Hurt by Church: “I Received These Wounds in the House of My Friends”

Sometimes it is easier to forgive Taliban than church members. I base this on my experience, for I lived in Afghanistan for years, where my wife and I raised our children. The Taliban killed some of my friends and mentors: A Presbyterian from New York. A Methodist from Florida. A Mennonite from Ohio. Two Lutheran sisters from Finland. Each event was grievous. Each event was outrageous. Each event seemed absolutely wicked compensation for voluntarily serving one of the most needy countries on earth. I lamented long, finally forgave their murderers, folded away the memories in the storeroom of my heart, and moved on. 

But not with church members. When they wound me, I labor long, finally forgive them — but the memories do not move on. They linger like a smell in the kitchen when something is burning beneath the hotplate on the stove. Willie Nelson sings, “Forgiving you was easy, but forgetting seems to take the longest time.” I don’t know if a church girl broke his heart, but the lyric applies to all of us attempting to live out authentic church community. 

Moving on is harder because church members should know better. They are fully equipped with a wealth of resources for creatively learning how to be kind to me; for understanding me; for trusting me. And yet they fall short. Taliban, on the other hand, are just following the script handed them, with no original thoughts required. They are animated by an intelligent darkness moving the cords they have so proficiently bound themselves to. Perhaps that is why it is easier to forgive and forget. We muster courage and whisper, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Lk 23:34). But believers seem to know what they are doing. That is the stumbling block. 

Over a lifetime of church participation, I have observed that at times the very same people who have blessed me the most have been the ones who have bruised me the most. The very same people, including church leaders. Why? Perhaps it is because I must learn that they are mere men, mere women, mere earthen vessels that carry a treasure. 

The treasure blesses. The vessel bruises. It is the way things are. I am left with no one to worship but the Lord alone, and that is a very healthy thing. I can forgive them for being human, for I am human too. I can entrust them to the One who judges justly. 

But there is a deeper story to tell, a mysterious one. Think about it. If you belong to Christ, He is in you. Not just in the synapses of your brain cells. In you. Resident. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27) 

He is the One the prophet Zechariah cryptically alludes to when he asks the Messiah, “What are these wounds you have, these marks on your back (the Septuagint translates it, “marks in the middle of your hands”)? The Messiah answers, “Oh, these? I received them in the house of the one I love, in the house of my friends.” (Zech 13:6) 

Implication: He goes through what you go through. He feels what you feel. Your agony is His agony.

And it is not the first time He has gone through it. The very “church” the Lord Jesus established, the very first church, wounded Him. One member — Judas, who was in it for the money — betrayed Him to death. Another — Peter, the bold, promising, charismatic leader with perfect hair — denied Him in order to defuse peer pressure. The other ten fled and left Him hung out to dry. 

So it is no stretch of the imagination to conclude that the very first person to have been hurt by the church was Jesus Himself.

This is good news. Consider this. If He is resident in you; if He knows what it’s like to be hurt by church people, by His own people, the ones He trusted the most; then this brings us to the precious jewel we find in our hand once the bruising is over. 

He is in solidarity with our sorrows. 

The pain — if we learn to lament well, if we keep the line of communication open with our Lord — becomes a bonding agent with our King. Not a trauma bond, but a bond of brotherhood because we suffered side-by-side. He can look us in the eye, and we Him, saying, “We went through that together, didn’t we.” And you can say to the Lord, “Ah, now I know you better, truly know you more! This is the extent of your love!” 

And then a curious thing begins to happen. Like the olive oil flowing from crushed olives, the very places we have been crushed the most begin to flow with a substance that slowly, over time, converts to joy, such that the “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3) also becomes to us “the One anointed with the oil of joy above all other companions” (Psalm 45:7).

And we find that the hurt was only the halfway point in a story that concludes in laughter.

~ km

© Copyright Kurt Mahler

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