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Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Healing Power of the Atonement of Christ: Not Just for Offenders, But Victims as Well

One of the powerful truths about the Atonement of Jesus Christ is that it can do more than just wash away the sins of sinners (which all of us are). For those who are the victims of the sins of others, the Atonement also offers divine power to heal wounds.

The Book of Mormon refers to the great compassion of the Savior who has taken upon him our sufferings and pains. Through such compassion, He can reach us all and give us faith and hope to move toward Him. His mercy "encircles [us] in the arms of safety" (see Alma 34:9-16), something we all desperately need. As our Advocate before the Father, he pleads for us, as we read in Doctrine and Covenants 45:4-5:
Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;

Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.
Those who have been victimized by others face special challenges. It can be so hard to let go of anger, to forgive, and to accept the mercy of the Lord in healing our hearts as well as removing the sins of the offenders, should they repent. In the comments of one recent post, one former Latter-day Saint on his way back ("Books of Mormon in Indy") made this salient point:
I honestly didn't know that the Atonement could heal and "pay for" the wounds of the victims. I had thought it only applied to sinners and the perpetrators, not the victims.
Many of us sinners have, like Alma, found rapid relief from the hell of our guilt and the pains of divine justice by turning the Savior to seek forgiveness. For victims, the healing process can be much more complex and painful. But I can say that some of the most dramatic and miraculous evidences that I have seen of the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ have been manifest in the healing of victims dealing with the trauma inflicted by others. This is especially true for those who have suffered from prolonged abuse. Sometimes victims feel far less worthy of love and forgiveness than the foulest of criminals, but the Lord has not forgotten them. With His help, miraculous and joyful progress and healing is possible. I've seen this in powerful ways, and wish for all victims to know that you, too, will only have true hope by turning to Jesus Christ to let the healing power of the Atonement work in your life as well. It's not just for the offenders.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does this apply to those who have suffered great abuse from a sibling? The atonement has to do with healing that pain-----even if it occured 30 to 50 years ago.

If so, how can one be so depressed 30-50 years later they are suicidal?

Matt Witten said...

This brings to mind Jim Ferrel's "the Peacegiver" which topped out even Terryl Givens for my favorite read of the year last year. (This year is a Harry Potter year, so...)
As for depression after 30-50 years, the Atonement is a gift, we don't always fully accept it, and I'm not sure we always fully have the capacity within us to accept it. We need our pain. It defines us. On the other hand, we can be comforted to know that there is a Christ and that he is suffering with us, and if we truly seek his help, givng our will completely to him, he will grant it to us. Now I don't know the situation with your sibling, so I can not be clever and say "I know how you feel." I don't know how you feel. But I know Christ knows how you feel. And I know he knows how to help you. He loves you. I know this all sounds like cheesy rubbish, but it's true. I hope you know the truth of it too, deep inside where it counts.

Bookslinger said...

From my experience...

I was taught a "false forgiveness" by my parents, especially by my mother. I'd guess that many mothers are like this.

Mothers often say, in response to tragedy, assault, abuse, whatever, "It's alright" "It's okay" in an attempt to calm their hurting child.

That's fine for skinned knees due to bike accidents. But in cases of an offense, what they've just said is that "it's okay" to be beat up, assaulted, raped, abused, yelled at.

That can lead the child to a couple things:

a) being an abuser himself/herself, because Mom just said "It's okay" when people do those things.

or:

b) being a perpetual victim, not resisting or reporting future offenses/assaults, because Mom said it was "okay" for people to do that to you.

True forgiveness is NOT:

1) pretending it didn't happen.
2) pretending that the bad thing was an "okay" or "good" thing.
3) pretending it didn't hurt.
4) keeping the offense secret.

True forgiveness IS:

1) accepting Christ's atonement as "payment" for your hurt. If you feel "Someone's gotta pay for this!", someone has.

2) accepting Christ's atonement as "buying" the sin. He paid for it, let him judge the sinner. Christ now "owns" both the sin, and the wound caused by the sin.

Christ's atonement covers both sides of the offender/victim transation. Christ not only stands between the Father and the sinner as the sinner's advocate, Christ stands between the victim and the sinner as advocate for *both* parties.

Christ did Heavenly Father a favor too, by paying for all our sins, so that Heavenly Father doesn't "have to stay mad at us." Thus we don't "have to stay mad" at those who sinned against us, in the same way.

3) accepting Chist's atonement as having the ability to heal you spiritually.

4) By learning to accept Christ's atonement to pay for sins committed against us, we are practicing and learning what will happen when we (hopefully) become Heavenly parents, and have a firstborn spirit son who will be the Savior for our other spirit children. If we can't learn to accept the atonement of our elder spirit brother as paying for our other sprit brothers' sins against us, then how will we be able to accept the atonement of our eldest spirit son as paying for the sins of our other spirit children, when they sin against us?

I haven't heard anyone else say exactly that, but I'm just extrapolating what's in Gospel Principles, the book taught to investigators and new members.

If we are to "become like our heavenly parents" and "have spirit children", won't the pattern be repeated? Gospel Principles, page 302. Didn't Joseph Smith say we become gods just as Heavenly Father did, thereby repeating the pattern?

If we have spirit children, won't they have to have opportunity for physical bodies, and a mortal probation like us? And won't they sin during their mortal probation? And who will atone for or redeem them?

This life is learning and practice for the eternities.

--------------

Unhealed spiritual wounds fester and ooze just like an untreated physical body wound. The gunk from an unhealed wound is contagious. Many spiritually wounded people try to cover themselves with thick rough exteriors, pretending they don't hurt, but the festering ooze still poisons them, and it leaks out and gets on their family members. This is called PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There's more to the official definition of PTSD, but that's my take.

PTSD is common among rape victims, victims of violence, and combat veterans. The common thread is that someone else is excercising evil control over you against your will. Even consistent emotional abuse can cause PTSD. There can be malevolent emotional and spiritual control in addition to violent physical control.

When the poisonous ooze of the victim's wounds gets on their family members and infects them, it's called "Secondary PTSD".

Sometimes you can see the emotional poison that an adult survivor of rape or incest has in relation to their spouse and children. They just ooze hatred, vitriol, frustration, etc. They've turned into a "perpetrator" by emotionally abusing those around them, even if not by actually committing physical abuse.

You can cover up the wounds for so long. After a while, the poison infects your whole body, and you just can't hide it or ignore it.

When you are forced to confront something that you've ignored or denied for 30-50 years, that can cause depression, because you're unwilling to face your reality, and you start shutting down.

You just want to ignore it like you always have, but you can't. There's nothing left that hasn't been infected by the pus from the wound. There's nothing healthy left.

Or your spouse and children have finally decided to leave or shun you because you won't stop verbally abusing them, and getting your pus all over them.

Some people turn into perpetual victims, actually seeking out the kind of people who will abuse them more. Somehow they equate abuse with love and can sometimes provoke more abuse. I sometimes saw my mother intentionally do and say things she knew would trigger an abusive outburst by my father. I've seen women (in the church and out) go from one abusive relationship to another. And they often do it unconsciously.

I don't know all the solutions. I still haven't fully forgiven my parents. And writing about some of my mission experiences has shown me that I haven't totally "put them all to bed." I don't have the flashbacks like before, but I still can get worked up when I write about them.

It helped me to realize that my father was emotionally abused by his father, and my father was just repeating the pattern he had been programmed with.

It helped when I finally realized that my mother's "It's okay" response to everything was her coping mechanism to some sort of trauma in her early life.

It helped when I told my bishop (and a counselor at LDS Family Services) some of the childhood and medical abuse I went through.

It helped when I would repeat to myself "Jesus paid for it" every time I had a flashback.

It helps me to realize that:

1) this life is practice for the eternities,
2) that God turns weaknesses into strengths when we come unto him and humble ourselves,
3) that when lessons are learned, the suffering generally stops, but then the next lesson unfolds.

If God can raise the dead, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, part the sea, open the heavens, etc., he can heal anyone. Most healings are not the "rise up and walk" instantaneous kinds. They usually take time.

I've experienced many outright miracles in my life. When you need a miracle or blessing, you just need to learn the conditions you need to do on your end, and let God (and sometimes his servants) do the rest.

Answers are found in the scriptures, through prayer, through asking his authorized servants, and through direct personal revelation.

It's amazing, but God wants to bless us, and he wants to pour out miracles, signs and wonders. We just have to do our part, turn the key, that unlocks heaven. He knocks, we have to open the door.

Barbara said...

Beautiful post and comments. Thank you for helping me better appreciate the Atonement.

Barbara said...

I already linked to this post on my blog Motherof8.blog-city.com. I hope you don't mind! Now I am asking permission to copy this post and the comment from Books of Mormon in Indy on to my blog (with credit, of course) This is great stuff I need to read, ponder, and re-read and I want my loved ones to read it as well. Thanks!

Bookslinger said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bookslinger said...

I'd rather you just link to it for now. I'd like to see what the reaction is before it gets distributed.

And, I should wait until I get rebaptized before sticking my head up too far. It's best that I stay in the woodwork for the time being.

Jeff Lindsay's web site and his blog caught my attention because one of his web site articles had good insights about mental health issues among members. That, and his sense of humor, brought me to his blog. He has just the right combination of seriousness and light-hearted humor that makes me feel comfortable.

Mormanity said...

Wonderful comments - thanks so much for your help, all of you. Links to anything on this blog or my Web site are always welcome, and excerpts of my material can be used as long as there is a link to the original material.

The article on mental health that Books of Mormon in Indy referred to is probably "Mental Health in the Church: Suggestions for Leaders" at http://www.jefflindsay.com/blogs/mental-health.shtml.

Regarding suicidal tendencies 30-50 years after abuse, YES - this is entirely possible and I've dealt with it in the lives of people close to me. It was the miracle of the Atonement of Christ that did the most to help these victims.

Abuse can lead to wounds that are supressed and hidden for years, only to come out in adulthood. In some rare and especially severe cases, there may be what I consider to be an amazing coping mechanism that may be diagnosed as Multiple Personality Disorder, in which injured parts of a person seem to retreat into a fragments of the psyche. I've encountered very convincing evidence for the reality of this, though it is a controversial topic among professionals, WHICH I AM NOT. Let me just say that I have seen evidence that the Atonement of Christ can help a sufferer of MPD to learn that they are not guilty for the abuse, that they are loved, and that there is a Savior who can indeed wipe away all their tears, as we read in Isaiah and Revelation. This can be the foundation for significant progress for those who are in anguish from the results of past abuse. It is still difficult and painful beyond what many of us can comprehend, but the Savior gives us hope, always, if we turn to Him and the power of His infinite Atonement. He alone knows exactly what we have gone through, and, as we read in the Doctrine and Covenants, He has descended below all to give us this hope.

Norma said...

I, too, suffered abuse at the hands of a family member. I am still working on forgiving my grandmother, who knew her brother had been in prison for child abuse and who moved him into our home WITHOUT WARNING OUR PARENTS.
I think that my appreciation for the Atonement of Christ has helped me go from a desperately depressed, suicidal child to a grateful almost adult (I'm 54.) That child felt guilty. The Atonement works well for the guilt of having been a victim, as well as for forgiving the abuser and his accomplices, witting or unwitting. I am truly grateful for the peace that I feel when I no longer live in the time of the wounding of the child I was. I am also grateful to be the child I am. My Saviour has paid for it all for me.
For my take on what to do with the pain, please feel free to visit my website. http://mawcawn.messagemonster.com/
Thank you for sharing with others.

Barbara said...

Thanks for answering my request so quickly. I will simply leave my links up.

Anonymous said...

So often when referring to abuse you only talk about sexual abuse. Is it abuse if an older brother continually harasses a younger brother? And I dont mean teasing, I mean nasty harassment.

I rememeber when my dad was in the hospital and mom would go to visit him, he would decide that I needed to be "beat up" to pay for my sins and weakness. My arms and torso would be black and blue. With more black and blue than normal skin color.

Dad had cancer and if I told on my brother it would make him sicker. So I suffered the abuse for years. Today I still have scars from his fingernails tearing my skin.

He was abusive to my parents until they died. After mom died my dad called up one day because he knew my brother was coming home to ask for $25,000 for a business venture. My 75 year old dad was scared. Every month my brother sent dad a list of bills he did not have money to pay for. My dad owuld pay them out of fear.

How do I forgive someone who would abuse my parents. Because I cannot forgive him should I forfit my temple recommend?

Anonymous said...

Mormanity,

When does abuse stop being abuse? Is a Bishop pounding his fist on a desk and calling a member of the PEC names, embarassing him in front of others, abusive?

What do you call it when a Bishop is known for excommunicating young women, and not men? I call it abuse.

Mormanity said...

Sadly, there are many forms of abuse. Brutal actions can take many forms and leave many types on wounds in their victims. For all of us, there is an urgent need to seek the gift of charity that we may love and be kind when we are tempted with anger and brutality. For all of us, there is a need to seek the atoning power of Christ to gain forgiveness of our own sins and power to forgive those who have harmed us.

We are all fallen mortals, contributing to the ugliness of this place we call mortality - a place that could be so much more beautiful, so much more as God wishes for it to be, if we would only turn to God and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Bookslinger said...

There's a very good book called
"Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life". It's on Amazon, and you can probably get it used on Ebay.

The first half of the book describes common abusive situations found in families. The second half of the book describes what you can do about it to claim your life back.

I'd suggest to the poster who was physically assaulted by his older brother to get a copy of that book.

I've decided that the sins of others just plain aren't my fault. And I finally realized that a just God isn't going to hold me responsible for the sins of others. Their sins are on their heads, my sins are on my head. I'll just worry about my own sins from now own. And I'm still in the process of forgiving myself for not knowing how to handle it or respond when other's hurt me.

Since most (not all, but most) abusers were themselves abused. It's possible that your older brother was just "passing along" the abuse heaped on him. And maybe your dad paying him off was out of guilt more than fear.

I did somewhat the same thing, but not to the point of bruises and scars. When my dad would yell at us kids for any supposed infraction, I'd hit my younger brother and sister for any supposed infraction of theirs against me.

You might ask your older brother who it was that abused him, physically, verbally, or emotionally. Your father? Someone at church?

I've been blessed with having some really great bishops ever since I joined the church. It's hard for me to imaging a bishop pounding his fist and belittling someone.

The scriptures tell us exactly what to do in those situations. Matthew 18:15, and D&C 42:88-89. You tell the person, in private, what they did to offend you. And if they don't make amends, you go up the chain of command.

You tell the Bishop in private, and if the situation is not resolved, you go to the Stake President.

About excommunicating young women, if your bishop excommunicated more young men and "evened things up", would that be better?

Unless you're one of the bishop's counselors, you probably don't know the full details of why those young women were ex'd.

I know there's a tradition in the church to not deal with teenagers as adults. Teens seem to "get away with" a lot more than adults without receiving the full consequences.

But when transgressions are commonly known about in their peer group in church, if the other teens don't see any consequences, then the negative example can spread. "Well if Sally got away with it, why can't I?"

I'm a child of the 70's, and I can tell, just by the look on their face, and in their eyes, when someone has smoked pot the night before. And I can tell we have a drug problem among some youth in the church.

And I bet with their gift of discernment, that bishops can tell who has broken the law of chastity just by looking at someone's face.

It's better for pot-smokers and sexually active kids to be coming to church, than staying away from church. Church is where all of us sinners are supposed to go. But I worry about the influence they have on the other youth. If their behavior is known among the other kids, the bishop has some kind of responsibility to make it clear that the person is still loved, but that the behavior is not acceptable.

There was a non-member teen girl who was a hanger-on in our ward. Her parents didn't give permission for her to be baptized, but allowed her to attend. And although she lived in another ward, she attended ours because she had friends here.

She had an obvious negative influence on the other teens who imitated her behavior and immodest dress. The other kids should have known better, but she was the stumbling block that tripped them up.

I read somewhere that a higher percentage of teen girls are sexually active than teen boys. Girls are also generally more susceptible to peer pressure than boys. A girl's female peers can put as much or more pressure on her to have sex than a boy's male peers can put on him.

Yes, bishoprics have the authority to excommunicate those in their stewardship who don't hold the Melchizedek priesthood. But still, appeal can be made to the Stake President and high council. The bishop is not the final authority on that.

A woman (or her parents, if she's a minor) can always appeal to the SP if she thinks she was treated or judged unfairly.

I've heard that SP's check out every appeal or complaint.

And if a Stake President gets legitimate complaints from several sources about a bishop, I'm sure he'll take steps to correct the situation or replace the bishop.

After the things I saw in the MTC and in the mission field, I've resolved to speak up, through proper channels of course, when I see any improper behavior on the part of local leaders.