This is Part 3 of my interview with Justin Holcomb, who wrote Rid of My Disgrace with his wife, Lindsey.
Justin earned his PhD at Emory and is a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. For more about Justin, see here:
To buy the book, Rid of My Disgrace, see here:
For Part 1 of the interview:
For Part 2 of the interview:
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GL: In your book you deal with the emotions following the trauma of sexual assault. How does the Gospel bring hope and healing?
JH: We deal with the negative and destructive emotions that result from sexual assault. Emotions are not merely physiological impulses that can be simply ignored, trivialized, or controlled. Our emotions are not just chemicals in our brain and physiological responses to stimuli. Emotions are to be taken seriously and listened to. They reveal what you believe about God, yourself, your experience of sexual assault, others, and the world. What you believe has a huge connection to how you respond to disgrace, violence, denial, shame, guilt, fear, anxiety, bitterness, despair, and so on.
The beliefs that accompany the development, maintenance, and increase of disgrace and distress are directly responsible for generating dysfunctional emotions and their effects for victims. This means that emotions can be fed or fought by the one experiencing them. Grace of God fights against the emotions accompanying your disgrace and nurtures you new emotions.
The gospel of Jesus offers new emotions to victims and how they relate to the current emotions victims experience.
Grace offers to victims the gift of refuting distortions and faulty thinking and replacing their condemning, counterfactual beliefs with more accurate ones that reflect the truths about God, themselves, and God’s grace-filled response to their disgrace.
God’s grace dismantles the beliefs that give disgrace life. Grace re-creates what violence destroyed.
GL: What are specific ways family, friend, and pastors can help?
JH: 1. Listen. Don’t be judgmental. Research has proven that the only social reactions related to better adjustment by victims were being believed and being listened to by others.
2. Let them know the assault(s) was not their fault.
3. Let them know they did what was necessary to prevent further harm.
4. Reassure the survivor that he or she is cared for and loved.
5. Be patient. Remember, it will take him/her some time to deal with the crime.
6. Encourage the sexual assault victim to seek medical attention.
7. Empower the victim. Don’t tell them what they should do or make decisions on their behalf, rather present the options and help them think through them.
8. Encourage the survivor to talk about the assault(s) with an advocate, pastor, mental health professional, law-enforcement officer, or someone they trust.
9. Let them know they do not have to manage this crisis alone and then follow through on supporting them.
10. Remember that sexual assault victims have different needs (what may have been beneficial for one person might not work for another).
11. Remember not to ask for probing questions about the assault. Probing questions can cause revictimization. Follow the victim’s lead and listen.
12. Challenge the myths and misconceptions that promote self-blame.
13. Learn what to say and what not to say.
GL: Is there any additional practical advice for parents who are walking with a child through dealing with the effects of sexual assault?
JH: 1. Don’t minimize or deny or blame them for happened to them.
2. Advocate for your child. This means pursuing justice by calling the police and finding a good counselor who know show to deal with sexual abuse of children.
3. If the assault occurred because of your negligence, ask your child to forgive you.
4. Fight against the lies for them. Communicate frequently this message: “What happened to you was not your fault. You are not to blame. You did not deserve it. You did not ask for this.”
GL: What is the one impact you long for most of all with your book?
JH: The disgrace that results from sexual assault has a way of grinding people down and heaping huge burdens on them. Because of it people feel lonely, filthy, worthless, repulsive, hopeless, and unwanted. Our hope is that God will use the clear Gospel message of the book to eliminate that disgrace and its effects. What victims need is for God to be strong when they are weak and to be close to the brokenhearted. We want people to experience God fulfilling his promises to them. We pray that God uses the book to apply the grace from Jesus deeper than the wounds people have experienced.”
GL: What would you say to those who say, "I don't believe there's healing for this. I've tried this 'trust Jesus' stuff and it hasn't worked"?
JH: I’d ask them what their hope for healing looks like. We don’t mean “trust Jesus” as if it is some magic potion that makes all the pain immediately evaporate. Discussing expectations seems key here, but we don’t mean this in a patronizing way. Memories sometimes haunt. Despair can return or linger. Physical effects might not be healed. Your distorted self-image might be persistent. However, God is going for the root cause, not only the symptoms. The grace of God because of Jesus gets to the heart of our denial, shame, negative identity, lingering guilt, anger, and despair. The healing of God’s redemption begins now but is not done yet and it completed in the future. He is making all things new and one day God will wipe away all our tears (Rev 17:7).
Trusting Jesus isn’t a faint hope in generic spiritual sentiments, but is banking our hope and future on the real historical Jesus who lived, died, and rose from the dead. That means believing that Jesus is who he claimed to be (God in the flesh) and believing what he did—lived the life we should have, died the death we should have, and rose from the dead, which conquered our ultimate enemy. That means believing that the Bible is true as it talks about God’s character and all the benefits of being a child of God. What we are suggesting is being at God’s mercy in the best sense of that phrase.
We need to be reminded of the Good News on a regular basis. Our hearts wander, so a community of believers who will help us connect the dots between the truth of the Gospel and the reality of our pain is helpful. Under the pain of trauma, our minds doubt. So reading about apologetics can be helpful to some.
Psalm 34:18 says that God is “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in Spirit.” Ask him to make that promise a reality for you. God is like a good father who likes to give his children good gifts.
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For the fourth and final segment of the interview with Justin, and for a free giveaway of a chapter in the book, come back later today.