In a fallen world where unspeakable evil occurs, the church must be a place that shines the hope of the gospel into the darkness. One dark corner of our world is sexual assault. The statistics are astonishing. One in four women and one in six men have been or will be victims of sexual assault. The effects are horrific. And the world is not short of remedies: self-help, self-love, and self-heal. Unfortunately for the victims, these answers are “horrible news.”
Justin Holcomb, a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and his wife, Lindsey Holcomb, equip the church to rise and meet the challenge of helping victims of sexual assault, not by the empty hope of self-help, but by grace, redemption, and restoration in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ in their book, Rid Of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.
Let me be up front with the matter. I really liked this book. Pastors should read it, and victims of abuse will be encouraged by the authors’ honesty and care. So to briefly comment on the book’s content and its usefulness to pastors, counselors, and victims, let me give four brief reflections on its value to the local church’s ministry to the afflicted.
1. It deals honestly and directly with sexual assault.
It presents a clear and full definition, giving victims, churches and pastors clarity on what constitutes sexual assault. They describe in vivid detail numerous effects the assault brings upon a person. Victims will feel like they are not alone, while pastors and counselors will have an invaluable resource for learning what is going on inside the victim when their own words cannot express the inner turmoil. We need an honest and direct book because “surveys and studies indicate that most people know almost nothing about the dynamics of sexual violence and have little or no experience in dealing with it.”
2. It displays the prevalence of sexual assault and its effect on the victims.
“One in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. These statistics are probably underestimates . . . every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted.” These numbers are overwhelmingly high, even considering the problem of under-reporting, and it knows no boundaries of “color, race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, sexual preference, education, class, occupation, ability, or disability.” No matter where we live or minister, there are hurting people all around us, even on Sunday mornings.
The only thing more sobering than the numbers is its effect. Sexual assault can affect every aspect of your life: “your faith, your daily attitudes and emotions, your-self image, your relationships, and your sexuality.” Our churches, along with their pastors, ministers, staffs, and volunteers, can discover new avenues for gospel proclamation and transformation if we can begin to grasp the prevalence of sexual assault and its devastating effects.
3. It is gospel-centered and immensely practical.
The foundation for healing from the first pages is the gospel. The Holcombs never stop returning to it, continually pointing people to the grace found in Christ alone. God’s way of redeeming his people was through Christ’s suffering on the cross, but the cross is also where our disgrace is transformed. This a practical theology of grace applied to the disgraceful experiences and effects of sexual assault. Our counseling ministry will have this book on hand and will be used in our training seminars classes.
4. God is glorified in every chapter.
One of the phrases you hear at Mars Hill Church is “It’s all about Jesus,” and this book is no exception, as Jesus is exalted on every page. God’s grace, his “one-way, unconditional love expressed through, and founded on, the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ” is marveled at from cover to cover. Even if you have never been sexually assaulted or have never ministered to someone who has, this book will cause you to contemplate the depths of the riches of the grace of God in the person and work of Jesus.
Sin is devastating. Maybe more than we realize most days. But the wretched nature of sexual assault gives us a glimpse of sin’s deep darkness. However, the Holcombs show that even if sin goes deeper than you could ever imagine, God’s grace goes deeper still.