s word) I experience doesn’t mean that I don’t hurt. We can have inner joy and inner pain at the same time.

We are not invulnerable to external forces in this world. Not in the present. And asserting that we are can be very damaging to people, because no one is allowed to tell another person being harmed that he or she is wrong. If I say “that hurts”, then it’s part of affording me basic human dignity to believe me. We may not agree on the source of that pain. Indeed, sometimes we blame others for our self-inflicted pain. But, back to Wade’s view, he isn’t saying that the source of the pain is miss-assigned based on the facts of the case; he’s saying that it’s miss-assigned because it’s impossible for another person to harm you on the “inside”. If his perspective is true, then admitting internal pain is always admitting personal failure and we have to be willing confront our failures just to express inner pain. That is not a healthy barrier to place in front of a hurting person.

People who are hurting need to be able to express that pain. They may miss-assign the blame, or they may not even know who to blame, but that is completely secondary to the issue at hand, because until we can acknowledge and be vulnerable about our pain, we cannot address it. As I’ve witnessed people heal from the harm others have inflicted on them, one of the most powerful moments is when they’ve felt free to say “[xyz] hurt me”. So much healing starts here, but it will rarely happen if we return with “[xyz] isn’t the source of your pain”.

The Bible is set in a context of a broken world. It is the redemptive story of humanity that is making its way through a world that is not whole and healthy. That broken world affects us, both by infecting us with sin and forcing us to bump up against the sins of others. Brokenness is a part of life, and we are not invulnerable to it, at least not this side of Heaven. As long as we are in this world, it may harm us. It will harm us. And that’s OK, because we have a greater hope. Contentment isn’t avoiding harm; it’s knowing that the harm of this world will always end up defeated when all is said and done.

About Jeff S

Programmer, musician, father, and lover of Jesus. I have a strong passion to see people free from abuse and religion misused so that they can find the ultimate empowered life in Jesus.
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9 Responses to Can Others Harm Us If We Have Faith?

  1. Christiane Smith says:

    I think when people love someone, that the person they love does indeed have the power to cause them pain. I also was kind of thrown by what WADE wrote, but I do think there may be more to his point of view than he shared there, and if he had fleshed it out perhaps with examples and some scriptures, it might have been better received. Wade will always be a hero for me because he stood up for people who were injured during the ‘take-over’ of the SBC, the missionaries, and even Dr. Klouda, who was fired from SWBTS. In doing that, he did not spare himself.

    I am Catholic. And we keep trying to find some way to bring good out of suffering and pain, some way of reaching those who are hurting themselves and hurting others, yes. On the subject of not giving up on people, I read something very moving recently, this:

    “I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness . . . . . ” “”Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits,” . . . . “By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace . . . ”
    (Pope Francis, ‘Amoris Laetitia’)

    Perhaps Wade from thinking in terms of that ‘peace of Christ’ that we are given in the midst of pain and grief and disappointment;
    and also of not giving up on someone who has done something hurtful, but allowing for trusting in the power of grace at work in the midst of troubles . . . . ?

    Quite honestly, I would think our first human response to being hurt is to blame.. . . to get angry. But there IS some greater strength needed to respond in the way of grace, from some kind of eternal perspective that normally can’t be had, but would be needed to see a situation from a long way off in a context far greater than is humanly possible . . . . in that sense, the way of love may kick in if we love in the sense of wanting the good for the other, for the sake of the other. Most of us sadly only experience the ability to love at this level in the midst of grief, when the loved one has passed on, and we realize that they were more to us than someone we defined by their flaws and mistakes and weaknesses and their ability to disappoint.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff S says:

      The reason I bothered with Wade’s post is that he is someone who has supported victims and provided so wonderfully for them. Most of the time, I just move on 🙂

      You can read the comments where Wade goes into a lot more detail about what he does believe. The crux of it is, he is concerned that so many people don’t fix their problems because they are blaming it on someone else. I think this is true in a lot of cases. I just don’t agree that the answer is always “I need to work on myself”. Sometimes you need to draw a boundary. Sometimes you need to work on yourself. But most of the time, you probably need to work together as a team.

      Within my own marriage, simply expressing what I feel to my wife resolves so much conflict. Not because she changes or I change, but because that dialog helps us better understand one another. Sometimes it’s my weakness. Sometimes it’s something she’s doing or doesn’t understand about me. Sometimes I’m just being quirky! But the only way to really resolve this stuff is to be vulnerable an honest, an have a safe space in which to dialog.


  2. Jack says:

    I found this passage disturbing :

    “After you speak those fifteen words lovingly, intentionally, and thoughtfully, kiss your mate for fifteen seconds. Don’t pull back. Push in. Push in sweetly; softly; sincerely. ”

    It implies the spouse has an implicit right to do this. Depending on the situation & what’s being discussed, such an overture could be unwelcome. In marriage no still means no.

    The pastor’s advice seems to have come from a Hollywood rom-com.

    The only success I’ve had in conflict in my marriage is to listen, be honest, & in some cases give it a bit of time.

    Humans are more complicated than fundamentalist Christianity would have us believe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff S says:

      “Humans are more complicated than fundamentalist Christianity would have us believe.”

      Yes. This is the reason I tend to avoid most Christian teaching on marriage. Complext situations get bouild down in to very simple patterns that rarely fit well.

      I do believe the Bible has much to say about relationship, and there is a lot that can tell us what a Godly marriage looks like, but I just don’t trust a lot of the materials out there.

      Books I do like are Tim Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage” (You just have to throw out the chapter on male headship, which doesn’t add anything useful anyway) and Townsend and Cloud’s “Boundaries” (unfortunately, they do not apply boundaries to divorce, but it’s the logical conclusion even if they won’t go there).

      I wish there were more Christian resources out there about boundaries, and less about how much husbands need respect and wives need love.


  3. Victorious says:

    Thank you for this post, Jeff. I wholeheartedly agree. I got the feeling from Wade’s post that we must deny our feelings, pain, and sorrow, etc. But the gospel’s tell us Jesus was grieved, sorrowful, angry, and even wept as the result of people and/or conditions. To pretend otherwise is to deny our humanity.

    Thanks again for a wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff S says:

      Felling I needed to deny my feelings was something that I really struggled with as I was coming out of my marriage. A lot of Christian teaching/council I received led me to this idea that to truly be in Christ meant wiping away anything that was ME. My feelings, my hurts, my likes and dislikes.

      After my divorce, I recorded an album (with the help of my friend Jenny who record the female vocals), and one song really speaks to this struggle I had. Writing this really helped me work through that feeling of emptiness and worthlessness.

      The beginning of the lyrics:

      “Does it matter who I am?
      They told me it was OK
      That the way that I was made to be
      Should all be wiped away

      I tried to lose that part of me
      And swallow my desire for peace
      But I never overcame my hope
      That one day I might be free

      I could not let all that I was be emptied and destroyed
      A sacrifice to bring no hope, just one more broken toy”

      You can hear it here- the song is “Who I Am”


    • lydia00 says:

      The first thing a narcissist will tell you is that your feelings/emotions/pain are not valid. So that is a problem, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. lydia00 says:

    There is more to it as in basic right and wrong. So many often skip over that and tell the wronged person to kiss and make up instead of telling the person who has done wrong they bear responsibility. I am not talking about shallow differences either. There is a glut of narcissism, sociopaths and manipulators these days who are clever and thrive on this sort of advice leaving the person with a conscious in a horrible soul wrenching position. All because they have a conscious.

    Frankly, when giving marriage advice most have no idea what might lurk beneath the surface. It is dangerous business these days. Better to speak of the value of each individual is in proportion to their trustworthiness and how they treat the other with honesty and respect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff S says:

      “Frankly, when giving marriage advice most have no idea what might lurk beneath the surface.”

      Yes, it seems that speaking into specific situations is difficult enough. General advice is even more problematic unless we are dealing with extremely solid principles like boundaries and dignity of the individual.


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