Where was God? The Spiritual Questions of Sexually Abused Children, Part 3

5 years ago


The Experience of Evil / Is God stronger than Evil? 

 It was my own experience that a malevolent energy was present during my ordeals that was connected to and more than the sadism of my abuser.  The real terror for me was not only that I might be spiritually lost but that I might be left alone with a terrifying power. The existence of evil has never been a question for me. I have been privileged to share recovery with brave women and men who were abused as children in satanic ritual.  Their experience of evil was palpable.

Not every child who is sexually abused relates an experience of an evil spiritual presence. There are many ways to understand “the spiritual forces of wickedness” that the Episcopal baptismal vows call us to renounce.[1] There is the power of the addiction of the abuser, the power of perverted sexuality and the force of the oppression of the weak by the strong. All these can become more than the sum of their parts and take on lives of their own. The systematic tearing of personal and family fabric that occurs in addiction, for instance, has long been chronicled.[2] We may or may not believe as St. Paul does that we fight “against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places” (Eph 6:12), that is, that there are spiritual beings of evil intent that may feed on systemic evil, but go beyond it.   In any case, underneath the shame, children of abuse know that they are in the hands of an unsafe power that is out of their control. For survivors of sexual trauma, such power is a living reality that sits at the edges of terror well into adulthood.

 Most abuse takes place within the home or the neighborhood of the child.  Many children experience their ordeals within earshot or close proximity to the adults they assumed would protect them. Much abuse happens by the adults that should be their protectors.  The basic sense of safety, if present at all in a child’s life, rests primarily in the adults who care for the child.  The experience of being exposed to the destructive energy of sexual violence while the protectors are unresponsive adds to the child’s belief that nothing can stop the abusive power. Finding ways to feel safe becomes a lifelong driving force. 

The question of whether God (Good) is more powerful than Evil is a question no amount of fairytale endings can answer for children of abuse.


[1] Book of Common Prayer, 302.

[2] See From Survival to Recovery: Growing Up in an Alcoholic Home (Virginia Beach, VA: Al Anon Family Groups).

This post is taken from an article I wrote for the Sewanee Theological Review  48:1 (Christmas 2004): 87-108.

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