The recent and unfortunate uncovering of sexual abuse by Ravi Zacharias, whom I had admired as a leader within the Christian Church, disgusted me. My husband and I spoke at an event with him a couple of years ago in the Philippines and gotten to know him over dinner the night before. I remember being impressed with his Biblical knowledge and wisdom. So, when his sexual abuse of women emerged, I was heartsick for his family, and those who worked closely with him now left to deal with his despicable sinful acts. But even more so, I hurt for the women he had abused and used.
Sexual abuse reverberates, and its ripple effects affect many.
Several years ago, I got to know a stylist and image consultant in Hollywood. Having the right image within a media and entertainment career is imperative. Establishing your look/style and brand in today’s overpopulated media marketplace is essential. My friend was a believer and knew intimately how one’s outward image could often hide inward pain and turmoil. When we met, I asked her how she got started in her unique line of work. She revealed that it had begun with her relationship with her grandfather, who was a respected pastor. She and her parents attended his church every Sunday as a child. After church, they’d stay to have lunch, and her grandfather would take her out to his travel trailer parked in the driveway for Bible study and to sexually abuse her at the same time. It horrified me to hear her tell of having to endure such hideous evil under the pretense of biblical instruction. What kind of warped human being could mix sexual abuse with the love of God? Even more disgusting was having it done by a family member and a minister. She said, “I become a stylist as an adult because I had learned to make myself beautiful on the outside to cover up the pain of what was happening on the inside of me.” Her story is tragic, but I know other women who have been sexually abused as children and have done the opposite by making themselves unattractive to protect themselves from further abuse.
What Ravi did was evil and unforgivable. Yet God tells us to forgive.
I asked my friend, the stylist, how she could forgive her grandfather for what he had done to her. She said, “it took some time and maturity, but I could not, not forgive him because then Satan wins. Bitterness and rage win and destroy even more.” She went on to say, “I went into my life’s work because I had to make myself so beautiful on the outside that they wouldn’t know how much I was hurting on the inside initially. Then God showed me that He had cleansed me and made me whole both inside and out and that I could live restored through His eyes. I had to forgive if I wanted to overcome it and to live.”
We live in an age of cancel culture and not forgiveness.
The Bible is a book full of restoration stories. Paul was a murderer, holding the coats of the Pharisees while they stoned Steven. Do we discard his books in the Bible because of that? Matthew was a tax collector and known for manipulative practices. Do we stop reading the book of Matthew? Rahab was a prostitute, King David and Moses were both murderers, the “woman at the well” was an adulteress, and Noah a drunk. Do we cancel them out of the Bible? Do acts of moral failing and sinfulness mean we cancel our modern-day religious leaders or do we forgive, learn and lead forward?
There are no perfect Teflon-coated leaders. All have sinned.
Forgiveness means throwing out the dirty water but not the baby. We live in a culture that says spiritual truth is harsh and offensive. Sharing one’s faith requires transparency which means exposure of the good and the bad and our humanness. It means we must acknowledge warts, blemishes, and evils that even Christians and Christian leaders fall victim to as human beings living in a broken world and to forgive. Jesus makes no exceptions. We are to forgive fully. Does it take time, continual effort, pain, and suffering on many different levels? Yes. Can we do it on our own? No. It is why we rely on His strength and not our own.
Jesus says I am the way the truth – the life.
To be truly loving is to be fully truthful. It is the only way to life. When fallible people don’t live up to the truth that comes out of their mouths, we have to examine what God says is the truth and the truth is that bitterness from an unforgiving heart destroys more, as my friend had learned. Like a domino falling, unforgiveness grows and affects the lives of many more people. God tells us to forgive the unthinkable and the repulsive and forget. Yet He allowed horrific acts of sin to be recorded in the Bible so that we could mature and learn for them.
Jesus said we are to forgive, forget, but also to learn. Failures repeat when we don’t remember them and change our ways. We’re to create guardrails so that abuse, injustice, and all forms of sinning that causes pain and suffering don’t continue to reoccur. We are to create accountability measures and practice wise choices that keep temptation and sin submerged while we endure living in a broken and sinful world. All have sinned and come short. All too have the choice to forgive, learn, and lead forward.
What will be your choice?