Child Molestation and a Good God

By Lena Oben

The truth is: I don't know why God allows children to be molested. I could tell you that the world is broken (it is), that people are hopelessly sinful (we are), or that God designed a world with choices and people often choose the wrong choices (He did and we do). But there is something that really rips into our heart when we see children suffer. Everything seems worse when it happens to a child.

I was molested by my grandfather. My very first memory is hiding from him — I was about 18 months old. People called him "a pillar of the community" but my cousins and I knew better. He was a former pastor who had gone back to farming "to feed his children." Later I wondered if he was quietly kicked out of ministry due to his criminal behavior towards children. He never gave up preaching though, and was quick to expound on Scripture or stir up theological debate among family. His hypocrisy grated on my nerves.

Where was God for the many years this abuse went on? How could a Christian do such ungodly things? These questions were part of my decision to become an atheist when I was in my teens. When I turned back to God at the age of 30, I struggled with this issue again. I have now had many years to reflect back on the topic. Here is what I have learned:

Bad Stuff Happens

Not just to adults, but to children. There are multiple examples of people killing all children under a certain age. God even does it to the Egyptians (see also the Compelling Truth article on violence in the Old Testament). The Bible does not promise that we will have pain-free lives if we believe in Him. I love Hebrews 11, because it dispels the myth that God is going to protect us from all pain and suffering. It lists godly people who worked to spread the gospel but were tortured and killed. (I also recommend the Got Questions article on if God is cruel, C. S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain, and Kay Arthur's When Bad Things Happen.)

God can turn Bad Stuff into Good Stuff

I don't know and can't comprehend all of God's ways. None of us can fully understand Him. There are times when Romans 8:28 makes me want to scream. When my teenage daughter died of cancer, I was too emotionally raw to appreciate that God would work it out for good. But when I first adopted my teenage daughter, God did use my previous abuse as a way to bond with her. She had been abused also. We had very frank and open conversations about the abuse, and she trusted me more since I had also suffered. When she got cancer, I showed her the scars from my many cancer surgeries. I was able to fully empathize with the side effects of chemo, and was able to better help her because of what I went through. All this led to a relationship built on love and compassion, possibly the first one she had ever had. As an extension of that loving relationship, she was able to believe for the first time that there was a God and He actually loved her! This was a miracle bigger than any physical healing. YAY GOD for taking horrible things and using them to bring a motherless child and a childless mother together into a loving relationship. YAY GOD for using the whole situation to turn an abused child toward a loving God.

These verses are so true...Corinthians 1:3-4: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

Be Open to Ways God can use the Bad Stuff

If I hadn't followed God's prompting to become a foster parent, and hadn't waited for a year and a half for Him to bring the specific daughter He promised me, I never would have been able to use the bad stuff as a way to connect with my daughter. I still meet damaged men and women who are used to keeping their suffering to themselves. I can talk openly about my own abuse, and I can help them understand that God loves them and wants to help them as they work through their childhood abuse. I continue to pray that God will make me sensitive to the needs of others, so I will not miss an opportunity to listen to them and empathize with them. I still pray that God will bring good stuff out of the bad.

Forgiveness is Good for Us

All the secular material I read said that I didn't have to forgive my grandfather. I knew the Bible told me to forgive him (see the article on forgiveness), so I said half-hearted prayers like: "God, I hate that man, even though he's dead now. I don't want to forgive him. So I need you to change my heart and find some way for me to forgive him." I prayed that prayer for years, never really intending forgiveness.

One day I had an insight that I believe was an answer to my prayers. I felt what it must have been like for my grandpa to know God and yet be addicted to a horrible ungodly behavior, knowing that it was terribly wrong but being unable to stop. It was disturbingly intense, and tore at my heart. I was finally able to forgive him. What he did was wrong and it hurt me, there is no doubt about that. But that doesn't mean my grandpa went to hell — it means that like all of us, my grandpa was a sinner in need of grace. Forgiving my grandfather (without forgetting what he did) lifted a burden off me. My heart was free from that hatred and bitterness. Recalling the abuse now brings tears at the sadness of a child being hurt, but it doesn't stir up the anger and hatred.

Got Professional Help

I always encourage professional counseling, and not necessarily with a Christian counselor. Christian or secular, you need someone who specializes in this kind of abuse.

First and foremost you have to face what happened to you. It is true that the truth sets us free and that darkness is defeated by light. But it can be a painful process. Sexual abuse at any age damages us, and the damage runs very deep. Getting counseling is important because you can benefit from the wisdom of someone trained and experienced in helping others overcome this. If you can't find a counselor, try reading through literature on the subject. I benefited greatly from the secular book and workbook The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass. It helped a lot, but I wasn't able to forgive until I turned that part over to God. Another thing that helped was to read other people's stories about their abuse. This helped me to understand that I wasn't alone, and that other people had lasting damage from the experience. It also encouraged me because I read how others used their side effects in ways that helped them later on.

I pray for anyone reading this article, that you will get the help you need and that God will bless and guide you as you work to overcome the hurt and damage inflicted on you. And I celebrate that we have a good and gracious God who can and will redeem those of us who have suffered such evils.

Image Credit: Dia; "Hiding"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth Christian-Life Controversial-Issues God-Father Hardships Personal-Life Sin-Evil

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Published 1-28-15