>Abuse and the Sin Cycle
>Recently, I have met several men who have unintentionally set me on a course of learning what appears to be an invaluable, and yet remarkably painful, lesson. Getting to know these guys, I learned that several of them had common experiences growing up in abusive homes. Coming from a healthy and loving family background, it was surprising to have faces applied to the statistics of abuse that we have all heard about. I would never have guessed that something like child abuse could be so prevalent, or that these guys had that in their background, no matter how removed from those situations they now are. They all now carry within themselves a sort of hatred and bitterness toward their fathers and stepfathers, to the extent that they have not seen them in years and feel as if they would attack their former attackers if they ever did encounter them again. Whether or not they would act on this wrath I do not know, but the fact that they carry such anger around is meaningful in itself. Some of these guys have already emotionally hurt people around them, no doubt in some part related to their own experiences of being hurt. It seems fair to guess, both from anecdotal and statistical knowledge, that the men who originally abused these men were at one point abused themselves. The majority of people who were abused as children do not go on to abuse others themselves, but it is estimated that 80% of those who do abuse their children were themselves the victims of abuse. A person who suffered abuse is more likely to abuse others than a person who was not, and any person who abuses others was likely abused themselves.
This does not mean, of course, that we can simply write off a person’s culpability for abusing others simply because they once suffered the same treatment. As humans, we are given free will and are responsible for our actions.
None of this is really the point that I am hoping to make, though, or the lesson that I am learning. What I am learning is that severe ramifications follow our actions. So many of us (myself included) are incredibly individualistic. No matter what we say, we see the world revolving around ourselves and are motivated by selfish ambition. We behave foolishly and sinfully and claim that at most it hurts no one but ourselves. We fool ourselves into thinking that we live in self-contained little bubbles, so that our actions never affect anyone but ourselves. Either that, or we simply do not care how our actions might affect others. The truth is that our every action, including private and secret actions, actions done within the privacy of our own homes and our own families, have consequences for the whole world that we cannot predict.
When my friend’s mother first started experimenting with drugs in high school, she was only hurting herself, or so she thought. Now, years down the line, as a result of her addiction her son has to be raised by extended family members who cannot allow her to come by the house because when she does she steals from them in order to buy her next high. His father, too, made the selfish decision to fornicate at one point, which was just between him and my friend’s mother. It was just between them except that she conceived and gave birth to my friend who now struggles to find any value in himself because he was raised without the father who abandoned the mother of his child.
In the end of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie struggles with the revelation that he had been abused by his Aunt Helen as a young child. His words speak well to these situations:
“It’s like if I blamed my Aunt Helen, I would have to blame her dad for hitting her and the friend of the family that fooled around with her when she was little. And the person that fooled around with him… And I did do that for a while, but then I just couldn’t anymore. Because it wasn’t going anywhere. Because it wasn’t the point.” (p. 211).
It is a biblical truth that sons are not to be held responsible for the sins of their fathers and that fathers are not to be held responsible for the sins of their sons. At the same time, it is also clear that the sins of the fathers are likely to reappear as the sins of their sons. I do not know why sins tend to passed on. Whether something is transmitted from soul to soul, whether there is some genetic predisposition, whether the enemy tends to tempt father and son in the same way, whether the sins are a learned behavior, or whether parts of all of these are true, it does not matter. It is simply true that the same sins tend to be repeated generation after generation.
What does that mean for you and me? Among other things, it means that our every action has serious consequences. Our little indulgences, our secret sins, our vices that we think impact only ourselves and those closest to us have the potential to cause enormous harm. Little does a young man beginning to enjoy drunkenness realize that he may be on the path to one day having four generations of alcoholics following in his footsteps.
Galatians 6:7-8 says,
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Our thoughts, words and deeds are always sowing some sort of seed. We cannot remain neutral. We are either sowing sin or righteousness, one which will one day reap a harvest of destruction and one which will reap eternal life. Our current deeds will return later on in the midst of our careers, marriages, families and relationships.
Up until this point, this (very long) post has focused mainly on the negative, but there is hope. We might ask, “How can we escape this cycle of sin, abuse, pain and death?” Or, we might echo the question of St. Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?“
Thankfully, he answers that question in the next line: “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!“
When we come to Christ and put our lives in His hands; when we accept both His salvation and His lordship in our lives; when we recognize that we have no righteousness of our own and accept His as He offers it; when we hand Him the broken pieces of our lives and ask Him to make them into something beautiful; when we ask Him to take the seeds of destruction that we have sown and to somehow transform them into a harvest of life; when we ask that His righteousness be planted within us in such a way that we will become truly righteous, it is then that we can be set free from this cycle of sin.
Titus 2:11-14 says,
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
The grace of God brings us salvation and teaches us to live godly lives!
Exodus 20:4-6 tells us that while the sins of the fathers may be passed on to the third and fourth generation, God shows His love to a thousand generations of descendants of those who love Him and keep His commandments. We have the severe potential to bring great harm to the world, but by placing our lives in the hands of the Son of God we have the glorious potential to do immense good for the whole world.
Joel 2:25-26 gives this promise to those who repent of their sins and turn to God:
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed.”
Up until this point, we may have been sowing sin for a harvest of destruction. Up until now, the years of our lives, so full of potential, may have been devoured by the locusts of sin and folly. But God is far greater than our sins and has dealt with them on the cross. He can, and will, restore those years to us, producing a harvest of life far greater than what has been destroyed.
Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!