We hear constantly of how God promises abundant comfort, healing and love, among so many other beautiful things, when we place our faith in Him. We have been told Jesus understands every one of our temptations and hardships, yet He still managed to live perfectly, without even the slightest stumble or drift.
But as it approaches April, I think about the brokenness of this world and how it requires us to have an entire month to bring awareness to the devastating issue of sexual assault. And as I think about the many men and women who have been personally impacted by this issue, I wonder if they and their advocates question if Jesus truly understands their suffering, or if they’re simply an outcast exception to the rule.
As someone who can personally identify with these survivors myself, I feel we are often given by the church reassurance and comfort from songs saturated with the lyrics of God’s goodness and by promises in the Bible of how He will never leave us. Please don’t hear me disregard the BEAUTY of these songs and promises, and their immense truth, but to someone trying to begin healing from the shattering infliction of sexual assault, I see even the most comforting of those aforementioned promises like this: it is a loving gesture for someone to be there for you and offer much of their time to listen and weep with you, but it is not quite the same as someone who offers their time and tears for you because they completely understand and identify with that specific suffering which you are hurting. And even on a broader scale, isn’t this how we pick our close friends? Those who not only are present in our life but whom we share deep understandings? I would argue so.
So do we know the sufferings of this Jesus, who at one time lived perfectly on this earth and is offering to us this relationship with Him? And maybe more importantly to us, does He truly know ours?
Can Jesus relate to me?
Here are some quick facts: in America, up to 90% of reported sexual assault victims are female, whereas Jesus is male. In the Old Testament, rape was penalized by death (Deuteronomy 22:25), whereas today in America, a perpetrator can be imprisoned if the incident is reported but even those prosecuted can avoid punishment if they are politically, economically, and/or culturally valued. It may sound easy to stop here and say the contexts are just too different for Jesus to understand as an advocate, much less a survivor.
But before we all reach a conclusion, I want to reflect on the life of Christ. I want to reveal to you all the extent of His suffering so you can decide for yourself if He knows the suffering of a survivor of assault, or any specific form of suffering that may weigh on your heart.
I want to start with the part of His life where after revealing Himself as the Messiah, Son of God, people sought for Him to be arrested (John 7:32) and constantly, despite His goodness, He was slandered (Matthew 12:22-24), hated (John 15:18), and plotted against to kill (John 11:45-57). This translates to me as when a survivor goes to someone they trust: family, friend, sorority/fraternity, medical professional, law enforcement, and that person calls them a liar and may even choose to make efforts to silence this person’s claim because it may stand as a challenge to their understanding or as a threat to the reputation of an individual or institution. Jesus knows all too well that suffering, my friends.
And when they did arrest Him, it was only made possible by the betrayal of a close friend, who sells Him out for a bag of money (John 18:1-3). I cannot even picture someone doing that to me, much less a close friend. Are you beginning to see any parallels? 75% of sexual assault survivors know and trust the person who ends up deeply betraying and hurting them, leaving them at the hand of further suffering and implications. It’s still okay if you don’t see it yet, for at this point, Jesus’s suffering had just begun.
Once it was confirmed that Jesus was to be crucified, He was then scourged (Matthew 27:26). And let me paint this picture for you: to be scourged is to be stripped and severely beaten with a multi-lashed whip which holds imbedded pieces of bone and/or metal. And what this does to the skin is it rips out pieces of not just skin, but deep muscle tissue still with blood in it, completely shredding what was once functional muscular/epithelial tissue and nerves to inconceivable amounts of damage and blood loss. This pain and humiliation alone was merely the preparation step. Next, Jesus was intentionally clothed in a robe where the exposed wounds dried to the cloth, only to again be stripped to reopen the gashes. Meanwhile, a crown of thorns is put in place to pierce the many veins of the scalp, adding to the completely immeasurable pain and humiliation (Matthew 27:27-31).
The next stretch of this journey include Jesus carrying His own cross, estimated to be around one-hundred and twenty pounds, weighing against His bare and scourged body. But due to Him constantly tripping from the weight, blood loss, and pure exhaustion, they found a man, Simon of Cyprene, to carry it the remainder of the journey for Him.
Once Jesus reached His destination, He had nails driven into His hands and feet so that He would be pinned and poised upright on the cross, making the nature of these afflictions in relation to gravity nearly impossible to breathe. Although it would have been, at this point, enough to be left alone to die, people still made comments of rejection (John 19:19-21) up until Jesus proclaims in John 19:30b, “It is finished”.
Now I don’t mean for these details to merely make you squeamish without making my point clear- to clearly illustrate the extent of Jesus’s suffering. Also, it’s important to realize that Jesus is characterized by His strength and might in Scripture…meaning He chose to suffer and die an unimaginably horrible death on that cross, out of His love and desire to save us. Ultimately save us from missing out on an eternity with Him and an everlasting relationship with God the Father and in dwelling of the Holy Spirit, but what’s included in that is to save you or anyone you know from the lie that Jesus doesn’t understand what it’s like for those who have been sexually assaulted.
More Than a Death
He didn’t just die on that cross just so that you’d feel understood by Him. He died so our sins would be forgiven, so that one day we could dwell eternally with Him in a place where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV).
He didn’t just live perfectly and die horrifically for us to wish away this life in awaiting the next, but He died so that we would be made like Him and bring glory to His name by proclaiming to others the redemptive work He has done, is doing, and will continue to do in our hearts and lives.
With that redemption, Christ graciously allows us not to be labelled as victims, survivors, etc. but as His masterpieces, made beautifully in His image, and as His precious children, adopted from the orphaning imprisonment of sin and brokenness. We are jars of clay, and in the words of Paul, “We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).
With all those promises come challenges, and with this incredible gift comes so much hope in even our darkest experiences. Paul finishes this passage and I want to leave you with this: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Allie McCarthy: University of Illinois Cru Senior