Over the past few weeks, I have struggled to find a way to convey the power and peace that God’s presence provided throughout my life. Understandably, many survivors of child sexual abuse feel abandoned by and angry at God for not intervening. My last two posts reminded me that even in the darkest moments, I was not alone. Sometimes I did not realize that God was watching and caring for me because His protection came in the form of allowing me to dissociate and run to Christ or an angel when the abuse became unbearable. Sometimes I experienced courage and calmness that allowed me to resist the demands of my tormentors. As I look back, I recall feeling angry, depressed and on a few occasions suicidal as I navigated remembering and re-experiencing the trauma. Admittedly, I sometimes felt that God hated me because of my sinful behavior and wondered why he did not intervene. However, as I explain in The Problem of Evil, “Though it took years, I finally understood and accepted that God did not ignore my pleas for rescue, but he followed the rules of providential guidance. He could not interfere with the free will of those who abused me. However, he did protect me from death and eventually turned what seemed like pointless evil into a powerful testimony of redemption.” As I considered how to convey the emotional and spiritual connection that kept me sane and alive, I found this video on YouTube of one of my favorite hymns, “It is Well with My Soul.” As I watched the video and read the words, tears filled my eyes. The song perfectly conveys my message to those who struggle with the existence of seemingly pointless evil.
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say; It is well, it is well with my soul.
The song describes the importance of pausing to consider how we find peace even when we do not understand why events happen in our lives. “It is Well with My Soul” was written in 1873 by Horatio G. Spafford, a successful Chicago businessman. Mr. Spafford experienced a series of tragedies of the course of two years including the death of four children in a shipwreck. He penned the words to “It is Well with my Soul” while traveling by ship to meet his wife, Anna, who survived the tragedy.
When darkness surrounded me, God was the light
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His blood for my soul.
Although my tormentors inflicted unspeakable acts of violence, sexual and emotional abuse upon me as a child, they could not destroy my soul. Each time that I cried out to Jesus, I felt His presence. Sometimes I did not completely understand that it was Him, but I felt Him. I “knew” He was there. Whether it was The Angel in the Cellar, Jesus holding me at the foot of the bed, my pastor unexpectedly showing up just as I was about to take my life or a vision of Jesus in a dark, lonely cell where I almost gave up, I knew God was the source of my strength. I knew Jesus died for my sins and that God loved me. Without the knowledge of God’s love, I doubt I would be alive today. My experience is perhaps best described by the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The Matthew Henry Commentary explains that
“Faith and hope go together…It is a firm persuasion and expectation that God will perform all that he has promised to us in Christ; and this persuasion is so strong that it gives the soul a kind of possession and present fruition of those things, gives them subsistence in the soul… 2. It is the evidence of things not seen. Faith demonstrates to the eye of the mind the reality of those things that cannot be discerned by the eye of the body. Faith is the firm assent of the soul to the divine revelation and every part of it…and so it is designed to serve the believer instead of sight, and to be to the soul all that the senses are to the body.”
Anna Spafford expressed similar thinking when she told another survivor, “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why.” The fourth verse of ‘It is Well with My Soul” contains the hope that
For me, be it, Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
As a child, I knew Christ was real because I saw Him on more than one occasion. I knew His promises were also real and true. I heard His whisper, and that whisper brought peace to my soul. As an adult, the knowledge(faith) sustained me during the worst parts of my healing journey. One of the lessons I teach to those I counsel recognizes God’s presence may not change your circumstance, but it will change you in the circumstance. I cannot explain all my internal experience because the experience is indescribable other than to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”
The View from the Foot of the Bed