I have two thoughts to share. First is just my own gratitude for your most recent work on “Crucifixion of the Warrior God.” The second is a personal story I hope you’ll read! It’s from my work with traumatized children, and I think you’ll find it fascinating and a good real-life example of the theories you lay out about God’s nature.
So first, I have to admit, I have not read the book in full, yet. I have watched all of the related sermons. Also, I have directed friends to your videos/work for years, especially your Q&A’s, and series which deal with the “tough issues.” I have learned so much through your ministry, and I think that you bring such a richness and depth of soul to the defense of the faith.
Even through your “Cross Centered” video series, I experienced a tangible breakthrough. The feeling was almost like taking big, deep breath and sigh of relief, and just relaxing into my Father’s arms. I was raised Christian, and my wife and I work at a Christ-centered children’s home, where foster children live, and we work there as the children’s pastors. Because we have been entrusted with teaching these amazing children–who have often had violent parents and horrendous experiences with them–I have been praying constantly for grace to speak clearly on the Good Father seen in Jesus. To be honest, I would sometimes hang out around Bible stories where I was confident I could see that revelation, and gently avoid others where I couldn’t.
I love the Scriptures, and I have been after these answers for a long time. Just like you talk about, I wanted to be faithful to all the Scripture, and at the same time be faithful to the revelation of God through Christ on the Cross. I was okay simply not understanding some things, but I think a part of me was hiding from things I saw or didn’t understand in the Old Testament. Also, the pat answers just didn’t resonate (“Well, God is God so He can do what He wants” … even if it looks wildly different than Jesus??). Sometimes people’s justifications and depictions of God sounded a lot like the stories we heard of parents we were protecting our children from.
I felt walls come down through your work. This has resulted in bolder preaching, and more reconciliation to God among these children. Of course, that’s Holy Spirit’s work, but I am so grateful to you personally for all that you poured into this study. With “Good Good Father” at the top of the charts this last year, it seems we are all waking up to 1 John 1:5.
So … I want to include a story from our work with these children. I think it clearly demonstrates your theory on God as a Missionary. The children who come to us have been through intense physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and spiritual abuse, and neglect. Many times they have been moved around through up to 35 different failed placements. We love and contend for grace-filled family reunifications when possible, and we even have a department to help facilitate good Christ-centered adoptions… However, if those don’t happen (which is often the case with our children), we make it our mission to be a loving family and the best home-environment, for the children (and there are many) who end up calling us “family.” So we are a family-style home. Meaning, the children live in cottages, with house parents, and a few other siblings. They go to school, participate in the local community, celebrate holidays and life events together, go to chapel, etc. Basically, we grow up and do life together. I absolutely love this place.
My point in saying all that is that our mission is love and relationship. And love, and trust, take time. It’s a long-term mission. These are mantras around here: trust takes time, love takes time. We have to remind ourselves. The facts are, most of our kids will end up staying with us, graduating high school, finding jobs and building family beyond. On the one hand, it’s bad because of all they’ve been through. On the other hand, it’s good, because we get the chance to be an example–and often we’re the first and only example–of stability and unconditional love for them. Of course, we are constantly growing in love, and are ever in need of His grace! But we know the gold is found in consistent love. Even the science is showing that stability is what heals a traumatized heart.
So, we get tons of training around the idea of loving consistently through the mess… that when children act out, push us away, wall off, project images onto us of past offenders, and reject us in any way, they are often subconsciously testing the authenticity of our love. Our mission is to “love them anyway,” in and through Christ. We are taught to rejoice in little breakthroughs, or just hang in there when we don’t see them. The hope is that one day (and it’s more precious than gold when this happens) a child would say, “I didn’t think I could trust again, until now.” Or simply, “I love you, too.” Or best of all, “I know now that God loves me.” It is then that we get to see with our eyes that God is healing their hearts.
It’s because of this goal of LOVE that we make short-term decisions that only make sense in the context of a long-term goal of building relationship. If we were just a temporary facility, and we weren’t committed to building a loving and lasting bond with these children, it would be a different set of strategies, I’m sure.
But take this girl for instance, that I’ll call Sharon. Sharon came to us very scared. She was only 10 or 11 at most–I may have some details wrong. But I do remember the basics of the story. Because of all she’d been through, she came with some pretty ingrained defense mechanisms and habits.
Perhaps the most noticeable habit was that she would smear her feces all over the walls at night, and the house parents would find it in the mornings. This happened repeatedly. It was tough to deal with, for anyone living with Sharon. But over time, as we found out her story, the pieces began to fit together.
Sharon grew up in fear, being molested and raped by her father on a nightly basis, and he probably came into her room drunk most times. Sharon’s body began to react by defecating involuntarily around the time of usual abuse. When this happened, the father would often get deterred, calling her “disgusting” and stumbling out of her room. Even though there was a lot of shame hitting her through this, she at least avoided the sexual abuse. She began to learn that if she smeared her feces on the wall, it had the same effect of keeping him away. So–perhaps not even totally consciously–she figured out ways to cope and defend herself.
If we were only after a temporary solution, with short term goals of behavior modification, and needed to make her “presentable” … we might tell her right at the start, “okay Sharon, we need to get over this poop smearing thing fast,” and employ some kind of disciplinary or corrective action each time she does it. “We can’t have her acting that way,” we might say.
But to Sharon, all that means to her right now is, “Sharon, we are taking away your shield. You aren’t safe here.” It’s unfortunate, but to her, poop on the wall means safety. It means no abuse, and that she can sleep (maybe). It’s the only thing that’s worked for her. And it’s worked for years. If our goal is to change the behavior the quickest we can, we might hinder or even sever the possibility of long-term relationship and love with Sharon. She will associate us with fear rather than trust.
But really, it’s just a priority shift. Love is the ultimate goal, and then from that, yes, leading her out of destructive behaviors is a definite secondary goal. We want that to happen! But it happens with “first things being first” and with love in tact, rather than with Sharon perceiving only more control and power over her.
So what if love looks different here? What if it looks like inviting Sharon into her house for the first time, showing her to her room, and saying, “Sharon, we even have a wall just for you, right here. It’s all yours. We will clean it up every day, but do what you need to do. You’re safe here.” And furthermore, “We are not ashamed of you, and we won’t leave you either.” This might sound really odd and look dysfunctional to someone just seeing a snapshot of that moment of our life together. It would only make sense in the context of a long, committed process of love. And just a side note, if one is truly committed to love, then the word “long” doesn’t even need to be in there, I suppose. What is time, really, when you’re building something eternal?
But back to Sharon. This was a true story, and Sharon eventually stopped smearing feces on the wall, and became a happy and restful girl. But it came in steps, with people she grew to trust. It may be that she trusted them because they didn’t immediately take away her defenses, however flawed they were. It seems as if true love required them to temporarily overlook one thing in order to get to another deeper thing. Eventually they were able to suggest alternatives, and sort of “wean” her off of the defense. But now she saw that they were doing this in her best interest, not to hurt her. Of course, her caretakers always wanted her to leave that habit behind. But love is patient and kind. Love sees that it’s awful, but it sees past it being awful for “me” (ie. the smell, the work, etc), and onto the awful state Sharon is in (the fear, etc), and even past that, to the amazing girl God created Sharon to be.
And after hearing your theory on the Heavenly Missionary I thought, that’s exactly it. God makes temporary provision for the things He doesn’t ultimately condone, in order to create relationship, because love is the ultimate ethic to Him. And, it will be in the context of this love that He leads us out of old habits into more life-giving ways of doing things.
Just a little further thought too… We have this training we take here about how to help children when they are in a triggered emotional state. One of the “techniques” we learn about is called “follow to lead.” It doesn’t work all the time. But the idea is, when the child is enraged, you sort of get shoulder-to-shoulder with them (without actually getting enraged yourself, and without looking like you’re mocking them) and you follow their lead (by “getting mad at the world” with them, etc). This builds a connection with them. They see you’re on their team now, and this synergy is built. Now, if you start walking in a positive direction, they are walking with their team mate. Instead of typical power struggles full of orders like, “stop yelling, stop being angry” … you leave with relationship and a positive attitude (when it works, that is, haha!).
I bring that up, because I was talking about Sharon to a friend when we were discussing God in the Old Testament. I said something to him like, “What if True Love simply lets Sharon smear the poop on the walls at first?” He responded with, “What if True Love actually smears the poop with her?” It was an interesting thought, and it got me thinking. Imagine. “Sharon, what if I helped you?” Maybe a pair of gloves is in order… and then again, maybe just the grace of God? I don’t know totally on this one. I’ve heard of similar stories with our children, where our caretakers “got in the muck” with them for a moment. This would have to happen without us doing something sinful, of course. But sometimes, when your caretaker is so unoffended by your mess that (s)he gets right in it with you, it has a supernaturally disarming effect. Just a thought.
Anyway, I wrote out a lot of detail without much editing. But I thought it would demonstrate what you’re talking about, and might be interesting to you. If I was to walk in on the house parent telling Sharon it’s okay to rub poop on the walls, I might question that house parent’s ability, goodness, or even sanity. But if I saw the full context, with the ultimate revelation of love in mind, it might start to fit together. The house parent might even look like a genius. So for Sharon, maybe Love says, “here’s a wall, just for you.” And for David, king of Israel, maybe Love says, “David, I would have given you even more wives if you asked for them.” It’s not God’s ultimate best for them, but at this point in the story (to use a phrase I’ve grown to love), “there’s something else going on here.”
Anyway, thank you to whoever receives this for reading any parts of it! I do pray Woodland Hills, and Greg’s life, family and work are continually blessed! And I am so grateful for all I’ve received through this ministry.
Love and Blessings :)