maandag 24 juni 2013

Overcoming abuse

Overcoming abuse

Overcoming the effects of physical and psychological abuse is not an easy task.  First one has to stop running away from facing what has really happened. Also one has to stop fighting the wrong battles against other people on whom we take out or anger. But even more important, we must muster the courage to look inside and acknowledge the pain and damage caused by the abuse.  This process may sound very rational, and in fact we need our rational mind to control the process (if available with the help and encouragement of others), but we will face suppressed emotions that may burst forth like a high pressure fountain.  Initially when the dam bursts it may be totally overwhelming and things may be turned upside down but eventually the waters of our emotions will subside and become more manageable. Once we have come to acknowledge what has been done to us, and have relived the injustice and pain of it all, we may also get to the point where we look at our own complicity and wonder “why did I allow my abuse to go on for such a long time?” or “what is wrong with me that I allowed this abuse to happen to me?”.  This question is certainly inevitable if the abuse took place within the context of adult relationships. This may have been in a family setting, in a community, at the workplace or even in a religious setting.  We may attempt to answer this question superficially by pointing at feelings of insecurity, lack of self-respect, our inability to set boundaries, ignorance, confusion, denial and so on. However, if we do so we may do ourselves a further injustice by not giving ourselves the credit we deserve. Most of us do not stay in abusive situations because we are too insecure, or too ignorant or too much in denial to see it. Neither do we stay because we are too proud to admit that we are being abused. In fact most adults who are in abusive situations know that this is so and yet they consciously decide to stay.  The reason we decide to stay in abusive situations is not our inability to acknowledge the evil we face, but it is actually the good we recognise in the abuser. We see beyond the mask of aggression and abuse and recognise that there is a lonely, weak and hurting person hidden inside.  We hear the silent cry for help and our instinct tells us that the abuser actually needs us.  And we are partially right: The abuser does need help! But the help the abuser needs can never be given by the abused! In fact we are not helping them or ourselves in this manner.  By continuing to allow the abuse we facilitate them going from bad to worse while we are getting hurt in the process. Our problem may not be so much that we are too weak, but that we have had too much confidence in our ability to be strong, and that by enduring the abuse we could somehow bring about the needed transformation in the abuser.  By the end of the day we must boldly acknowledge our limitations but we must also give credit where credit is due and affirm our good intentions even if they were exploited and used against us. Our willingness to help, and our desire to see the abuser healed was honourable and good, we were just not the right person to help them.  It is now important we keep a safe distance and leave the abuser’s therapy to another professional who is not as emotionally involved and consequently not as easily manipulated and abused.

zaterdag 22 juni 2013


Thoughts on hermeneutics

Traditionally Christian hermeneutics has consisted of historical-grammatical analysis with the aim of understanding the meaning of the text as the original authors intended to communicate. This, however, is not sufficient for us to truly understand Holy Scripture. In order to explain what I mean let us for the sake of argument suppose that the Bible consisted of one brief letter from God to humankind which has been delivered through a prophet. In the letter God tells us “My child, I am your heavenly Father, I love you and I have been looking for you. Please come home and you will enjoy my love and care forever”.  Using historical-grammatical analysis it is clear that the message is meant to express Gods love, concern and His desire that all humans enjoy his loving presence forever. However, no matter how accurate the historical-grammatical analysis is conducted, someone who has had a sexually abusive and manipulative father will not understand the message of the text the same way as someone who had a caring and loving father. No matter how well developed our interpretive skills are, we can never run away from the fact that we wear lenses through which we view the text and understand its message. These lenses may be cultural, religious or social, but most often they are deeply personal. If in such a situation we question the accuracy of someone’s interpretation, it will feel to them as if we are questioning their very identity. And yet, the lazy persons relativistic escape ‘’everyone is free to interpret the Bible the way he or she sees fit” is not the solution.  In fact it could be every cruel because it never challenges the harmful beliefs one may have about God, self, others and how we ought to live. Even if we concur that no-one’s interpretation of Holy Scripture is a 100% accurate, the solution is not to then accept every interpretation as equally valid. To go back to the example of the letter. For those who know God as a loving Father it is obvious that there is no sinister motive in His invitation letter.  Their interpretation is more accurate than the person who because of a painful past views the letter with suspicion, fear, insecurity.  The only way to help such a person to come to realise that the other interpretation is better is to get to know the author of the letter.  However, before he or she may even want to get know the author, he or she will need to observe how the lives of other people are positively affected by their interaction with the author.  It is only those who have an intimate knowledge of the Father who better understand what the author of Holy Scripture intends to communicate. They may not see clearly, they may see as in a dim mirror (1 Cor. 13:12), but seeing they do.

vrijdag 21 juni 2013

Christian Prophecy past, present and future

But Moses replied, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!"
Numbers 11:29
"And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
Joel 2:28

No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
Acts 2:16-18

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.
1 Cor. 14:5

So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
1 Cor. 14:23

But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all,
1 Cor. 14:24

For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
1 Cor. 14:31

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.
1 Cor. 14:39


It has always been God’s deepest desire to have a close relationship with people characterized by mutual love, respect and care.  It involves commitment, trust and open communication. Unfortunately due to humankind's fall into sin this relationship has been affected to the point that even if we are reconciled to God and back into a close relationship with Him through faith in Christ and His gospel, we still hear, see, understand and experience God incompletely. In the words of Paul  in 1 Cor. 13:12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  At present we only know and understand in part as the effects of the fall are still present in our lives, hearts and minds and even as believers we struggle with our old self (Romans 7:14-25; Gal. 5:16-21). As a result it is possible to confess the one moment that Jesus is Lord and the next moment speak words inspired by Satan as happened to Peter (Matthew 16:16, 23).   

Therefore as a community of believers we are told not to reject prophesy but to test everything and hold on to what is good but avoid even that which appears evil (1 Thess. 5:20-22). 
It is Gods desire as expressed in the words of Moses in Numbers 11:29 and repeated by Joel in Joel 2:28 that all of Gods people would be prophets. That is that all would speak Gods truth on His behalf to Gods people and to a world in need.  That is why Jesus spoke to His disciples that we should go into all the world and make disciples of all nations....teaching them to obey everything He has commanded us (Matthew 28:18-20).  Through the Holy Spirit we have been made into a community of prophets who share the teachings of Christ with the world, that is the message of Pentecost as Peter explains in Acts 2:16-18.  Now our prophesying might simply be a matter of forth-telling the gospel and the teachings of Christ, or it may be helping people to apply these in their day-to-day lives, communities and nations. Since Christ is the full revelation of the Divine Being, certainly forth-telling is our primary task, hence the strong emphasis on us being witnesses in word and deed of Christ for it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus (Rev. 19:10).
However, the above does not exclude the fact that God through His Spirit may give us visions, dreams and revelations which are specific for our time and situation in order to provide more detailed direction. We may think of Philip who was told to go to a specific location and share the gospel with the Ethiopian he met there (Acts 8:26-31). We may think of Ananias whom God spoke to in a vision (Acts 9:10-19), of Agabus whom through the Holy Spirit was informed of Paul’s impending imprisonment (Acts 21:10) or of Paul whom God spoke to in a dream (Acts 16:6-10).  However, this is not our primary prophetic task, the primary task is bearing the testimony of Christ in word, deed, thought and behaviour.
Whether a message communicated on behalf of God is done by a professor in Theology in a university, by a well-known pastor in a church, by a gifted charismatic speaker or comes to us in a supernatural manner, it is still subject to being tested. By the end of the day it is far less relevant whom the messenger is than what the content of the message is, whom t is from and even if we are convinced it comes from God whether it accurately reflects what He wants to communicate to us.  How do we test? The most important test is based on the immutability of Christ who does not contradict Himself and is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrew 13:8). This means that He will not communicate anything to us that is in contradiction with the example He set for us and all that He has taught us.  This test actually dates back to Moses and was applied to all those who claimed to be prophets throughout the ages (Deut. 18:18-22).  If a prophet gives specific directions which do not contradict Christ and His teachings and these directions agree with what Christ demands from us as recorded in Scripture, we should follow these directions.  

If a prophet gives specific directions that are not explicitly demanded from us in Holy Scripture but may be a special task for us, the biblical principle that decisions should be made on the basis of two or three reliable witnesses should be applied (Deut. 17:6; 1 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19; Hebrews 10:28).  Our God is a loving and caring God and He knows that we do not always properly understand the directions He is giving us so He will provide confirmation if He requires something specific from us.  Now in some cases as in the case of Philip who is told to go to a certain road and speak to a certain person we may not have the opportunity to have something confirmed by fellow servants of God. However, if it is not a life and death matter we can in faith step out and follow whatever guidance we feel God is giving us and trust God that along the way He will either confirm that this was from Him or lovingly correct us. Philip went and met the Ethiopian and so the circumstances confirmed it was indeed God who had spoken to Him (Acts 8:26-31). 

In some cases we may find that what we thought was Gods guidance is not confirmed and that we may have been mistaken and yet even then God will be pleased for at least you have shown your willingness to serve and obey Him. Of course sometimes things do not come true because the outcome did not just depend on your obedience but also on the co-operation of other people. However, do not try to justify yourself with all kinds of explanations why your prophecy did not come true. This shows it is still too much about you and not about Christ. You do not have to try and prove to people that you are always correct because this is pride. You will not always be right so you should better admit that in humility. Even if in some cases you are proved to be right later, why should that be important either? Is is that you want people to put their trust in you and obey all that you say? What is important is that you help people to put their trust in Christ while you strife to be a faithful witness of what that means in day-to-day life.  This actually includes a humble attitude of admitting that only God is infallible, you are not, but you even though you are striving with all your might to live right.  It is not your reputation in the eyes of other people which should be your concern, but Gods reputation among people and your reputation with Him. Of course this applies to anything we say or do in the name of Christ, we must do so with humility, accepting the fact that like Peter we can also at times be misled (Matthew 16:16-23) and so we must subject our words and actions to testing by other faithful servants of Christ (1 Thes. 5:20-22).

Of course it may be hard to admit mistakes out of fear of being labeled a false prophet. However, the difference between a true prophet and a false prophet is not the absence of error. David is called a prophet by Christ and yet we know that he made his share of mistakes and even committed some serious sins too. The difference is in the heart. David was a man after God's heart for He loved God and loved God's people and longed to serve God and Gods people faithfully and therefore he was humble enough to allow himself to be corrected by his fellow prophet Nathan.  A false prophet in contrast mainly loves him/herself and is not driven by a desire to serve God and Gods people faithfully but by self-serving motives.  Sometimes false prophets can appear very genuine and what they preach, teach and predict can be exciting and exhilarating and much more pleasing to the ear than what a true prophet proclaims as we read about in Jeremiah 23. False prophets will justify behaviour which is unfaithful to God and our fellow humans and does not reflect responsible, caring Godly love as we see reflected in Christ. At other times the false prophets may have established self-affirming and self-validating structures which have a semblance of respectability and reliability but ultimately are based on traditions of men rather than Christ. We see this among the pharisees in the time of the New Testament and throughout history in all kinds of human constructs, whether intellectual or institutional constructs.

In all cases we must also be self-critical and do not act on impulses that reflect self-interest or the interest of certain groups and parties in society. If there is even the slightest possibility that you might be influenced by your own wishes and desires or by those of others and wait until God confirms through reliable witnesses.

So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, be eager to prophecy because in Christ you are a prophet, priest and king, with the high calling to share the testimony of Christ in word, deed, thought and behaviour. And secondly, after careful and humble testing, lovingly obey any specific instructions whenever you are convinced in your heart that it is the Lord who has provided these.