Somewhere Today … (by David Opderbeck)

The Girl in the Cage, the Lion, and the Lamb

Somewhere in America right now, there is a little girl locked in a dog cage.  A man will bind her with duct tape.  The man will sexually abuse her while another takes pictures and videos.  The men will distribute these materials over a vast network of child pornography file sharing servers.  Tens of thousands of other men will look at the pictures and videos, discuss them in chat rooms, use them as masturbatory tools, and demand more.  And they will get more, much more.

I know this is true because I’m teaching a course this semester on “Cybersecurity Law.”  Most of the course focuses on commercial and public espionage – hacking, data theft, and so on.  This week, however, the topic has been online safety – cyberstalking, harassment, obscenity and child pornography.  Our guest speaker yesterday was the Brian Sinclair, Chief of the Computer Crime Prosecution Unit in Bergen County, New Jersey.  While he mercifully didn’t show us any of the volumes of child porn his unit has seized over the years (it is technically a felony to display such materials even in an educational setting), he described in general terms the sorts of things that commonly appear, including what he noted as  “disturbing recent trend” towards the literal caging of victims.

What is justice? When is justice? Where is justice?

It is nearly impossible to theologize about something like this without becoming either morose or trite.  Bergen County is a wealthy suburb of New York City, and most of the perpetrators of child pornography and child cyberstalking here are educated middle-aged men.  I could write about how the corruptions of wealth and power tempt these men to think of themselves as above any sense of law, morality or decency.  Or, I could write about the perversion of the mainstream entertainment media, and how it feeds into far darker “entertainments.”  I could explore how these sorts of practices explode whatever reticence I might have about the personal reality of the “demonic.”  These are worthy topics.

But I feel compelled to write today about the victims.  The girl in the cage is rarely rescued.  As Assistant Prosecutor Sinclair explained, in the rare cases where the prosecution is able to obtain a victim statement, the victim usually has already grown to adulthood.

Where is “Justice” for these victims?

This is a piercing theological question.  Any wise theologian will first admit that he or she cannot really offer anything like a satisfying answer.  As a Christian, I cannot offer a satisfying answer.  I can offer a Lament.  I can offer some action, even the meager offering of a law school course that maybe helps raise awareness.   And I can cling to a glimmer of hope, which I know with the heart of faith is more than a glimmer:  Christ will return and make this right.  Indeed, I can pray for these victims, and as I do so I can strain forward with the Church and the saints throughout all the ages towards the day when Christ will bring final justice into this world, the day of his return.

We Christians have lost, I’m afraid, the “blessed hope” of Christ’s return (Titus 2:13).  On the one hand, this is because the dispensational “Left Behind” theology has perverted this hope into a wish for me to be “raptured,” leaving the world – including the girl in the cage, if she has not made a “conscious decision for Christ” (and how could she, being locked up and tortured?) — to burn in dramatic High Definition and Dolby Surround Sound.  It’s a sort of parousia porn.  On the other hand, the this-worldly rendering of the parousia popularized by figures such as Jurgen Moltmann and N.T. Wright, while offering a valuable and necessary correction to dispensationalism, at times seems to mitigate the drama and decisiveness of Christ’s personal return.

The Biblical drama of the parousia is that it is a final unveiling of what is truly real.  Evil and injustice and the powers of this world are to be unmasked and shown for what they truly are.  Christ is to be shown fully for who he truly is.  The Church is to be shown fully for what it truly is.  All will see and know.

The girl in the cage will see and know. If the Bible’s claims about God’s unwavering compassion for the poor and oppressed are true, then I have a confident hope, indeed a kind of certainty, that the girl in the cage will recognize Christ the Lamb, will be drawn into his blessed presence, will be welcomed into the company of the saints who have held her in their prayers, will be marvelously healed.

The men with the duct tape and cameras will see and know.  I won’t presume to know the fate of any such individual person.  Yet I am certain, based on the Biblical witness, that many of them will gape in terror and hatred at Christ the Lion, and will justly be devoured.

None of this is comforting to the girl in the cage right now – again, how could it be, while she is locked up and tortured and unaware of her own hope for redemption?  None of it excuses the work that must be done right now to free her.  But it should compel Christians to echo on of the concluding prayers of the Christian scriptures, without which no Christian account of “justice” is complete:

He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20-21.)

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • nitika

    So long as the evil is over there with the bad men with the duct tape and the camera, there will be no justice for that little girl.

    Come, Lord Jesus
    Come today in us!

    Teach us that hairless legs are not sexy.
    Show us the children in our own lives that are not properly cared for.
    Allow us to nurture a child as a foster parent.
    Forgive us our sexual sins.
    Teach us the truth about our sexuality.
    Help us to mentor our own children and those we influence into this truth.


  • Craig Querfeld

    Thanks for the post and the intermingling of hope in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation. It does make you think how or if our theological constructs offer real hope.

    Thanks again,

  • Robby Charters

    I’ve been wondering what “correct theology” says about a person (the girl in the cage is a good example) who has never known even a moment of true happiness in their life. — Another case in point that actually got me thinking: Golda Meir, in her autobiography, MY LIFE, stated that she remembered not a single happy moment from her childhood before emigrating from Russia to U.S. — What happens to such a one? They’ve never known a moment of happiness, their life has been hell. If they fail to “Receive Jesus as their saviour” at some point, do they go back to hell again for another round (this time, eternal)?

    On the other hand, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, never mentions that Lazarus ever had any experience that would be interpreted as a conversion. Yet, he’s seen at Abraham’s bosom. That is a comforting thought. Another passage is where Jesus, the Judge, says to the sheep on his right, “You saw me hungry and you fed me, you saw me naked and you clothed me, you … saw me locked in a cage being tortured and raped, you cried out for justice …

    … Well?

  • Albion

    David: So what did he say that was so disturbing to these guys?

  • Albion

    oops, wrong thread!

  • MatthewS

    I sometimes wonder about such victims. The children sold into prostitution, etc. As mentioned, those who never know happiness. I think of them as people who have never really seen the sky. The girl in the cage – it’s a powerful, heart-rending image.

    The cycle of sin and abuse is so disturbing. Sometimes men and women who perpetrate terrible abuse are themselves victims of terrible abuse. IOW, the girl in the cage may grow up to perpetrate terrible abuses against others. What then?

    The only possible hope for such a sick cycle must come from the one who is able to create and make a new creation, from the one who is able to bring new life from death.

  • Richard


    Thanks for this post. I know you didn’t focus on the perpetrators of such injustices but your comments regarding their motivations brought to mind Henri Nouwen’s comments regarding intimacy and pornography from the opening pages of Reaching Out in which he links the disconnectedness and loneliness of our society with the search for pseudo-intimacy through pornography.

    Building intimate, self-disclosing, vulnerable relationships is the only remedy I’ve seen to pornography addiction and the search for intimacy that is being pursued in those dark and shadowy places and that’s what will ultimately happen at the parousia, not just that we will know but that we will finally be known:

    “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know if part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known…” (1 Cor. 13:12)

    Thank you again for your post.


  • dopderbeck

    Richard (#7) and MatthewS (#6) — thanks for the comments about men entangled in this stuff. We do need to affirm that God can, and desires to, redeem these men as well. I have friends that have struggled with various kinds of porn and sex addictions, and I believe they belong to God and that God is working to heal them.

    Does God also desire to redeem the guy with the camera and duct tape? Yes, I believe He does. As we get closer to this guy, it gets more difficult, doesn’t it? There is also a Biblical theme that when people pursue darkness, there is some point at which God grants them the fruits of that pursuit, and allows their hearts to become hardened. Where that point is I suppose is known only in God’s own councils. We in the meantime yearn both for mercy and justice.

  • Andy W.

    Everyone and every church should be using a reliable web filter to protect from the temptations and prolific availability of pornography. Who hasn’t typed in something incorrectly and ended up at a web page totally unintended? Or did a google search for something and was provided inappropriate links? This is a completely reliable and FREE web filter that my church and my family use to keep internet content appropriate. It can be set-up easily at the router level, so that any computer accessing your network cannot get inappropriate content. Get this for you and your family today!

  • Wesley Walker

    Stories like this help me better realize why Paul, can use the vengeance of God upon those who oppress people as a tool for comfort in 2 Thessalonians.

    I pray these individuals will turn from there sins (as I pray we all will), but I also do find comfort in the fact that those little boy and little girls will be avenged by God, the perfect Judge.

  • Houghton Grandmal

    I have repeatedly tried to post a comment but get a response that it’s “too spammy.” It was not that long. I can only assume that it used words like sexuality and procreation and gratification several times. The first part follows. A thread on child pornography on a site that apparently has filters of the sort it has seems to be asking for trouble.

    The root problem here is the sexual revolution of the 1960s, which was triggered by widespread contraception and furthered by unlimited legalized abortion (Roe v. Wade in effect put no limits, since “health of the mother” even in the third trimester could be interpreted to justify almost any abortion.) By severing any link between sex and procreation we unleashed a disordered sexuality that takes many different forms. One of them is child pornography.

    I went on to give two arguments supporting the above. Since the system won’t take them, I’ll have to stand by the main point above.

  • Houghton Grandmal

    Here is my second paragraph. The system rejected it when combined with the third paragraph. Is anything below objectionable?

    Sex and procreation within the context of an irrevocable bond of man and woman have to be brought back together again before we are going to have a ghost of a chance of attacking this problem. We have made children into trophies, toys, tools, pawns for custody battles, indeed, have made them legally killable if unwanted, all because of a disordered sense that we can make babies when we wish or indulge ourselves without making babies when we wish and no one can dare to tell us otherwise–that sex is all about us and our sexual “needs,” needs that we get to define for ourselves rather than asking about what Nature and Nature’s God means by the way He made us.

  • Houghton Grandmal

    And this was the third paragraph:

    As John Paul II pointed out in Evangelium Vitae, the fundamental problem is an attitude that sees our bodies, our sexuality, all of Nature as mere raw material for our manipulation. With that attitude, small wonder that some people use children in the most horrible ways as mere raw material for their gratification. Adults use each other that way, these days, too. The difference is that they have to be more manipulative and disguise their techniques of merely using each other. Children are much weaker and make easy targets. But mere use is around all over the place in the “liberated” and “progressive” sexuality of our day.

  • Ben Wheaton

    One can truly understand the Psalmist’s cry, “How long, O Lord?” when we read about things like what David described. God’s return will vindicate his righteousness, and do justice on all the evil of the earth, which will be exposed for what it is.


    Where in Scripture do you get the idea that all the oppressed will be saved, just because they are oppressed?

  • MatthewS


    In Acts 11, Barnabas and Saul are ministering in Antioch, a large city. Antioch was perhaps something of a Las Vegas of its day. Juvenal complained that the sewage of Antioch (“Its lingo and manners, its flutes, its outlandish harps With their transverse strings, its native tambourines,
    And the whores who hang out round the race-course”) flowed down the river and affected Rome.

    It was there, as you likely know, that the disciples were first called Christians and it became a significant hub of Christian thinking and writing.

    I am encouraged when I remember that Christianity has faced sin and evil, even deeply embedded into the culture, since its beginning. I just wonder if we could go back and redo the 60′s, if we’d really solve the problem that David addresses in his post today. Perhaps there would be things just as dark, crying out for the light of the gospel.

  • Alan K

    Ben #14,

    Where in Scripture does one get the idea that the oppressed would not be saved? Does God say, “I hear your cries but there’s only so much room in the resurrection”? Does God say, “You kinda deserved it”? Did God forget the concentration camps or other victims of genocide?

  • alan

    All kinds of theological thoughts are swirling through my head as I read this. But the only word I can think to say is, “Amen!”

  • Ann F-R

    Houghton, to place the root of this sin in the 1960′s is to misplace it. (It made me wonder, “what personal point is he trying to drive home with such an argument?” Is your appeal to an RCC papal encylical an indication of an agenda?) Sexual sins, diminution, dehumanization and objectification of women/children/”others” are historically and culturally pervasive, testified to in ancient documents. The OT deals with its fall-out, as do Jesus and the NT authors. Our theology place the root in our flesh, our rebellion against and attempted usurpation of the position of the One God who created everyone, male, female, multi-racial, aging (whenever that occurred!), vulnerable…

  • Ann F-R

    BTW, I sincerely thank you, David, for posting your thoughts here and for teaching this class. It’s a subject most would prefer to avoid, but it’s so necessary to bring victimization into the light. We would encounter it when we were working with abuse victims & their families at the shelter. The damage done…there are no words for how deep it goes.

  • jordan

    I originally sent this to David via email because I thought maybe it would maybe derail the conversation but he said it would be OK. In the post, David says:

    “The girl in the cage will see and know. If the Bible’s claims about God’s unwavering compassion for the poor and oppressed are true, then I have a confident hope, indeed a kind of certainty, that the girl in the cage will recognize Christ the Lamb, will be drawn into his blessed presence, will be welcomed into the company of the saints who have held her in their prayers, will be marvelously healed.”

    How do you square that (if you do) with Sola Fide? My heart just really goes out to the “girl in the cage” and the many many others in similarly unjust and oppressive situations. But I don’t know how to square that with what seems to me to be a fairly solid Biblical conception that salvation is through faith in Christ and doesn’t depend on the state of our existence here on Earth.

  • dopderbeck

    Response to Jordan (#20):

    I wrestle with this question too. This post is part of my wrestling with that. I affirm along with the mainstream Christian tradition (Catholic and Protestant) that salvation comes only through faith in Christ.

    I can’t say that I have an authoritative answer, but here is how I’m thinking about it:

    What exactly is “fide”? And “when” and “how” exactly is “fide” expressed?

    Those of us with strong roots in the evangelical tradition tend to lean towards a very dramatic, verbal, cognitive view here. We want to know when a person raised her hand in an evangelistic meeting, or signed a decision card.

    There are some valid Biblical and pastoral instincts behind this, but OTOH both scripture and the Tradition are not so narrowly defined. I actually think the Reformers are helpful here: “faith” is not something we “do” or a “moment of decision” — it is the ongoing process of becoming united with Christ through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit. There is an important sense in which “faith” is always a “mystery” — something not fully realized cognitively by us in this life. “Faith” and the object of faith — becoming united with Christ — even for those of us who have had visible conversion experiences, will become complete only when we see Christ face-to-face. In other words, “justification” and “sanctification” are not really separate things — they are analytically separate for the purpose of systematizing doctrines of salvation, but they are not ontologically separate. Even very scholastic Reformed theology recognizes that the ordo salutis is an analytical construct, and that “salvation” in reality is a unified thing.

    So — I want to suggest that, for the girl in the cage, in a way that we or even she might not know, God is at work through Christ and the Spirit to produce “faith” in her. “When” will that faith be cognitively expressed? Maybe, only when she sees Christ face-to-face — upon his return, or perhaps upon her death before his return. This is why I suggest that evangelicals really haven’t wrestled with the importance of Christ’s personal return, despite our infatuation with the “Left Behind” stuff, and it’s why I speak of Christ’s return as an “unveiling” of what is truly real.

    If you’re savvy about this, you might object that it raises an important Trinitarian / Christological question, as well as an ecclesiological question: what is Christ’s role in the procession of the Spirit, and what is the Church’s role in the economy of salvation? In other words, can the Spirit produce “faith” in the girl in the cage without Christ or the Church? The Western view is that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son; the Eastern view is that the Spirit proceeds only from the Father (this is the filioque dispute over the different version of the Nicene Creed). The Western view is tied to a missiological and ecclesiological issue: can the Spirit produce faith in a person without the prior introduction of Christ by the Church?

    Without entering directly into the West / East dispute over the filioque, what I suggest in the post is that we evangelicals also tend to overlook the importance and power of prayer, as well as the importance and power of the Church as the body of all the saints throughout the ages, alive and dead. If the Church — we — are actively praying for the rescue and salvation of the girl in the cage, then I believe Christ can meet that girl even if she never sets foot in a Church, and even if she doesn’t at the moment cognitively know that she’s meeting Christ. Again — when she finally sees Christ, she will cognitively know what at present is a mystery. Therefore, I think both the procession of the Spirit from the Son and the Church’s missionary role in the economy of salvation are preserved.

    Whew — well, that’s my thinking at the moment. Again, I don’t claim to be the authority on all this. I’m drawing on lots of reading in the Church Fathers, Catholic Theology (von Balthasaar and Popes JP II and Benedict), some Pentecostal views (Amos Yong) and of course N.T. Wright et al. I hold these views provisionally and not as dogma. But, I do think they’re on the right track.

  • dopderbeck

    Ben (#14) — I don’t mean to suggest that “all” the oppressed will necessarily be saved. That would be presumptuous. What I want to express — and where I find enormous hope — is in the Biblical witness to God’s passion for the oppressed. Passages such as Psalm 103:6 summarize it this way: “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed” and Psalm 146:7-9 declares:

    He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
    The LORD sets prisoners free,

    the LORD gives sight to the blind,
    the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the LORD loves the righteous.

    The LORD watches over the alien
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

    Do we really believe that YHWH does this, that in His being this is what He is all about? Or is our soteriology and eschatology so lacking in faith that we don’t really believe God will accomplish what He has declared is His desire?

  • Ben Wheaton


    I’m not sure you’re interpreting those passages correctly. God has passion for justice, but the greatest injustice is not honouring him properly. If the oppressed do not honour God, how can they be judged guiltless? You seem to be saying that since God hates oppression, he must therefore be obligated to overlook all of their sins, even if they do not.

    You are taking these verses out of context, and marrying them to pure sentiment.

    I do not lack faith that God will accomplish what he has declared is his desire, but I do question your understanding of his desire.

    God hates injustice, and at the eschaton all injustice will be punished; but injustice is not only, or even chiefly, against our fellow man; it is against God.

    Here’s a question: what if that little girl grows up to hate God, and even when she is presented with the Gospel she rejects it because of her experience? Will she be saved?

  • Ray Ingles

    This kind of horror makes it pretty much impossible for me to believe in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic God.

    How can God allow such terrible things to happen? The usual answer is that God doesn’t want to interfere with free will… but what if the perpetrators of these crimes were found by the police? Would their imprisonment take away their free will?

    What if Jesus were walking by a house and saw such abuse happening? WWJD? Would he refrain from interfering so as not to trample the free will of the [words I can't post here]?

    Not being able to carry out one’s intentions doesn’t take away free will. I can’t choose to levitate, no matter how much I might want to… but presumably I have free will. Why are monsters like David describes allowed to carry out their horrors?

  • Richard

    @ 23 Ben

    It would be helpful to hear why you think David is “taking these verses out of context, and marrying them to pure sentiment” so we can discuss there merits of your interpretation vs. David’s.

  • dopderbeck

    Ben — actually I think you’re imposing a theological construct on the text, rather than allowing it to speak for itself. Or better, you’re imposing a theological construct on the text that is significantly mistaken — a construct other than the missio Dei. These Psalms, of course, aren’t offered as proof texts — they’re representative of the OT hope (a vast literature) and of the way that hope is fulfilled in Christ.

    The question about the girl surviving and growing up to hate God is a hard one, isn’t it? I won’t presume to know her final fate, one way or the other. Certainly her suffering does not render her free of all moral responsibility.

    Here is one thought: when is a rejection of the gospel “final?” When does the Good Shepherd relent from his pursuit the one lost sheep?

    Here’s another thought: do any of us who name the name of Christ claim that we are right now totally free of all “hatred” of God? Can anyone claim to be utterly without any remaining taint of rebellion?

    Biblically, there is no middle ground here: either you are united with Christ, or you are an enemy of God. Since no one is yet perfect in this life, we all experientially remain to some extent enemies of God. Yet, by grace through faith, we are declared friends of God and accepted by Him, and God continues to pursue friendship with us until we see Him face to face and our redemption is complete.

    If I believe that is true for me, then I will not presume that it cannot possibly be true for the bitter adult who was a victim of child sex abuse. If she won’t attend my church or take the sacraments or be baptized, I’ll weep and pray and minister and wait and try to understand and never give up. I’m convinced God won’t give up on her either.

  • dopderbeck

    Ray (#24) — I agree that this kind of horror exceeds the limits of a free will theodicy. I think free will theodicies are useful to some extent, but you’re right: it really isn’t enough to say the girl in the cage suffers just because God allows her tormentors the freedom to inflict suffering. At some point it is useless to try to offer explanations or defenses for this kind of evil. Evil is by definition inexplicable.

    But, for me this sort of evil is one reason I am a Christian. If there is no final justice, no hope of redemption, then there is nothing left but despair.

  • MatthewS


    FWIW, I just listened to this guy this week. As he laid under a pile of the bodies of his murdered friends, and then escaped to freedom, he heard the Tutsis dancing and celebrating. The Tutsis and their machetes – are they any better than the men and the duct tape in David’s story? He said “I struggled to understand.” understatement!

    But his talk ended with him talking about joy. God has given him joy, per Romans 5. It’s an amazing experience, someone with scars on their body, talking to you about how God leads from suffering to joy. And now, he helps people. He is not able to bring himself to return home to Burundi. But he is helping to provide clean water. His mom (in Burundi) tells him that the kids don’t get sick from the water in their village any more.

  • Mick

    How sad and offensive it seems to me to move from lament, intercession and whatever action we may be able to do to combat such evil and to care for these “little ones”, to a theological debate about the state or fate of their tortured soul.
    Lord have mercy.

  • Joe B

    The exreme nature of the “girl in the cage” forces us to drag our theology out into the light of reality. THANKS DAVID!

    I am still jet-lagged from an unlikely mission that may strain the limits of belief for some. Over the last few months God introduced us to a bunch of east-Europe internet sex performers who have since embraced Jesus. My wife and I traveled to meet them in person, to establish them in faith and in local fellowship, and to set them on the course of their own “mission from God”. Nope, no agency and no 501(c)3, just a couple of crazy people with duffel bags.

    Duct tape? No. Cages? Not really. But largely the same issues in play: The powerless kids pawning their bodies 16 hours at a time so some folks with extra cash can play with themselves. The gangs and pimps wait to devour her, and hunger does not wait. Economic duct tape and digital cages. Poor countries export souls, and the rich buy them one thin slice at a time.

    But, the faint voice of faith still told them “God does not hate you; this life is not your punishment.” A dozen of these kids have come to faith in Jesus this summer, but they all still have a problem: This may be a bad, bad occupation, but their next available option is far, far worse.

    Thanks again, David, for making us remember: While we debate whom God saves, whom he damns, and what magic words they must say to get His grace, an 18 year-old orphan named Isabel sits with a big rubber toy in her hand, and a camera pointed at her, while her 13 year old brother sleeps alone in their little flat. She has a cell phone too, and a cute yellow purse. “Will God be angry for that?”

    She is one of us now…what is Isabel’s next move, now that she trusts in Jesus? God is lifting her up. Are we?

  • Joe B

    #29 Mick, amen bother.

  • dopderbeck

    Joe B: awesome. Thank you.

  • scotmcknight

    It’s late in the game for this post, but a thought that constantly comforts me in the face of torment and heinous injustices:

    M. Volf’s book on memory got to me to think about the healing of memories in the grace and restoration of God in the kingdom. I hope for the day when not only wrong is made right but when those who have experienced injustice will experience the healing graces of God that restore their memories to the memories God designed them to have. Not only will they “forget” the injustice and the perpetrators but they will be given a memory of justice and peace.

  • jordan


    I certainly wasn’t trying to distract from the lament and intercession with my theological question. For me though the post certainly brings up some real deep issues regarding God’s justice and salvation. Those are really important issues, I think. I had a 81 year old lady ask me yesterday where God was in Auschwitz and when her 51 year old daughter died of cancer.

    I do lament, but in order to make sense of it all or to help those who struggle, I feel like I need to understand the larger reality of God’s ways and plans. While hoping God works it all out in the end can help wipe away the tears, I don’t know that it does much to really answer the questions. My fear would be that there may end up being many “hopeful” people in hell at the end, and I think that is a much more lamentable position to be in.

  • Joe B

    Fascinating, Scott. I have often wondered whether God’s justice may go beyond retribution and restitution, even to the rewinding and recreating of human experience.

  • DRT

    Thanks for that Scot. I have been having a terrible time with this all day. The first place I turned was Matthew 5, but somehow was not fulfilled in it. But your healing of memory, that adds to Matthew 5.

    4Blessed are those who mourn (she did),
    for they will be comforted (only one way, healing).
    5Blessed are the meek (forcibly meek),
    for they will inherit the earth (no longer constrained).
    6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (she needs righteousness),
    for they will be filled (ahhhh).

  • Jim

    A powerful statement. I’m reminded too of the horror of abortion–where young girls and boys are tortured and then killed. The difference being they will never grow older and our culture no longer considers it much of a horror.

  • dopderbeck

    Jordan (#34) said: My fear would be that there may end up being many ‘hopeful’ people in hell at the end, and I think that is a much more lamentable position to be in.

    I respond: I hear what you’re saying.

    We’ve all read tracts or heard evangelistic sermons which play on this theme: “do you ‘hope’ you’re good deeds will eventually outweigh your bad and get you into heaven?” Eventually the kicker comes: “your hope is terribly mistaken and what you really need to do is accept Christ!”

    For many of us evangelicals, we’ve almost been conditioned by this sort of thing to be skeptical of hope. What we want instead is the “certainty” of a mechanical transaction: I accepted Christ and filled out the decision card and now I don’t have to “hope” for heaven anymore — I “know” I’m saved!

    There is an important element of truth here. It’s true: hope in our own good works is no hope at all. Our only hope and assurance is through God’s grace in Christ. It’s good to point this out. It’s good to ask people to respond to it. The old “with every head bowed and every eye closed” isn’t necessarily a bad thing once in a while. This is part of our job as the Church: to invite people to respond to God’s grace with repentance and faith.

    BUT: we can’t reduce God’s salvation to this sort of mechanical individualistic transaction. This, in my personal experience, is the terrible shortcoming of popular evangelicalism. This is why popular evangelicalism simply offers no real hope at all concerning the girl in the cage — why much of popular evangelicalism ultimately is a philosophy either of selfishness or nihilism.

    AND: we can’t live in fear that proclaiming the breadth and depth and width of our hope in God’s salvation will give people “false” hope. We can’t strip away all the glory of the Biblical gospel and reduce it to an essentialist nugget out of fear that someone might misunderstand and not personally respond. That sort of reductionism always eventually leads to dysfunctional churches and missions, if not heresy. It also betrays a lack of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit, after all, and not us as the evangelists, who produces faith in the hearer. The evangelist proclaims, and the Spirit transforms.

    Obviously this doesn’t mean the Church can breezily neglect to warn people about the reality of judgment. No — that is part of our prophetic witness as well. But it does mean that we shouldn’t confuse either our proclamation or our warnings as the final disposition of God.

  • Kate Johnson

    As I sit here weeping for the girl, I can only echo the pain in my heart. Do we need a theological debate over this? Absolutely! But now, right now, can we just mourn? Thanks, Mick @29, it was what I was thinking as I read the comments.

  • scotmcknight

    Kate, thanks.

  • Kate Johnson

    You’re welcome.

  • DRT

    Powerful words dopderbeck, and I agree. They *know* that they are saved because that is what they believe therefore they don’t need to do anything else. Case closed.

    I don’t recall you coming out so succinctly before, did I miss it?

    One of the things that I routinely struggle with is the idea of the eternal sin. This is where i think there is a broad overlap with evangelical Christianity and some of the expressions expressed on this blog.

    It does not matter if we do what Jesus says. He is just telling us what we should do. It does not matter if we do what god tells us to do. But we need to do what the Holy Spirit tells us to do. We will know if we have doubts about the way we are going about things. The Holy Spirit, the counselor will help with our life.

    Give the individual nature of the revelation of the Spirit, there cannot be a formula, a method, a list of commandments, or most directly to what you said, a pledge that we can take that will get us our freedom. Our freedom is given on a decision by decision basis. We will not be judged by our oath, but by our action.

    Some day I would like to see a thread on the unforgivable sin here.

  • DRT

    Rats. Take back all I said in my last comment based on the three before that.

  • DRT


    Are you serious?

  • Kate Johnson

    BTW, I so appreciated Volf’s book end of memory. and I do appreciate your comments, Scot. “I hope for the day when not only wrong is made right but when those who have experienced injustice will experience the healing graces of God that restore their memories to the memories God designed them to have. Not only will they “forget” the injustice and the perpetrators but they will be given a memory of justice and peace.” AMEN!

  • Ann F-R

    I knew a little girl who screamed at the man abusing her mother that she hated him. Then she ran away in fear, but he chased her and yelled, “THIS IS LIFE!”

    She testifies to this day, that she immediately “heard” another voice, with far more authority revoking that statement with, “NO, IT IS NOT!”

    She became a Christian because of people who knew the Lord that God put in her life, who loved her. The Lord allowed her to walk out what forgiveness meant in real life, real time, over decades with that man – her father.

    Our God is stronger and the voice of the HOLY Spirit testifies with far more clarity and authority than the voices of all the unholy spirits out there. We need to be the hands and feet of Christ that enable the victims to see Jesus in our bodies, not just hear a voice they might later doubt.

  • dopderbeck

    Ann (#46) — tragically beautiful story. This is the sort of thing where I think we really do have to let go of some of our expectations — even fears — about how the Spirit of God works. Kate (#49) is right — I didn’t write this as a kind of systematic theological debate or to criticize, even though I myself got into that mode a bit in my own comments! It’s a lament, a reflection, a spiritual exercise. I did, of course, embed some serious theology in the post, which I tried to explain in #21. But please read this all not as a critique of any particular viewpoint or method, but as a lament for the victim.

  • Ray Ingles

    Not only will they “forget” the injustice and the perpetrators but they will be given a memory of justice and peace.

    Scot, feel free to delete this comment and email me personally if you like, but…

    I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anything quite so terrifying. Remembering a life that didn’t actually happen? How would that person be “them” in any real sense? I thought God was Truth?

  • Ann F-R

    Ray, I don’t claim to know Scot’s POV in his remark and I wouldn’t have chosen the word he used, “forget,” but rather, “forgive.” I do know that victims who’ve chosen, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to forgive (literally, “let go”) of the crimes perpetrated against them and to give grace to the perpetrators know a peace from God that passes human intellectual understanding. (Giving grace does not imply excusing their actions.)Perhaps, they are able to see God’s justice more clearly than the rest of us because they see with compassion how the spiral of evil actions distorts the humanity in the perpetrator and warps the life s/he has lived. To put an end to that spiral requires dying to our own desires to be god over them, to wreak our own forms of justice and punishment. The Truth is that Love brings life to the victim, not vengeance. Love also will bring life to perpetrators, if they are willing to die to their own justifying & cycling of evil. The Truth is that Love from God can perceive the brokenness and distortions in the perpetrator’s humanity and mourn for his/her perpetuation of the spiral of evil actions.

    Belief in God is ultimately trust in the revealing of God’s Love, Faithfulness, Truth & Justice. If you want to see living miracles, there are victims who’ve loved their abusers with a love that defies and supersedes our human condition. I recall meeting non-”white” S. Africans who spoke of the presence of Christ being so immediate when they were confronted with racist injustice that Christ was, to them, physical. There are victims such as David speaks of who’ve lived out God’s truth, love & justice to members of their own families. There are families of murder victims who’ve chosen to interact with and “redeem” the murderer, even while he serves in prison.

    It seems to me that it’s only in the continuing acts of “letting go” of the wrongs done to us can we begin to “forget” the past wrongs in the light of redeeming it for a better future with unflinching truth and love.

  • DRT

    Thanks Ann, and Thanks Ray for pointing that out.

    I don’t know what Scot and M. Volf think, but here is how I internalized it.

    When I was a young soon to be father, my wife started to have problems about 12 weeks before the baby was due. Over the next 6 weeks, she was in labor 3 (or was it 4?) time for 30 some hours each time and the doctors were able to successfully stop it. The final time, 6 weeks before full term, and after 40+ hours of labor she was actively looking for a way to end it all and I had to find, then threaten the doctors with physical harm to let the birth happen.

    Our son, all skinny, yellow and whiney was born that day and you would have never know that such an ugly, boney thing could be such a blessing to two people. Everything ended up fine, except that he is now 17 and I want to …well nevermind.

    My wife “forgot” about what happened, and was finally willing to allow us to have 2 more, wonderful, fabulous, and fulfilling children.

    That’s how I interpreted the “forgot” of memory. My wife knows that the pain happened, but she does not feel the pain.

  • Kate Johnson

    I just finished presenting an all-day seminar on child abuse. It is one of the things I do. But it is always draining. And today, as I was talking, I again thought of the cage, and the soul inside the cage, and the souls in other cages (some literal, some not) and again I weep.
    Forgetting the memory is about healing, about letting go, and about forgiveness (the true meaning of healing memories). And in letting go we know God will handle it all. It is about envisioning the way it should have been and wasn’t. It is about grieving the loss, it is about mourning. And then, in the quiet moments of freedom, finding a new Morning. In the arms of the One who loved and looked on, but was there in our weeping and wept.
    I will post a poem separately that I wrote on my own healing journey. Read it as a cry of the soul. Read it as a prayer. Mostly, read it as the redemption I found. And praise Him that He found me when I needed Him most.

  • Kate Johnson

    By Kate Johnson ©

    I sat today and watched a show on child abuse. How did I know
    that memories would flood my mind, and peace today is hard to find……..
    For father never hugged me.

    Remembering my growing years, the hurt, the pain, eyes filled with tears.
    The “spankings” when we’d misbehave, the belt, the fist, no kiss or praise……..
    For father never hugged me.

    Too often “bad”, sent to my room, left alone with sorrow and gloom
    The times I cried while in my bed, just wishing I would just be dead……….
    For father never hugged me.

    No mother or father to hold me near and tell me I was wanted here
    The shame I felt for being born, Was more than I could bear alone………
    For father never hugged me.

    Punched in the stomach and on the floor I remember him laughing as he walked to the door. “It didn’t hurt!” he said to me, What did it matter I could not breathe?……..
    For father never hugged me.

    He’s right, now that part hurts no more, at least not like an open sore.
    But the scars that are left hurt more than pain, I wish more than anything I could explain……..
    How Father really loved me.

    So today I prayed, “God help me please to heal the pain and find release
    from years and years of loveless days, I need to put the past away………
    When Father never hugged me.”

    “My precious child” He answered me, “I love you more than you can see
    I am the Father you never had, the One who cried each day you were sad,
    and I will always love you.

    I’ll kiss away each tender tear. Abide in me, no more to fear.
    I love you, child”. He told my heart, and I knew at that moment, we’d never part,
    And then… my Father hugged me.

  • Ann F-R

    May God, our true Father, bless and keep you, Kate, and make his face to shine upon you with tenderness and joy in all you’re allowing the Holy Spirit to do through you to touch others with the healing you yourself know. Grace and peace to you, sister in Christ! It’s good to have you in our family!

  • Kate Johnson

    Thank you Ann, it’s good to be IN the family!!!

  • scotmcknight

    You don’t accept a Christian eschatology so far as I know, but I’m referring to the discussion of the connection between identity, memory, and the healing of memories (forgetting including) by Miroslav Volf.

  • MargeeDyck

    Upon reading such a heart-wrenching story, I can only find comfort in remembering:

    1. The verse, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” God’s sense of justice far exceeds our own and somehow He WILL balance the books someday!

    2. The true story I read of a group of young women in sexual slavery who, when in pain and hopelessness, crowded together to sing “Jesus Loves Me, This I know.” I believe that sometimes Jesus reveals himself to and comforts such as the caged little girl.

    3. The testimony of a notorious sinner who, in what he beleived were in his last seconds of life, repented and had a revelation of Christ. He stated that if he had died in the accident that day, everyone would have believed him to be in Hell, but he would have been in Heaven. We can only leave people’s eternal destiny to God and believe that He is massively merciful and redemptive. A comfort since we all need mercy.

  • Ray Ingles

    Well, Scot, I read Volf’s “Memory, Salvation, and Perdition” and remain unconvinced, at least of how you present it here. He makes very good points that identity is bound up not so much in memory as in the way we process memories, what we do with them.

    But while he’s quite correct that we are more than our memories, he still admits that our memories still form a “very significant” part of us. Memories can be transformed and reinterpreted, but I can’t see how excising them – or, as I got from your comment, substituting other memories – could preserve identity. I suspect either I misunderstood you, or the essay by Volf that I read doesn’t present a full summary of his thoughts.