Do Your Own Theology: Therapy and Christian Salvation

In my last post, about the girl who had been gang-raped (who, it turns out, is a Christian honors student, and was probably a virgin), I said “I would tell her that Jesus already took on the sins of society, and she didn’t have to. I wanted to finish up that thought and the thoughts that went after it.

Because of what happened to her, she (and others like her), understand Jesus better than most.  She (and they) are understood by Jesus better than most.  Why? Because they know what it’s like to suffer for something they didn’t do, what it’s like to suffer for being something they weren’t (a threat?), and what it’s like to take on the sins of another person or a whole society.

When I was in seminary, I realized that Vietnam vets (and now, I believe) Iraq vets died for our sinsour greed, our arrogance, our valuing of a country’s resources over it’s people, our idolatry of the American Way.  Please do not misread this. I am not saying the Viet Cong (or Saddam Hussein) weren’t also sinners, whose soldiers died for their sins.  They definitely are.  Whole groups of people suffer for the sins of society every day — the poor suffer from our greed, gays  who are beaten suffer from our fear of all things gay, African-Americans suffer from our xenophobia (fear of the other) and all share the same connection with Jesus — they suffer not because of what they’ve done, but because of what other people feel and can’t handle.  Rape victims, of course, fall into this category. In family systems therapy, we like to call that person the Identified Patient, the person who suffers (with symptoms like pain, anxiety, depression) so that the family can get help.

In Jerusalem of  Jesus’ time,  he was the identified patient for a people who gave in to fear of Roman might, to theological rigidity, to their own love of power and fear of change.  Christian Catechisms make it a point to say that Jesus was blameless/sinless and that he died anyway, that he took on the sins of others/society.  This girl, who ever she is, and every rape victim (rape victims didn’t deserve their fate)  that ever was, died inside for the sins of others and the sins of the society that created those sins.   Victims of emotional abuse, outcasts, and victims of physical abuse also fall into that category. They understand, on an experiential level, what Christ experienced.

And as they heal, they show the world that love is stronger than hate, stronger than fear, stronger than a form of death itself.  They are resurrected emotionally, physically, and spiritually to a new life, even with the old scars, like the holes in Jesus’ feet and hands. This is what therapy — or AA or friendship or the help of others is all about.  To the extent that we do these things, we participate in the resurrection of the Jesus within them. Is there a better reason for me to go to work? Such is the life of the therapist.

But there’s more to the parallels: “What happened should never happen to anyone, ever.” Jesus’ death should never have happened. The murder (some people call sexual abuse “soul murder” or injury of innocents should never happen.  Jesus rose because his spirit or God knew that.  When we convince people in therapy that their soul/spirit/psyche didn’t deserve what happened, their spirit realizes that it deserves to live.  The buoyancy of the spirit itself cannot be kept down and LIFE  slowly returns to the person’s life.   Doing the work that it takes to heal is an experience of salvation. Forgiveness and moving on is a form of resurrection.

Finally, in the last post, I said that “we would do what we could to never have it happen again”.  When Jesus came back, he told the disciples another way than the ones being offered by society. In theory, if people lived the way Jesus taught, the death and intentional injury of the innocent would never happen to anyone. No one else would ever have to die on the cross of someone else’s sins.  One of the tragedies of Ronald Reagan’s tenure as president, was the return of the belief that we could have and should have won the Vietnam war. Soldiers who succumbed to this way of thinking put soldiers back on the cross of patriotism gone awry, of idolatry for riches, of violence as a good thing.  Warriors who protest war refuse to give up on their salvation, refuse to forget Jesus’ suffering and their own.

If the girl who was gang-raped survives what happened, heals and moves on, she — like Jesus — remind us that salvation is possible.  People who do whatever they can to change the system so that this never happens again engage in what Martin Luther King called “redemptive suffering” which shows that the power of love is stronger than the sins of a society that did this.

The people of Richmond, California don’t deserve this, any more than the bigots of the South did, any more than greedy war profiteers do, any more than the people who crucified Jesus did.

And it is because of that, that her healing, King’s legacy, veterans who refuse to make more veterans, and Jesus’ resurrection are so holy and so vitally important.   The fact that therapists get to go along for this ride makes the job way beyond worth doing. It makes it salvation — for both client and therapist.

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