Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me
“Where was he? Why didn’t he stop it? How could he let it happen?”
The words tumbled out of her mouth as we sat together holding the weight of her sexual abuse. My eyes stayed with her, committed to remaining in the tension of what can only be named as paradox. Jesus love vast and unmeasured, and the horror of her father’s repeated violations of her colliding in scenes from her childhood that still haunt her in the quiet spaces of the night.
“If God loves me then why won’t he make me heterosexual, I prayed and prayed asking him to. How can I be something he hates?”
The tears spilled out of his eyes, the desperation palpable, as I sat with a man dear to my heart. His story of sexual abuse from more than one man in “christian leadership” intermingled with words from the church about God’s hatred for homosexuality as he struggles to find a safe space for his soul to land in the deep, deep love of Jesus.
“God loves the sinner and hates their sin” is a phrase often spoken in response to difficult questions when vulnerable souls put words to their struggle and ache to find the space of belonging they hunger for with God.
Who is the “sinner” and what “sin” does God hate? What do we do when the “sin” feels fused with who we are, how we live, and what is most true about us? He loves me and my abuser? He hates my sin and my abusers sin? And, he allowed the carnage that has forever marked me as I struggle to believe I belong in God’s family and that I am loved deeply?
Now I am giving you a new command—love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another. John 13:35
What does this life giving love that is supposed to mark the church actually look like?
I’ve spent the past several days sitting with survivors of sexual abuse. There is a common thread that runs through those of us who have known the impact of sexual harm, we feel like the outcasts, the unclean, crazy, the least of these. We struggle to believe we are worthy, valuable, lovable, wanted, adored, accepted, beloved. We are acutely aware of our own sin and the sin committed against us and our desperate need to be saved from the impact of both.
There is story recorded in Luke 7 about a woman with an alabaster flask.
Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
Jesus welcoming the unclean touch from this sinful woman raises accusation and judgement from the law keeping pharisee. Jesus addresses the accusations from the pharisee by saying that the woman, who has been forgiven much, also loves much.
Mary Magdalene, possessed by 7 demons and likely seen as mentally ill, is at the cross when Jesus dies and she is the one he revealed himself to after he rose from the dead. Such irony, that a woman, once possessed and seen as crazy, is the one chosen to go tell the disciples, the men, that he is alive. She is the bearer of the good news. The once possessed crazy woman.
I love Jesus and the disruptive life he lived. I wonder where we would find him disrupting the “church” today with his unconventional life.
Today as we mark his death I am thinking of his life and his love for the outcast and unclean, those dismissed and disdained, and his exposing words for the law keepers, the judgers and those who were so sure of their “cleanness”.
I am also mindful that most often scripture shows us it is the prostitutes, the adulterers, the murderers, and the unclean who are chosen by God. And as much as we prefer to think that they all became obedient and sinned less the truth is they simply came to love more, and return to God again and again in need of his grace and forgiveness; so they could go out and love some more.
Jesus loves us with muchness, he forgives us again and again, and calls us to offer that same love. Sacrificial, unconditional, lavish, deep love.
Facing the truth of my story, continuing to face it, is the hardest wrestling with God I have known. And, the spaces where I have felt the love of Jesus most profoundly is inside circles with other survivors, wrestling with him too. Judgment has no room to condemn, accusation is quieted by the solidarity of love around the circle, and division is overcome as we realize we belong to one another in the truth of our ache and desire to love and be loved by Jesus.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12). She is the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for 30 years, she is mother to five kids. After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is. She writes about her life and her work here.