While supporting survivors of abuse, pastor Mike Leake found Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation of the Bible instrumental in their healing journey
When I was a little boy, I contracted strep throat. I wasn’t old enough to swallow pills and so my mother had to open the capsules and dump it into applesauce. It made the applesauce gross. It took me a long time to be able to eat applesauce again because I associated it with having to take those nasty pills. Good things when associated with a negative experience can become, in our minds, a bad thing.
Now imagine a far worse scenario – a father who has used the Bible to control and abuse his children. What happens in the heart of a little one when a verse like “honour your father and mother” is used to gratify the twisted desires of a father? When the person who was supposed to protect you and labour for your spiritual good uses the Bible in order to harm you it creates a distaste for the Bible. This is the consequence of someone using God’s good words to do bad things. Such abuse will have an impact long after the instance of abuse has stopped.
What do you do when God’s word leaves a horrible taste in your mouth?
It’s not simply that a few Bible verses here and there were used out of context. The entire way in which the Bible was used and communicated was damaging. When this happens it’s not merely a few verses that will make a survivor recoil, it is the entire concept of the Bible. For some survivors quoting a Bible verse was a tool of silence. As such, even hearing a Bible reference can be triggering. There is even a way in which the Bible is read that is different from other literature. Even the cadence can be triggering. This is not only true of those who have been physically or sexually abused, but also of those who have been spiritually abused.
What do you do when you still believe that God’s word is good and valuable, but it leaves a horrible taste in your mouth? The guilt that you start to feel for not reading your Bible chases you down, but it doesn’t feel like the tender care of Jesus, it feels like the cold hands of condemnation. It feels more like the false guilt that was used to control you. Yet, there is something within you that truly wants to read the scriptures again. You know that the words of Jesus really are found there. You know that he gives life, but you simply cannot seem to untangle his voice from that of your abuser.
How would you help such a dear soul? They want to read God’s word, but they can no longer hear it in the same language they once did. I would suggest thinking about this from the perspective of a missionary who has no access to the Bible in a native language. They get creative and do things like enact God’s word, using music, drama and pictures. The goal is to stay faithful to the meaning and message of scripture but in a language which can be received (while also working to provide a Bible in their mother tongue language). It could be helpful to think along these lines for survivors who can no longer receive the Bible in its traditional form.
As a pastor, one of my suggestions has been to use The Message, a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson. Even though it’s not my go-to recommendation for in-depth Bible study, I believe it to be a helpful option for someone who wants to read scripture but is overcoming abuse. The Message is a paraphrase, it’s not a literal translation. Yet, Peterson is no scrub when it comes to biblical exegesis. He was a scholar but more than anything he was a loving shepherd of people.
Peterson majored in soul care, and he has given us scripture in a language that a survivor of abuse might be able to hear again. The cadence is different. The words do not come in the same form and will not have the same familiarity. The verses aren’t even marked in the same fashion as a traditional Bible. The language is poetic and it captures the beauty of God’s heart towards us.
I have witnessed The Message help survivors through this critical stage of healing. It’s not the final answer to this question but it could be helpful in giving survivors the message of the scriptures in a way that can be more easily heard as they pursue further healing.