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Wounded by God's People
Discovering how God's love heals our hearts
By Anne Graham Lotz
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Anne Graham Lotz
All rights reserved.
Loved by God on the Periphery
God Is Not an Elitist
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you."
When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.
But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!" Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had....
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had ...
Genesis 12:10–20; 13:1
All of us know what it feels like to be on the periphery. My husband and I suddenly found ourselves on the "outside" after we had been profoundly rejected by our church. Though it happened many years ago, the painful memory still lingers.
The memory resurfaced when I was recently stopped at the traffic light in front of our former church. As I gazed at the beautiful, columned brick structure, with the spire pointing towards the cobalt blue sky above, I seemed to hear once again the faint echoes of applause in the sanctuary. It had been filled with people as my husband, Danny, was voted out of a strategic leadership position. His previous years of faithful ser vice to the church — as chairman of the board of deacons, chairman of the men's fellowship, and an adult Sunday school teacher — no longer seemed to matter. On that Sunday morning, during what was described as a "worship ser vice," our ears rang with the sound of rejection.
The congregation applauded as the vote was announced. Six hundred members against Danny to two hundred for him. The lopsided results left no room for doubt or discussion as to the desire of the church body. They wanted Danny out. Following the ser vice, the five-minute walk to the parking lot seemed more like a five-mile trek through the wilderness. With my eyes blurred and my mind reeling from what we had just experienced, I held Danny's hand as we numbly walked to the car. Bottom line, our impeachable offense was that we believed, lived by, and taught the Bible as the inerrant, inspired, authoritative Word of God. We were innocent casualties caught up in the political power struggles of a denomination that at the time was battling over this very issue.
We dearly loved the people in that church. We had served them faithfully and sacrificially for more than fifteen years. Our children had been born and baptized there. I will tell you very candidly that being rejected by that church hurt. And it hurts to this day. We were wounded.
Have you been wounded by God's people too? Have you been made to feel that you were on the outside of God's inner circle? Sometimes we agree with that rejection because we don't think we are good enough for God, lovable enough for God, worthy enough to be on the inside anyway. Such thinking can be the result of having been mistreated in some way by those who call themselves by His name. Or the treatment confirms what we had thought anyway. Rejection, disapproval, or abuse by God's people can be devastating because if you and I are not careful, we may confuse God's people with God. And God's people don't always act like God's people should.
The way you and I handle being rejected and wounded is critical. Our response can lead to healing ... or to even more hurt.
I fully understand if you have been so hurt by God's people that you have made the choice to walk away — not just from the church, not just from Christians, not just from those who call themselves by God's name, but from God. I could have too. Instead, God found me — and loved me — on the periphery. Why? Because God is not an elitist. He associates not only with those who appear to be part of an inner circle, but with those who have been made to feel they are on the outside.
The Bible is full of stories about how God's love is broad enough, deep enough, high enough, and long enough to draw in those who are treated as outsiders. Hagar's story is a poignant one.
Hagar was one of the many young Egyptian women who served in Pharaoh's palace. The Bible doesn't tell us if she was born into slavery or if she had been forced into it for the payment of a debt or for some other reason. History gives us no details, but it's safe to assume her life was not her own. She was a slave who lived at the whim of Pharaoh. It takes no imagination to assume that her status surely resulted in multiple wounds of one form or another.
One day, Pharaoh took a dazzlingly beautiful new wife. The entire palace buzzed with news about the exotic "princess" from a faraway land who had entered Egypt with her brother. The princess, Sarah, had been quickly scooped up by government officials as a sparkling addition to the king's collection of wives.
The king had been so enthralled by his new wife that he had showered her brother, Abraham, with gifts: "For her sake, ... Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels." And that's where Hagar's life took a dramatic turn, through no choice of her own. She was plucked out of obscurity and placed onto the world stage of human history because she was one of the gifts Pharaoh gave in gratitude to Abraham.
But things were not as they seemed. Abraham wasn't just Sarah's half-brother; he was also her husband. And he had such a unique relationship with the living God that the way people treated Abraham and his family, God considered treatment of Himself. So when Sarah was placed into a dangerous, compromising position, vulnerable to being defiled by a pagan king, God intervened. To protect Sarah physically, as well as to guard her reputation, He struck everyone in the palace with serious diseases.
Pharaoh connected the dots between the diseases, his new wife, her brother, and an angry God. The result was that Abraham's deception was exposed. He was publicly rebuked by Pharaoh, then thrown out of Egypt along with Sarah and everything he had, which included Hagar.
Hagar suddenly found herself uprooted from all she had ever known. She went from living in a luxurious palace — even if she had resided in the servants' quarters — to living in animal-skin tents with a nomadic people whose language she didn't understand, whose food was strange, whose clothes were relatively plain, and whose ways were foreign to her. Her status is possibly revealed by her placement in the list of gifts given to Abraham — below the sheep, cattle, and donkeys, and just above the camels. She seemed to be nothing more than the possession of a foreigner. Hagar was an outsider ... an outsider to her familiar Egyptian culture now that she belonged to Abraham and Sarah, but also an outsider to Abraham's household since she was an Egyptian. She was doubly outside, belonging nowhere.
Have you ever felt that you just didn't belong anywhere? Maybe you've been displaced because of a natural disaster, or a divorce, or eviction from your home, or termination from your job. If you married into a different race, or nationality, or culture, or language, or economic strata, or educational level, you may suddenly have discovered you are now living your life on the periphery of your family or friends ... or your spouse's family and friends. As awkward and uncomfortable and lonely as that may be — as stunning as it can be to have your private world turned upside down in the blink of an eye — I'm not sure it's the same pain as that of finding yourself on the outside of the church because you've been driven there by God's people who have rejected you. Somehow, factoring God into the equation makes the rejection hurt worse.
As we continue our journey with Hagar, we will discover that her wounds increased to include those inflicted by God's people. In her pain, she behaved badly and became a wounder. As a result, she was wounded even more deeply, caught up in a cycle of pain that enveloped those around her, including her own son. And so she ran to the far limits of the outside — she ran to the periphery.
But God loved Hagar. He loves those who just can't take it anymore and who run away. In fact, the Bible is filled with stories of His love for those like Hagar. One such story is that of Rahab.
Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute. As such, she too was doubly outside. As a prostitute she lived life on the periphery of acceptable behavior, and as a Canaanite, she was outside of God's people, the children of Israel. She was a very unlikely candidate for God's attention, much less His redeeming love.
Her story is found in the Old Testament book of Joshua. And it doesn't take much imagination to conclude that Rahab had been used and abused by others. In fact, her culture glamorized abuse, idolized immorality, and literally worshiped wickedness and evil. Human sacrifice and sex orgies were part of their religious expression. No thought was given to the feelings of victims or the consequences of indulging in animalistic desires.
Rahab was undoubtedly trapped in a life she did not want. She couldn't go back — there was no way to untangle years of sin and trauma in an effort to take up the life she had before she was a prostitute. She couldn't go forward because her future held no hope. Who would care enough to help a prostitute? And besides, everyone in her life was a Canaanite. She knew of no one who thought differently, lived differently, or felt differently. All she could do was survive one day at a time, trying to stifle the pain from wounds both old and new. She was trapped in a life of sexual degradation and humiliation. Inside, she must have been filled with silent screams to any god who was out there who was real and could save her.
Little did Rahab know that there was, indeed, a God who was real and who had heard her inaudible cries. In the omniscient sovereignty of God, Rahab's longing for salvation and freedom coincided with a momentous occasion in divine history. After forty years of wandering, the entire nation of Israel, numbering several million people, was at last poised to enter the Promised Land. Soon, the Israelites would possess the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The only thing blocking their progress was Jericho, a seemingly impregnable enemy fortress and the city in which Rahab lived.
The residents within Jericho's fortified walls had heard of the God of Israel — how He had decimated Egypt with a series of plagues and then destroyed the world-class Egyptian army in an unparalleled act of supernatural power. And they knew about other miracles as well: How God had led them through the wilderness for forty years with a cloud to protect them from the heat of the day and a fiery pillar to provide light and heat during the night; how He had quenched their thirst by giving them water from a rock; how He had fed them every morning with bread that appeared on the ground and every evening with quail that flew into their encampment; how He had given the Israelites victory over enemies who tried to thwart their progress. Oh, yes! The Canaanites living in Jericho, including Rahab, had heard of the God of Israel. So when they awoke one morning to find that they were in Israel's crosshairs, their hearts melted and everyone's courage failed. Their fear must have then intensified into near paralysis when instead of immediately attacking, the Israelites simply set up camp outside the city walls and waited ... for what?
The Bible tells us that Joshua, the commander of the Israelites, used that waiting time to send spies into Jericho. He must have wanted answers to a whole host of logistical questions: Is there more than one wall? How thick are the walls? How many gates are there in the walls? How many armed men are prepared to defend the city? But as the story unfolds, we know that the military assessment proved unnecessary. God had an entirely different idea about how to bring down the enemy fortress — and it had nothing to do with military strategy, the number of enemy soldiers, the access or the egress.
Could it be that God put the entire Israelite advance on hold because He had heard the cry of one person? A Canaanite, not an Israelite? The cry of a woman, not a man? The cry of a prostitute, not a noble woman? Though she lived on the periphery of God's people and was unquestionably an outsider, Rahab nevertheless had eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to hope, and a will to throw herself on God's mercy. Could it be that God, in answer to Rahab's cry, postponed Israel's advance into the Promised Land for several days in order to save just one person?
When Israel's spies surfaced in Rahab's brothel seeking information, it became obvious that she had been on a spiritual quest and arrived at an inescapable conclusion: Israel's God is the one true God. So she boldly put out a very small tendril of faith, wrapping it around the character of the God about whom she had heard. Summoning her courage and knowing this was her only chance for deliverance, she seized the opportunity to make a deal with the spies: she would spare their lives if they would save hers. Her desire was to belong to the God of Israel. I wonder if she held her breath as she waited for their answer. If so, she didn't have to hold it for long. They agreed! Their words were surely heaven's answer to her heart's cry. If she would hide them and then help them escape the city, they would see to it that she and all in her house were saved when Jericho was destroyed.
Approximately three weeks later, the Israelites broke camp and advanced. When the walls of Jericho fell in a terrifying mushroom cloud of dust and debris, only one section remained standing. Perched on the top of that section was Rahab's house, marked by a scarlet cord dangling from her window to identify her location to the invading Israelite army. She had kept her part of the deal. As she gazed out at the destruction from her precarious position, she must have had a moment of sheer panic. Would the spies keep their part of the deal? Would their God really care about one Canaanite prostitute?
I can only imagine Rahab's terror as she felt the earthquake-like tremor when the walls collapsed and she was surrounded by all the terrifying sounds of battle — clashing weapons and the cries of those in the city being put to death, the rebel-like yell of Israelite soldiers as they advanced on the now exposed city, and then the sound of soldiers' feet pounding up her steps. Her door must have suddenly burst open, and Israelites covered with dust shouted, "Rahab, you're saved! The God of Israel has commanded us to save you and all that are in your house!" Then Rahab knew for certain — God is real! And merciful! And He truly does love those who are on the periphery.
Like Rahab, I wonder if you've been considered an outsider ... on the periphery ... for a long time. Perhaps generations of your family have lived separated from the one living God — separated from truth, real goodness, righteous ness, and holiness. Wounding can actually be a byproduct of our culture's creed ...
Don't get mad, get even.
Don't let anyone walk over you.
Insist on your rights.
Whatever feels right is right.
If it works, do it.
Successful people don't fail.
More money means more happiness.
Tell people what they want to hear; never mind the truth.
Grab all the gusto you can.
If you don't put your interests first, who will?
Because you've been raised in this culture, have these misguided values trapped you in a fortress-like environment that is suffocating your spirit? Like Rahab, do you feel you are hopelessly stuck behind walls and walls of sin that impact ...
your memories and your marriage,
your children and your career,
your lifestyle and your outlook,
your culture and your choices,
your environment and your entertainment,
your attitude and your ambition,
your reactions and your reasoning ...
Sin that's like a powerful Canaanite fortress from which you can't escape? Sin that has separated you from God and placed you on the outside.
As you read this, if your own heart has been quickened with longing for a different way of life, a longing to be set free, for true salvation from sin, then I invite you to cry out to the God of Rahab. He is the same today as He was in her day. He has ears to hear the heartfelt cry of one person, no matter who you are or where you are or how long you have been there. Use the words of the following prayer if you need help articulating your cry.
Excerpted from Wounded by God's People by Anne Graham Lotz. Copyright © 2013 Anne Graham Lotz. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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