Diane Langberg: Where is God When There’s Abuse?

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Diane Langberg: Where is God When There's Abuse?
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It’s perhaps one of the most painful questions that survivors ask: Where is God when there’s abuse? Or, where was God when I was abused?

In this powerful message from the Restore Conference, internationally recognized trauma expert and psychologist, Dr. Diane Langberg, seeks to answer this difficult question.

But she openly admits, “I don’t know why God allows abuse. He hasn’t told me. And, believe me, I’ve asked.”

She also says: “I have for 50 years seen God’s work . . . and I have learned something of His character.”

Then, Dr. Langberg reminds us that there is no evil we have known that God hasn’t also known. We often think, “But if He loved me, He would not have let it happen.” But Dr. Langberg reminds us that God let horrific abuse happen to His own Son.

InOurLivesFirst-MeditationsForCounselors-Langberg

Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of $25 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of "In Our Lives First: Meditations for Counselors" by Dr. Diane Langberg.

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This Week’s Guest

Dr Diane Langberg

Diane Langberg, Ph.D. is globally recognized for her 50 years of clinical work with trauma victims. She has trained caregivers and church leaders on six continents on how to recognize and respond to trauma and the abuse of power in a healing way. Her most recent book is Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church.

Show Transcript

SPEAKERS
JULIE ROYS, DR. DIANE LANGBERG

JULIE ROYS 00:04
It’s perhaps one of the most painful questions survivors ask, where is God when there’s abuse? Or where was God when I was abused? Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And what you’re about to hear is one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever heard.

Dr. Diane Langberg, an internationally recognized expert on trauma and abuse attempts to answer that painful question of God and abuse. We’ve often heard it said, God is great, and God is good. But how do we put that together with abuse happening to innocent victims? This is the second message Dr. Langberg gave at the recent restore conference. And at one point, Dr. Langberg freely admits, I don’t know why God allows abuse. He hasn’t told me. But she also says, I have for 50 years seen God’s work and I have learned something of his character.

Then Dr. Langberg reminds us that there is no evil that we have known that God has not also known. We say but if he loved me, he would not have let it happen. But Dr. Langberg reminds us that God let horrific abuse happen to his own son. This is a heavy message for sure. But it’s also filled with so much hope and I feel honored and privileged to be able to share it with you.

But first I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University, and Marquardt of, Barrington Judson University is a top ranked Christian University providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus, the school offers more than 60 majors great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shaped the world. For more information just go to Judsonu.edu. Also, if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity and transparency. That’s because the owners there Dan and Kurt Marquardt are men of character. To check them out. Just go to buyacar123. com.

Well, again, what you’re about to hear is a message on Where is God when there’s abuse? by Dr. Diane Langberg. Dr. Langberg is a globally recognized psychologist with over 50 years of clinical experience with trauma victims. She’s also an author whose trained caregivers and church leaders on six continents on how to deal with trauma and abuse of power in a healing way. And just a quick note, we’re offering a devotional book by Dr. Langberg as our premium for the month of June. So, if you’d like to support our work and receive an outstanding book that has been a tremendous blessing to me personally, just go to Julieroys.com/donate. Here’s Dr. Diane Langberg.

DR. DIANE LANGBERG 03:03
The title I was given, in case anybody’s noticed, for this talk is where was God, where is he when there’s abuse? And just for the record, my first response to the request to speak on the subject was to think and say that anybody who agreed to talk on that particular topic was grandiose. And then I said yes. And my first honest answer is I really don’t know. My second answer is this. He has taught me some things along the path he sent me down completely unknown to me 50 years ago. 50 years ago this year, so maybe I do have a few things I can tell you.

My first steps along that new path were in 1972. I had a master’s degree and was working on my doctorate. I was the only female in the program. Trauma was not a clinical category until eight years later in 1980. I met with Vietnam vets when I first started out. And I also met with women and girls. And I was working in Christian practice part time and the women would ask to meet with me because I was female; certainly not because I knew anything. Over time, it dawned on me that the women and the vets had the same symptoms. And I decided there’s actually more than one kind of war zone in the world. I knew something about military war zones because I’m the daughter of an Air Force colonel who was in one of the lead planes dropping paratroopers in World War Two. But I knew nothing about war zones in homes and schools and churches. I heard very disturbing stories about domestic abuse, sexual abuse, rape, incest, and yes, trafficking. Though it was not a word at that time any more than trauma was. I went to a supervisor for some help, and he told me that women sometimes tell these hysterical stories, and your job is not to get hooked by them because you see if you do, you will be contributing to their pathology. I chose to listen to the women and not the supervisor. And of course, eventually, I began to hear familiar stories of like mind from men as well. Victims were my teachers, not the books, not the doctorate, and clearly not the supervisor.

Victims, and they still are, after 50 years, I am still their student. It’s been the honor of my life to do that. Most of them eventually would ask me the big question. Where was God? I believed that he was present because he says he’s present everywhere. I believed he was with us. I believed he wanted healing in some measure for everyone. But I did not know what to say about where he was when they were being abused. Some of them for many, many years. One question. That question ran deeper through the years as I encountered deep and horrific suffering. Sorry, I have a contact lens that is not behaving. And I encountered it across the globe. When I was nine and ten years old, my family lived in Japan. And I still have extremely vivid memories of visiting Nagasaki and Hiroshima and seeing the shadow left by a girl of about nine years old, who was jumping rope when the bomb hit and killed a quarter million precious people. They were disintegrated. I have stood in a church in Rwanda full of bones, a place of expected refuge, locked in and then slaughtered. I have visited Poland and stood in Auschwitz and then Ghana. I have been to Cape Coast Castle, where 1000s of precious human beings were forced through the door of no return. Human beings created in the image of God, loved by Him treated like trash to get rid of.

Where was God? Where is he now in the current ugly life destroying crises of today? Somewhere along the line of these 50 years, I told God one day that I was quitting. I’d had enough. I told him I didn’t want to do it anymore. I told him I didn’t understand him. And I couldn’t bear it. I was at the time, however, reading through the prophet Isaiah, and I came across these words in chapter 45, where God is speaking, I will go before you. Now listen, before you mean before you get there. And I will make the rough places smooth. I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut down the iron bars. I will give you the treasure of darkness and the hidden wealth of secret places so that you may know that it is I the LORD your God who calls you by your name. And that day, he began to teach me. First note he goes before. You think about that in this context of your life and what’s happened. The worst places, the terrifying places , the evil spaces and places that broke your heart and continue to do so. Wherever you have been. He says he went first Have you been crucified, rejected, left to die, if not physically, then at least emotionally, spiritually and crushed by someone in your life? He went before you. Have you been pushed aside and not believed? He has been there. He spoke, he told the truth, it was brushed aside, and he was told to shut up.

Sound familiar? Have you been treated like trash, stripped of your dignity? He became trash. Or perhaps you have been humiliated, scorned, laughed at, and he has gone before you. The places where we think he is absent because we cannot even see a tiny sign of him; those are the places to which he has gone before us. He’s there. He’s in the darkness that you have faced, the pain that you carry, the absence of hope, humiliation, and shame. And the next thing he says is, I will make the rough places smooth. Let me help you get rid of the potholes, He says. The places that perpetually trip you up in your life. I can shatter the doors of bronze and the iron bars that lock you in and imprison you, destroy your freedom. Understand, he is not saying those things are not there. He is not saying they won’t happen. He is saying that he is the way in those places, and he has gone before, and he is truth, and he is light so that you can see what is really true. And discern the lies of other people, which they have poured into your mind. Lies about you lies about him. He’s saying I want you to learn the truth, that it is not your fault.

I have taught that what comes out of a person comes from the heart of the person who does it. It does not come from the person it is done to. It is not coming from the person they are hurting. Rape comes from a rapist, not the victim. Child abuse comes from the perpetrator, never the child. He’s saying I don’t want you to carry the burden of their lives. And then he says this, I will give you the treasures of darkness. That phrase always fascinated me, and a hidden wealth of secret places so that you will know that it is I the LORD, dear God, who goes before, who calls you by your name. You know abusers don’t really care what your name is, you notice that? They just want to use you as a thing. They don’t name you and they do not get to say who you are. The one who goes before you names you. The one who goes before you is himself the treasure in the darkness. The one who cuts through the iron bars in your life and makes the rough places smooth. That one goes before you. He goes with you, and he calls you by name and he gives you a title of honor. He gives you a new name. No matter what has been done to you, you are the well-loved daughter or son of the King of kings. That is your identity.

You will never encounter hatred or abuse that he has not borne. The destruction of prisoners in Auschwitz, the destruction of precious people in the so-called House of God of Rwanda, the killings and rapes in Ukraine. The abuse and humiliation and destruction you have mourn, you will encounter no evil, no humiliation, and no shame that has not touched him first. He also knows something of the weight of the great silence of God. When we long for God to protect us. He too has asked God, the God of the universe, why did you forsake me? Didn’t you ask that? Why did you not hear me? This is Jesus talking to God. Jesus has borne the full weight of the great silence of God. He was there before you. And He longs to greet you in those places that you most want to avoid. He will greet you with his scarred body. He goes before you, and he waits. You know what he does while he waits? He knocks on your door. I want you to think about that. He doesn’t force his way in. That’s what the abuser does, right? He knocks. He says, Behold, I stand at the door, he’s on the outside, and I knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I’ll come in and have supper. I knock, he says, he does not force his way and he doesn’t push. He stands, He knocks, and he waits.

To push oneself into the life of another is a form of rape. He does not do that. It means to sneak in and steal, when you force yourself into a person’s life space. He knocks and he waits for your invitation, for you to open the door from your side, not his. And if you open the door, he just wants to have supper. How utterly unlike an abuser of any kind. Open, I will come in and I will share your dinner. And just to give you a peek, here’s a bit of what he might say to you over supper. Being an astute of course and observant psychologist, I am aware that everybody sitting in this room is a human being. I suspect that means different things to each of you, some good things, some precious and some painful. But let me tell you what it means in the eyes of God that you’re a human being. One you were deliberately created by God, and you bear his image. You’re here on purpose. You’re not an accident. I don’t care what humans did. You’re not an accident. You were knit together by the hands of the Father in your mother’s womb. Whether she liked the idea or not. And no matter how she got that way. He knit you together, you’re his handiwork. He who knit you loves you. You are precious in his sight and nothing on earth can take that away. No wrongdoing to you, no suffering, no mistreatment, no abuse, no disbelief can erase those truths. You may have been treated as worthless, but you are not. You may experience abuse, but you are precious to him. You may be ignored, but he sees you. The truths that I have stated cannot be undone. Not by any perpetrator. Because they are eternal truths. Perpetrators are not eternal.

We say if he loves me, he would not have let it happen. He let it happen to his precious son who went before you. It happened to him, and God went silent and dark. He has gone before you. It is also true that he created you for Himself. He who knocks and waits actually wants you. He longs for you. And he not only created you, that longing is something that he has expressed in many ways. You may feel like trash, but you are treasure to him. Nothing can remove or destroy that truth. No abuse can make that untrue. That is also true if we’re honest that each of us must admit that we are hungry human beings right? Hungry for care, for love, for esteem, for kindness. Our Lord said something very strange to human ears. He said blessed are the hungry. So, if you’re hungry today for some good things, He says you’re blessed to be hungry. It doesn’t feel very good to be hungry. It doesn’t feel like a blessing. We would say, Blessed are the satisfied. We do not think of hunger as a desirable state in which to live. So, what does he mean? Well, first of all, hunger happens to be a sign of life, it means you’re not dead. He Who created us made us hungry. When you think about it, Adam and Eve lived in the middle of plentiful food. That was only necessary if they got hungry. Otherwise, why would they need food? There was food for the body in the garden. It was beautiful, food for the eyes, and God was there, which meant there was food for the soul. Hunger is a sign of life. And many of you here are hungry. It’s a sign of health. Because hunger draws on us to seek food. A dead person doesn’t feel hunger and does not desire anything. Hunger is meant to drive us to that which will feed us and help us live. Hunger, of course, as we see all around us, can also lead us to ingest poison. Any of you who have followed stories of famine, know how starving people will do things like start eating dirt, just to put something in their bellies. Some of you have been hurt and abused by powerful but starving souls who eat anything in their path, and they picked you.

Proverbs 27:7 says that to the hungry person, every bitter thing is sweet. That means they’re all mixed up, right? Many of us have attempted to fill ourselves with things that were in fact bitter and poisonous to our souls, in order to quiet our own cravings and hunger. People use drugs, people use fame, they use pornography, they use wealth, they use powerful positions to stuff themselves. Many of you here have experienced great pain because hungry people have wrongly used you for their food, for their eyes, for doing what makes them feel powerful. Go back to Eden; there are still hungry people, but they’re also well fed. And God has alerted them to what was poison. And then this serpent guy comes in. And he basically says, Did God really tell you not to eat? Well, it’s of course, not what he said. God had told them to eat freely, and to avoid poison. Those were his instructions. But the poison looked good, you see. It was pretty, it fed the eyes and promised wisdom and fed the ego, and they chose to feed the body and you know, lots of people who live like that. Lots of people in the church who live like that, and it brings death. And what is God’s first response to hungry human beings who deliberately, against his say so, inject poison? Does he leave them to die? No. Does he abandon them for those who will listen? No, he pursues them. He says to each of you and to me, where are you? I want to find you. And in his response, he tells them of the relentless nature of his pursuit.

God says, one will come someday who will crush the head of the deceiver, the one who tells us that poison is good for our souls. God says He will pursue us through the seed of the woman. Out of her self-inflicted deadness, He has brought us eternal life. Out of their ingesting a poison, He has brought us the bread of life. And so began God’s relentless pursuit of us in this veil of soul making and so it continues down through the years. He is pursuing the souls of men and women; he is pursuing you. And every person listening to me is an object of his loving but relentless pursuit. You, each of you, without exception, are of great value to him. You are the treasure that he seeks. All of this teaches us about the character of God that he’s wooing, pursuing. He’s the God who goes after each of us tirelessly. He pursues the hungry, the thirsty, the needy, the abused the poor. He woos the helpless, the frightened, the hopeless. He actually even pursues the satisfied by bumping their worlds until hungry, they find themselves also seeking. We hear of his pursuit through the parables of Jesus. He went to buy a field, so he might have the treasure that was in it. He sweeps the house looking for a coin and scours the hillside looking for lost sheep. He’s relentlessly looking for you. It is God’s nature to pursue. He cannot exist apart from his longing for you. You can’t separate them. Both are eternal. The hunger in God is not predicated on your behavior, your beauty, your success, your purity or your excellence. It is not based on anything in you. His hunger for you, he is pursuing of you, is simply who he is, and it cannot be changed. It will never die or fade. It is eternal because He is eternal. You are the treasure that He seeks. You are the one he loves and longs for perpetually. These truths also mean that any hunger that you feel, any restlessness that causes you to seek, is good when it is an instrument in the hands of God to drive you to himself. He longs for you to crave to desire to be dissatisfied. So that those uncomfortable and frightening experiences will drive you into his arms. Do not be afraid of your hunger. Its God given. He put it there so you would long for him. We think soul hunger is a problem to be solved. The hunger is not the problem. The hunger is actually a sign that you have life in you. The problem is that you and I, along with every other human being, are easily seduced. To believe there is nothing to eat, or to ingest poison, rather than to allow hunger to drive us after him. The pursuit of God, for your soul, is present and alive and active in your hunger. We don’t like hunger. That means feeling needy and incomplete and dissatisfied and vulnerable when we prefer full and complete and satisfied. Sadly, we will often settle for dirt rather than allow hunger to exist. That’s what perpetrators do; they settle for dirt. Even more sadly, we can be led to believe that the dirt is in fact beautiful and leads to wisdom. Silly creatures, we are, to prefer dirt to God Almighty.

So, I can’t answer the questions that you have. I don’t know the answers. I don’t know why God allows abuse. He hasn’t told me. Believe me, I’ve asked him. I can’t answer the question, where exactly was he while I was being abused? Why did he let it happen? And where is he now as I suffer deeply and for a long time with the reality of that abuse and the ways that is infected my life like a poison? But I have learned this. He goes before us. Whatever you’ve had done to you, however you’ve been treated or trashed, He goes before. He has gone before for those who have been raped and abused. He has gone before for slaughtered Ukrainians. He has gone before us for the women brutally raped by ISIS. He has gone before the slaughtered Rwandans and the trafficked slaves at Cape Coast Castle. I have over 50 years seeing his work, not mine, His. and I have learned something of his character. None of us has gone somewhere where he has not already been. That’s impossible for it to happen. None of us can find darkness where he has not visited. There is no darkness that does not also hold the treasure of him. He is the treasure in the darkness. He went to hell. That’s about as dark as it gets, I think. He is our wounded scarred for eternity Lord. You understand that any scar that you have, and carry will be gone. His will not.

Secondly, none of us has experienced abuse, hatred, trashing and humility that he himself has not known. He waits for us in those places, he has gone ahead of us. He wants us to know that what has been done to us will not triumph and he will be eternally scarred. And with that, so scarred hands, he knocks on the door, your door, asking entrance, longing to use his wounded body to heal your broken hearts and minds. You see, he is the treasure in your darkness, not just the darkness. I close with a poem by Amy Carmichael, you might have read for decades. Yet listen now. Oh, listen with a wandering olive tree and the white moon that looked between the leaves and the gentle earth that shuttered as she felt great drops of blood. All torturing questions cease in him who girds his soul to listen there. There only there, can we take heart to hope for all lost lambs. I even for ravening wolves.

Oh, there are things done in the world today would route up faith. But for Gethsemane. For Calvary interprets human life. No path of pain. But there we meet our Lord. And all the strain the terror and strife die down like waves before his peaceful word. And nowhere but on that awful cross, and where the olive grows along the hill, can we explain and accept the unexplained, the loss, the crushing agony and hold us still. And nowhere is there a clearer vision given which pierces of bewildering providence and opens windows on highest heaven where we can see suffering omnipotence. There is a verse in Hebrews we’d like you to take with you. Chapter 12:3, consider him, him with the scars. Him who has gone before you. And consider means to ponder him to study him to examine him. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from ruined creatures like us, so that you do not grow weary and lose heart. May God bless you.

JULIE ROYS 33:34
Wow, such powerful words and such an important reminder. It is so easy to lose heart and so easy to think God has forgotten us. But his son reminds us of God’s deep, deep love for His children. God has not forgotten. God sees and he will in the end gather us into his arms and wipe every tear from our eyes. Again, that was Dr. Diane Langberg speaking at the Restore conference, and you’ve been listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys, and if you’d like to support podcasts like these, please go to JulieRoys.com/donate. Also, just a reminder that if you give a gift of $25 or more in June, so you just have a few more days, we’ll send you a copy of Dr. Langberg’s devotional book, In Our Lives First. Also, if you haven’t already, please subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify or YouTube. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, we’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review. And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. I hope you were blessed and encouraged.

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3 thoughts on “Diane Langberg: Where is God When There’s Abuse?”

  1. Rebecca Sodergren

    Diane Langberg is a tour de force. I am so grateful the Lord gave her the chutzpah to ignore the prevailing voices of her day and blaze new trails in trauma counseling.

  2. How much did this wonderful woman get paid to speak at this conference? No one seems to know. The price to attend this conference was quite high. Too high for me.

    I suspect most of the speakers live larger than the average Christian. This is what Jesus, Inc, is all about.

    Two days ago, I heard how a person would benefit from donating money to that specific church.

    People can believe in fairy tales, or believe in facts. We have reliable research to study. The more a Christian makes, the less they give.

    But Christian leadership lives large, while teaching people to give sacrificially. (Here are some initials; jm, jm, dj, te.)

    Jesus, Incorporated. What would Jesus say?

    1. John, Have you ever organized a conference? I ask because our price was not high at all, especially given the number of speakers we had and skyrocketing price for travel. We barely broke even, despite relying on about a dozen volunteers and Judson donating use of their building.

      As for Dr. Langberg, she is a clinical psychologist with more than 50 years of experience and a doctorate. I assure you, we paid her less than the market rate for her counseling services. And she agreed to come even before I told her what we could afford to pay.

      Also, I should note that numerous people who attended the conference told me how unusual it was that speakers didn’t just speak and run. Most all of them stayed so they could get to know people and minister to them. This comment is not honoring to the godly people who served sacrificially at Restore.

      For the record, my conference director offered her services for free, but I insisted on paying her, though not nearly what she’s worth. She literally put in hundreds of hours out of love for this ministry and the people we serve. Also, for the record, I wasn’t paid a cent for the conference.

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