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How can God just sit there during childhood sexual abuse?

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are ensnarled in a web of confusion during their abuse. Their entanglement of thoughts and questions include:

  • How can this person who is supposed to care for me do what he/she is doing to me?
  • I don’t know why he/she is doing this to my body. It feels so wrong.
  • I don’t want to be here, but I cannot run. I want to scream, but I’m not able to make a sound.

It’s an ongoing monologue because no one is listening, especially their perpetrator. And the monologue often evolves to a larger question:

How can God just sit there during this abuse and do nothing?

People unfamiliar with childhood sexual abuse consider this reference to God as offensive. This question assumes God to be complicity staring as an innocent child is vulgarly violated. However, the question is sincere for survivors of abuse.

Unfortunately, some survivors of childhood sexual abuse are driven away from God because of the abuse. They have no way of reconciling the atrocity of abuse with a loving God and therefore conclude God does not exist or that he does exist but is not to be trusted.

Other survivors conclude that the problem is not with God, but with themselves. God is loving. But in their shame, they conclude they must be unlovable to God that he would abandon them to abuse.

How honest can we be with God? When this is the experience, do we dare inquire as to his apparent absence? The Psalmist David did. Several times during David’s life he was on the run from his pursuers. In most cases, God was apparently unaware or chose to be untraceable. David’s cry to God echoes that of a sexual abuse survivor.

“Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

Psalm 10:1

“You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”

Psalm 40:2

A survivor of sexual abuse might wonder why God did not intervene to either prevent or stop the abuse. That’s a fair question.

Is God powerless?

One husband of a survivor addresses this question by contending that God, rather than being powerless, has chosen to grant us a will and an ability to act.

He stated that God has given everyone the ability, “to do good or evil. And, there was a [perpetrator] doing evil. But God isn’t going to intervene and say, ‘That [perpetrator] can’t do evil.’ No, that guy can still do evil.”

I wish God would create a waiver regarding mankind’s freewill and stop every perpetrator of children. But God granting my wish ends up being my ability to harness God’s power for my good. In that case, I exert power over God and God ceases to be God.

Once again, let’s look at David’s plea. The issue was not God’s power. He saw God as his stronghold, so he recognized God’s power. The issue was more about God’s goodness. David felt rejected. In other words, he was not certain about God’s goodness.

But David came to the ultimate conclusion and certainty that God is good.

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”

Psalm 27:13

God Is Good.

One survivor of childhood sexual abuse tells her story of experiencing God’s goodness. Though God allowed the evil of abuse to occur he enabled her to dissociate from that abuse. During the act of abuse, this victim, as a little girl, saw herself up in the corner of the room in Jesus’ hands, and Jesus was crying and His tears were washing all the filth of the abuse off of her. Though this survivor suffers from long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse, she remains confident of the goodness of the Lord.

Another survivor yelled at God claiming that she would never speak for him or sing to him again. But it was as though God took her in his arms and said, “That’s ok my child. I am with you.” Years later, experiencing the ever-present love of God, she began singing and speaking for him.

What Do I Do If This Was Not My Experience?

The previous examples may not be your experience as a survivor or for your spouse if you are the husband of a survivor. God’s goodness is revealed in different ways at different times to different people.

In light of this, I recommend the following two spiritual exercises to survivors and their spouses.

  1. List the ways you can currently detect the goodness of God. Remember that God’s goodness is often shown through other people.
  2. Pray that God will clear away some of the darkness from abuse and open your heart to see his revealed goodness.

God’s goodness is revealed in different waysat different timesto different people.