Beauty Raped II

by Alexandra Green

Part one to this two-part piece, although it is written in first person, is not a personal narrative. I know women who have been sexually assaulted. There was a particular girl I knew who, because she was raped, had drawn the conclusion that God could not be true, and if he is true he surely is not good or beautiful. When I first heard this I did not know how to disagree. At the time I felt like my disagreement would dismiss her pain. I did not know how to validate both her pain and God’s presence. I am often reminded through memories such as this one how often my life is not an unashamed testament to the reality of Jesus. This memory and many others continue to show me how unequipped I am to recognize beauty in the midst of sorrow. I am constantly reminded how my faith cannot be contingent on circumstance, but must be fueled through my conviction. I believe that beauty is an encounter with Jesus on the meeting ground of appearance. So in order to recognize beauty we must learn how to see, how to experience Jesus in all of life’s circumstances. Rape is a dangerously accurate analogy to our abuse of God’s beauty, and I chose to use its unsettling imagery because I want show just how important it is to see beauty and, through it, be able to recognize God’s presence in a wicked world.

It doesn’t matter what kind of background you come from, we all suffer. What is incredibly humbling about this is that it’s not about whether or not you will suffer, but when and how you endure. Helen Roseveare was a woman whose haunting testimony is indelible to learning how to suffer well through life. Ms. Roseveare was a survivor of rape as well as other physical and mental abuse while doing missional work in the Congo. Part of her work took place during the Congolese apartheid when brutal abuse—also murder—of missionaries and local Congolese occurred. In her testimony she recalls how she came to understand what God was requesting from her in the moment of her rape and how her experience grounded her in God’s presence:

“Through the brutal heartbreaking experience of rape, God met with me—with outstretched arms of love. It was an unbelievable experience: He was so utterly there, so totally understanding, his comfort was so complete—and suddenly I knew—I really knew that his love was unutterably sufficient… He didn’t take away pain or cruelty or humiliation. No! It was all there, but now it was altogether different. It was with him, for him, in him. He was actually offering me the inestimable privilege of sharing in some little way the edge of the fellowship of his suffering.”

Ms. Roseveare’s reminder of God’s “unutterably sufficient” love is a reminder that God is present. God is not indifferent or unaware of our suffering, nor is he unable to prevent us from suffering. He has chosen in his inestimable wisdom for us to be shaped by our suffering and in this shaping we share the burden of the cross with Jesus. To share in Jesus’ suffering means we get to experience a deep level of intimacy with him. The apostle Paul’s ambition in life, which should also be ours, was not to have superficial head knowledge about Jesus, but to truly experience him, to know him. Part of our humanity, part of our privilege—to use the words of the late Helen Roseveare and the apostle Paul—is that we get to share in Christ’s suffering. Ms. Roseveare expressed in her testimony that it was as she was being raped that her intimacy with Jesus became more important to her than the dignity of her body. In her wisdom she was able to recognize the true craving of her heart was a peace that only Jesus’ presence could satisfy, and she came to realize that this desire Jesus’ presence was being fulfilled even during the brutal and dehumanizing experience of rape.

Suffering, when endured well, makes us conscious that life’s beauty is not found in all the things we can get out of life—it is also not found in the preservation of our lives. It reminds us that we were made and should hope for a future glory. When we live unconsciously we try to preserve ourselves by becoming codependent on things that are impermanent. We milk the earth and our relationships to preserve ourselves through the obtainment of our desires, mistakenly thinking that the obtainment of the desire will sustain us in life. When we suffer we desire to be saved from whatever form of suffering we are going through. What Ms. Roseveare was made conscious of and what is repeatedly taught throughout the entire Bible is that our lifeline does not come from this world—not food, not money, not a job, not ourselves, or other people, but Jesus. When we suffer we are faced with what our hearts truly crave and that is unremitting intimacy with Jesus—we crave Jesus. Jesus doesn’t just have rest to give us, his presence is our rest and he is present everywhere. Suffering well is being attuned to the reality that Jesus has been here the whole time and he isn’t going anywhere, and being able to recognize beauty is being able to see Jesus in the midst of everything, even rape.

Suffering, and more specifically the egregiousness of rape, is not so far from us. All acts of sin start in a person’s heart. In Jesus’ teaching about adultery in Matthew 5:28 he makes it clear that the issue with sin isn’t just in the act itself, but with the heart of the person. He explains this by saying, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We look at rapists as if their hearts are more twisted than others, but all our hearts pervert what is meant for good, rather it be a person’s body or other aspects of God’s world. At a heart level all of us are the abusers, all of us are guilty before God. All of us rape God’s beauty. We do this whenever we look at the world and see all its things as more beautiful, more desirable than God. This shallow view of the world leads us to pursue after everything else other than God.

The suffering we experience in life, sometimes is a rupture of the desire we were dependent on. The rupturing of our misplaced desires is a blessing that should spur us to gratitude, that God would think enough of us, and our salvation, to strip from us what is taking us away from him, our true sustainer. The rupturing of our desires is difficult, but it is a humble reminder of what we should really be dependent on, a reminder of what is truly beautiful, it is also a reminder of what we have to hope for and that is access to an eternity with Jesus, our everlasting peace. To truly live in this peace now, and to live an intentional conscious life, we must repudiate the standard, goal, and motivation of life that we have been dependent on up to this point. To confess our misplaced desires and dependence to God and allow his truth to reshape our hearts, so we may lean on him for dependence and be able see that his presence is what sustains us.

On each occasion when I heard a story about a friend being sexually abused by someone who should have protected them, or by someone who was indifferent to their humanity were moments where the truth and goodness and beauty of God were difficult for me to trust. Despite the natural proclivities of my heart to turn from God when his truth is hard for me to see, the Lord continues to humble me, through these relationships he has challenged me to see, truly see him. I am learning to trust that the Lord cares infinitely more about this world, about each of those women, even their perpetrators, than any single person on this earth ever could. He displayed his commitment to his relationship with us through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus, the perfect embodiment of beauty. Only through experiencing Jesus will we be able to see beauty in the world and the Lord uses our experiences to reorient us back to what is beautiful.

It is the conscious reality of God’s beauty—Jesus—that I hope to see in everything that I look at. The work he did on the cross, its beauty is what continues to bring me to my knees in prayer. And it is the reality that I am eager to embrace, unveiled, at the foot of Jesus in heaven.

Lord, thank you for meeting us here. For coming down to this broken world so that it and we can be made beautiful. I pray for the courage to trust your beauty even when it is difficult to see. I pray for the courage to embody every fruit of your Spirit so that others in the world may be able to witness glimpses of the peace that is to come. Teacher, teach our hearts to diligently and ceaselessly search for you throughout all our days. Teach us to desire true beauty and to spurn anything that isn’t. Forgive me, us, for refusing to relinquish our grasp on the world. Help us to truly see all that it teaches as a lie and ignite in us, while on earth, an insatiable desire for your truth. I love you and in Jesus’ name Amen.

Beauty Raped I
Alexandra Green
Image for the story Beauty Raped I