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Putting Your Past Behind You

The Hurt And The Healing Of Abuse

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 19, 1989

Selected highlights from this sermon

Abuse has many forms—physical, verbal, sexual. All of them can cause a tremendous amount of anger, guilt, bitterness, hatred, and shame. The abuser can be a parent, partner, teacher, coach, friend—just about anyone.

Healing can be found. Freedom can be attained. After all, that is why Jesus came to Earth. Give Him your heart and allow Him to free you, vindicate you, and comfort you.

Jesus can free you from the destructive control, power, and authority of your captor. It’s not an instant event, but it is possible—so get started!

As I speak today I know I’m going to be talking to people who are going to experience a lot of pain. Whenever you talk about abuse you bring to the surface a lot of feelings that lay there until suddenly they are exposed. I want to tell you that it’s like a boil that needs to be lanced. And even though it’s painful, eventually there will be healing. But I also want to say to some of you that maybe while I am speaking you may be tempted to break out and cry, and that’s okay. The reason that God gave us tear ducts is because He knew that crying is good therapy. You know, one of the things about abused children is that there is no place in their soul where they can cry their eyes out. And some of you who haven’t cried for a while, you might like to do that today, and it’s okay.

Let’s pray.

Our Father, we want to thank You that You are indeed the God of miracles. And we ask You today for another miracle. For people who are listening to this message who have been bound by their past, today in Christ’s name we are praying for their freedom. And we pray that for those who perhaps have gone through circumstances that they don’t even remember well but are very painful that You might, in a wonderful way, reach down and heal them. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

I begin today with a letter that appeared in the Ask Ann Landers column on the 30th of October of this year. After an introductory paragraph the letter says:

My father, also an alcoholic, began to abuse me when I was five years old. I finally found the courage to tell my mother five years later. She called me a liar and a troublemaker. After several weeks of my pleading and crying, throwing up and having nightmares, she said, “I’ll leave it up to you. I’ll go to the police if you want me to, but they will probably put your father in jail, and we’ll probably all starve to death.” Being an insecure, emotionally troubled ten-year old, I couldn’t face that burden, so I chose to let the abusing go on.

A year later my father stopped abusing me and began to abuse my five and seven-year old cousins who were living with us at the time. He died when I was 28. I did not cry at his funeral. My mother died nine years later, and I cried hysterically at hers and every day after for several weeks. I went for counseling and I learned that I forgave my father because I came to understand that he was a sick man. But I couldn’t forgive my mother because she didn’t try to protect me against him.

My relationships with men have been awful. My drug of choice is food. I am now in a 12-step program and getting better, but Ann, please keep telling people who have been abused that silence is deadly. They must talk about it and get it out in the open. Only then will healing begin.


Let me list a couple of kinds of abuse. First of all, verbal abuse! If your parents told you that you were ugly, if they called you names and were critical of you, it may well be that those words and those ideas have gone into the very depths of your soul.

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were speaking to a singer who is rather well-known, and she told us that that’s the kind of father she had. She sang when she was five but everything she did was wrong. She couldn’t do anything right. She was ugly and she was clumsy and she was this and she was that. Interestingly this woman says, “Though hundreds of people can tell me that I can sing well I cannot believe them because the little girl within me says, ‘How could my daddy have been so wrong?’” And even though her daddy died in 1984, she said, “I want to be emotionally whole, but my daddy keeps getting in the way.” Verbal abuse!

What shall we say about physical abuse? I will spare you the horror stories that you read about in the newspapers. Perhaps some of you have read Dorie Van Stone’s book entitled Dorie, the Girl Nobody Loved. Because of that book she receives hundreds of letters, and I have read perhaps at least a hundred that she has sent to me. I cannot even begin to share with you the children who have been whipped and abused and beaten, tied to bed posts, locked in closets, parents who have tried to drown their children. The horror stories go on and on.

What about sexual abuse? One-third of all the girls born this year will probably be sexually abused, probably by some member of the family. It is said that you can take a hundred women and 25 of them will have experienced sexual abuse.

What are some of the special needs of those who have been abused? First of all, there’s a tremendous amount of anger. Don’t become critical of them. How would you like it if somebody stole your childhood? How would you like it if somebody stole a piece of your soul down deep within? Anger because those who should have been protecting them were abusing them and taking advantage of them! And then worse, they were getting away with it scot-free. Anger!

Secondly, shame! Will you remember that there is within the heart of every little baby boy and every little girl an innate belief that mommy and daddy are right, so that if a parent abuses his child, either physically or sexually, the little baby—the little child—begins to think, “I’m getting exactly what I deserve. If my parents call me names, it’s because that’s who I really am.” And they take upon themselves all the guilt, all the shame, all the hurt, and all of that emotional pain becomes contained in that little body.

Remember also that abusers, particularly sexual abusers, always tell the one who is being abused that it’s their fault, and make them appear as if they are accomplices. And when it comes to sexual abuse, because we are constructed in such a way by God, there is such a thing as being stimulated sexually, and the person who is abused may come to actually enjoy the abuse. And so the guilt because formidable because they say, “I am partially responsible. Maybe I’m totally responsible.”

The other thing is a psychological principle. Remember that you and I perceive that other people see us the way we see ourselves. I remember reading a story of a girl who was abused by her father in the evening. The next morning, he woke up and at breakfast acted as if nothing happened. She said, “I went to school the next day. I thought every single one of my classmates could see right through me and see all the shame.” It was as if there was a plaque on her forehead saying, “Damaged goods, shameful, impure, unclean.”

Secondly, as I mentioned, there is a lot of difficulty with guilt and shame. But thirdly, abused children, unless the abuse has been resolved (Listen carefully), have a great amount of difficulty developing close and intimate relationships. If you’ve been abused, and if that abuse is something that you have never come to terms with, it is entirely possible that you will have two unconscious agendas. The first will be to set out to prove that everybody is untrustworthy. You understand why, don’t you? If those who had protective custody of you (your father who should have intervened for you, who should have cared for you, who should have loved you) abused you and took advantage of you, the very one in whom your little heart trusted betrayed you, you may set out to prove that everyone is untrustworthy. And you may become so critical and so untrusting and so uncaring because that’s a hidden agenda.

But you have a second hidden agenda. It is to prove that nobody can possibly love you. After all that shame and all that guilt has been heaped upon you, you say to yourself, “Nobody can really love me,” and you set out to prove that, and you will set up circumstances that will make it impossible for people to love you. You will test your relationship to the limit. You will make demands that are absolutely unreasonable. You will expect this and you will expect that. You will expect things from your partner and your friends that they could never possibly give you. And then when they begin to pull away because of the impossibility of that relationship, you will say, “See, it’s just like I told you. You’re just like all the rest. Nobody really loves me. Everybody’s all the same.”

Folks, people who have been rejected almost inevitably, unless they have come to terms with that rejection, do things that make further rejection inevitable, sometimes almost totally necessary.

Now, my dear friend, today, if you have had abuse in your background, and if you have never dealt with that abuse, it will constantly interrupt all attempts at normal living. You will think it’s gone, and then suddenly it appears.

Let me ask you something: What can Christ do for you? What can Jesus do for those who have been abused? I’m going to ask you to turn today to Isaiah 61, and I ask you to turn there because one day when Jesus was here on earth He went into the temple in Nazareth, and He read a passage of Scripture. This story is recorded in Luke 4. It says that the scroll of Isaiah, the prophet, was given to Him and He began to read. And Isaiah 61 is the passage He read, so let’s go right back to the source of Christ’s text. This is what it says, and it’s speaking of Him: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the afflicted.”

Do you feel afflicted today? Do you feel as if you were afflicted in your past? There’s some good news. “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” Now why do you bind up a broken heart? We know why you bind up a broken leg. The reason is because the doctors will tell us it’s important that healing take place properly and that the leg will be set well. What Jesus is saying is, “God has sent me to take people’s hearts and set them so that they can be healed properly, so that the open wound can become just a scar and they can continue.”

Now the question is, how does He do it? Now I must tell you that in context Isaiah is speaking about the fact that the Jews were taken into captivity. They were hauled off to Babylon, and the Babylonians mistreated them. And God is talking here about a period of deliverance, and that God is going to set the prisoners free. Already it happened in our Lord’s life spiritually speaking, but politically it also happened in the experience in Babylon. And that’s why it says: “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to prisoners.” He’s talking about actual prisoners in a geographical area called Babylon. But Jesus Christ gives us the permission to take this text and also to apply it to ourselves.

And what I’d like to suggest today is that the Jesus who politically set the Jews free is the Jesus who emotionally and spiritually can set you free. And there are three aspects to the deliverance that are mentioned in this text.

First of all, it says, “He frees us from our captors.” Freedom to prisoners! The favorable year of the Lord, the year of Jubilee when people could leave, when slaves were out from under the stress of their masters and set free!

Now, I would like to say to you today that Jesus is still available to take you out from under the destructive control of your captor. Who is your captor? First of all, it may well be an abuser, someone who abused you. May I say it? It may be your parents.

About three weeks ago I had lunch with a man here in Chicago who does not attend this church. He’s out in one of the suburbs. The best way I can describe him is emotionally numb. He has no feeling. That does not mean he is hard-hearted. He just cannot cry. He can express no emotion. He was brought up with a mother who was erratic, irresponsible, a hypochondriac, vicious, who spoke only evil of him continuously.

Interestingly, as we were eating he said, “Do you know that for me to be a success I must fail?” And I said, “Aw c’mon! Explain that.” He said, “You must understand that the only dream my mother ever had for me was failure. She called me names and told me I would fail. She hated men, and she hated me.”

After we spoke together we went out into the parking lot. I put my arm on his shoulder and I said, “Do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to pray for you right here.” And I said, “I want to believe God along with you that God is going to rid you of all of the destructive influences of your mother. Let us break the authority and the power of your mother over you.” That’s the first time I had prayed that way. We prayed together, asking God to deliver somebody from the influence of his mother.

Secondly, your captor may be a past sexual partner, or for that matter a present one. There was a young woman who was resisting all of the advances of a man who wanted to go to bed with her—a young Christian girl. The man, in anger, took advantage of her and raped her. Do you know what happened to that young girl? She became the total slave of this man. It did not matter how badly he mistreated her. It did not matter whether he continued to sexually abuse her. Nothing mattered. He would threaten her and she was totally under his control, totally his slave, his captive.

Now you tell me how can that happen? Well, I want to explain to you how it happens. The Bible says that when two people come together sexually, they become one flesh. They become one person in effect. It doesn’t mean that they lose their personalities, but body, soul and spirit, they are united. Paul says that even happens when a man has a relationship with a prostitute. Low commitment sex! Still there is a unity. God binds people together. It doesn’t mean that they are married, by the way, because marriage also constitutes a covenant. And you see, therefore, as two people like this have a relationship, it is possible that if one man has a demonic spirit, not only can there be transference of demonic spirits during that relationship, but there can be a tremendous amount of transference of control, because you are one. And what that young lady needs to do is to gather together with a number of other people and say, “In the name of Jesus Christ, we destroy, we smash, we break all destructive influence that this evil man has over you.”

Why do women who are abused seek out men who abuse them? There are several reasons for that, by the way. First of all, it’s because the woman feels so filled with shame that she thinks that if a man really has his head screwed on correctly he will abuse her, but also there is demonic, seductive, powerful control.

Let me tell you something. If you’ve been involved in sexual experiences outside out marriage, you not only have to ask God to cleanse you, though I trust that that has happened, but sometimes you also need to destroy in the name of Jesus the destructive influence of what I call a soul tie—souls that have been tied together in a sexual relationship. And all that needs to be broken and put behind you so that you can be free and begin to concentrate in your life to do what God has told you to do.

A person with immorality in their background oftentimes finds that they are torn emotionally. And the reason for the tearing is because their soul has been joined to other partners. That must be broken in the name of Christ.

Possibly your captor could be a false cult. The most destructive, the most awful experience I’ve ever seen of captivity is a young woman who gave herself to a man who, yes, abused her sexually, but also was involved in a cultish kind of an organization, and threatened her and told her that if she ever left him she would be instantly killed. This woman would leave for an hour or two, and she’d always go back to him. Even when she was with friends, even if she were to give herself up to the police, she would leave the police station and run back to her captor. Total complete authority and control! Jesus came to set the prisoners free, to throw off the power of captors who keep people in captivity, who hold them bound and under their destructive, terrible, evil control.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, that kind of thing is going on in my home today.” Let me say this to you now. If you are being abused, or if you know of abuse, you have a responsibility to talk to somebody who can go for help. But there are hundreds of cases that I consider to be borderline. Some of you live with alcoholic husbands and alcoholic fathers and there is some abuse but it may be spasmodic.

You know, there’s a line or two in [a book by] Mark Twain. I wasn’t able to find it. I think it’s in Huckleberry Finn. If any of you want to do some research for me, you can send me that information. The line is this—that when the slave was being beaten and he had come to terms with who he was inside, it says, “Even though the blows fell on his body, they did not touch his soul.” That’s a good line, the one I was looking for and couldn’t find.

You see, it’s possible for you to have experienced abuse, and even to be receiving a measure of abuse, and yet God protects your soul, so that the verbal blows, and perhaps sometimes the physical blows, do not touch your soul. It’s not hardheartedness, but protection from God. What does Jesus say? He says, “I came to set captives free, to take the captors and rid their influence of the captives.”

Secondly (the second aspect), it says: “and the day of vengeance (the last part of verse 2) of our God.” When Jesus read this in the synagogue He didn’t read that phrase. He ended in the middle of verse 2 and then put the scroll back. Why? It was because the day of vengeance had not yet come. That is still a future time.

Now let me ask you a question. The Babylonians who mistreated the Israelites, have they ever been called to account for what they have done? No. They still need to be resurrected and they will answer to God for what they did 2,500 years ago.

What about your abuser? Has he yet answered to God? Possibly not! Will he ever get away free? No! What did Paul say? “‘Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves. Vengeance is mine. I will recompense,’ says the Lord.” So what you are able to do because of the justice of God is to say, “Lord, I give you my situation which was so traumatic, which was so unjust, from a man who appeared to have gotten by with it (or a woman, or whatever), and what I need to do is to commit my case into Your hands and let You deal with it, because I can’t.” You may not be able to because your abuser may be dead. Maybe you don’t know where he is. If you confronted him he’d deny it. You can’t handle it. God is going to take up your cause. The vengeance of God!

That’s why I’ve told so many people who have hurts in their lives that this explains to them why it is possible for them to forgive without surrendering justice, because there is something within us that says, “What do you mean? Why should I forgive? Just look at him. Look at how free he is. Nobody has accused him. He has gotten by with it, and now I’m the hurt one, and I’m supposed to forgive?” The answer is yes because you must realize that that person has done enough damage to you, hasn’t he? Hasn’t he done enough damage yet? Why should you continue to let him ruin your life by being bitter with all that anger? Break his control by choosing to release the bitterness and the hatred, and commit your cause to God.

It says that when Jesus was reviled, He did not revile in return. When he suffered, He did not threaten, but He committed himself to God, who judges righteously, and God has still not brought justice to that situation, because the people who crucified Christ have not yet been brought into judgment, but they will be. And Jesus said, “That’s fine for me.” The day of vengeance of our God!

Thirdly, Christ comforts you. He frees you, He vindicates you and He comforts you. Verse 3: “to grant to those who mourn in Zion giving them a garland instead of ashes.” I know the King James, I think, there says “beauty instead of ashes.” What does that mean? Let me tell you a story that occurs in 2 Samuel 13. You can read it for yourself sometime today.

Remember the man Amnon? He was one of David’s sons. Amnon was a wicked boy. He was the full brother of some of David’s other sons, because David had several wives. Amnon had a half-sister by the name of Tamar. Tamar was the full sister of Absalom, another son of David. But here’s Amnon lusting greatly after his half-sister, Tamar. The Bible tells how he asked her to lie with him—to go to bed with him. And she kept saying no. So he played a trick on her. He pretended that he was sick, and then he said to his dad, David, “Send my sister in that she may prepare a meal that I like.” And she went into the bedroom. He tried to get her to go to bed with him, but she wouldn’t, and he forced her, the Bible says, and he raped her.

Incidentally, the text says that after he did that, the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. What a commentary on sexual immorality, but anyway, what happens next is very instructive. She wants to stay with him, and he sends her out of the room, and she will not go. And here’s what it says: “She said to him, ‘No, because it is wrong in sending me away. The wrong is greater than what you have done to me.’” Yet he would not listen to her, and he called one of the young men who attended him and said, “Now throw this woman out of my presence and lock the door behind her.”

It says: “She had on a long sleeved garment that was symbolic of her virginity, for in this manner the virgin daughters of the king dressed themselves.” And then it says, “Tamar put ashes on her head and tore her long-sleeved garment which was on her, and she put her hand on her head and went away crying aloud as she went.” A young woman raped by a half-brother! Ashes on her head! Shame! Disgrace! Humiliation! Use whatever word you want. It’s awful and it can’t be undone.

Now the text says that God is going to take the ashes that are on people who have been humiliated, and He is going to give them a garland, my translation says, that is, an oriental headpiece that is used for festive occasions. God says, “That’s what I’m going to do to those who have been abused, and those who mourn, and those who hurt and those whose lives are filled with shame.”

Notice also it says: “the oil of gladness.” What was oil used for? Feasts! It was like perfume today. When you want to come to church or go somewhere, you put on some aftershave or some perfume, and it is a symbol of the fact that you’re going to be with others and you want to feel well about yourself. Notice the text says: “the oil of gladness instead of mourning.” The mantle of praise! That’s what God wants to put on your lips—not all the curses that you have heard when you were growing up. “So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

My friend today—my abused friend, God wants to make you an oak tree. He wants to make something out of the hurt, and He wants to come alongside and comfort you.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how do I go about it?” I would like to very quickly share with you just a couple of things that you must do. Remember that Satan wants to keep you bound. God wants you to be free.

What do you need to do? First, you need to confront your past with Christ’s present. And you need to do this by being willing to open your life, first of all, to God. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, it’s too painful. I put a lid on it. I sealed the lid.” That’s fine. As long as your past doesn’t bother you at all, and as long as it’s behind you and the lid is sealed, I don’t want you to open it. There are some people who do not need to sift through their lives anymore. They’ve come to terms with it. They are at rest with it.

But there are a lot of people who think that they are at rest with it. A lot of people will listen to the last statement I just made and say, “Oh goody, I don’t have to touch it,” and yet they are constantly controlled by their past, so I must speak here with great care. There are some people who need to go back. There are some people who do not have to go back. But when you go back, don’t feel that you have to confront all of your past. Just suddenly take a piece of it. Take a piece of it—one incident, one hurtful experience, one little part of the whole, and share that with God, and tell Him how deeply you grieve because of what happened. You share it with God, and then you share it with another human being who can sympathize with you, who can pray with you, and who can listen to you and who can accept you no matter what.

This woman who wrote to Ann Landers was right on the money when she said they must talk about it and get it out in the open. Only then will healing begin.

You say, “Well, should I ever confront my abuser?” That’s a very difficult question. About 80 percent of all those who abused children deny it when they are told that they have done it. Sometimes it is even possible under those circumstances to say to your abuser after you have thought it through, “I now leave all responsibility for what happened with you. I place blame where it belongs.”

And if some of the blame is upon your shoulders, there is forgiveness and there is cleansing for that too. And let me say this as a word of encouragement. This perhaps is the most important thing I’m going to say today. I believe with all my heart that there is nothing that you will ever dig up in your past that will be too big for God. You and God and close friends can handle it piece by piece. You confront your past.

Secondly, you commit your past. And these aren’t done in consecutive order. Sometimes you confront and commit at the same time. Maybe you commit and then you confront. There’s no magic here. But what do I mean by committing your past? You give Him your anger. You give Him your hostility. You give Him your shame. You give Him the guilt. You give Him the revulsion, the uncleanness, the impurity. And you say, “Lord Jesus, I cannot handle it, but I release it to You. I give You my past with all of its ugliness.” You see, some of you have been forgiven for your past, but you’ve never been cleansed from it. It still has authority over you.

Sometimes I have used the illustration of opening my hands. Now my hands are a fist. And that’s the way we sometimes are, and we become very hardhearted. We say, “Yes, but you do not understand the depth of my hurt.” And I say to you, yes, perhaps I do not understand the depth of your hurt, but this much I know. God does. And it will be of no value whatever for you to continue to hold it tightly to you. You must release it and say, “Jesus, help me to open my life to You, and would You take it away?”

I must be very clear and tell you that the healing is not an instant event. You know, if you break your arm you say, “Well, I’m praying that God will heal my arm.” Good! But how will He do it? Instantly? Sometimes! Most often just through the natural courses of nature! It may take six weeks or whatever. And that’s the way the healing of the heart is too. It isn’t so much an event as it is a process that you may have to go over time and time again. But what I’m saying to you today is, please get started because unless you come to terms with your past and are making peace with your past, you will be haunted by it for as long as you live. That boil will always be there. What would you rather have? Would you rather have a little bit of pain now as the boil is lanced, and eventual healing, or would you like to have something for the rest of your life? Just pain! Take the courage to open up your life to God!

Dorie Van Stone, as I mentioned, receives hundreds of letters, and she has given me some. I want to read just a few to you to give you some encouragement.

I am 28 years old, and my mother tried to kill me as a baby. My scars are very deep. I’ve been a basket case on drugs, living like the dead. Though I met Jesus and fell in love with Him, I was still very insane, hurt, and shattered. There was no instant healing, but gradually God has healed me. One of the biggest healings came when I heard you speak. This is why I say to you, Dorie, I love you. You’ve given me hope. God is using you to shine a ray of bright hope to a scared, sad and sorrowing heart.

Dorie, when you shared your life you connected. You touched the person deep inside where the pain is so intense. My sisters and I were molested by our father, but God has removed the shame that kept me from talking about my past. For so long I was hurting, locked up within myself, but the dark areas needed to be exposed. We need to be held up to the light just like a broken pot to see if there is a fault in it or not. I’ve given my broken pot to God, the pot that I tried to make look perfect. Now that it has been exposed to God’s light He can shine His love through me. I am His pot, the broken pot that no one would want to love and be proud of. One broken pot knows another broken pot. Jesus heals broken pots.

Dorie, my problem is that I can’t believe that God loves me. I know it in my head, but I don’t know it on a deep level. I can’t accept it because I’m afraid that if I did He would reject me. It’s an emotional block, not a reasonable one. Everything would be okay if I just knew that Jesus loved me, if I knew that He cared and would carry me through my circumstances. Then I could survive the struggles and the pain of my past, but Dorie, you broke through my defenses. I fought very hard. I said to myself, “I will not cry. This is baloney. It’s all emotion and will fade away, and I won’t let it touch me.” But I knew it wasn’t baloney and that if I let down my defenses and let the tears come and accept God’s love, there could be healing.


Dorie, I’ve never told anyone about my past that I shared with you, and I didn’t realize how deeply it was hidden from me. As I was sharing bits and pieces of my past and actually said each one, the Lord pulled out those aches by the roots and healed them. In the days that followed I could sense a change within me.

When Jesus went into the synagogue at Nazareth there were people around who had been abused. It’s not something new. Tamar in the Old Testament raped by her brother! Jesus said, “The Spirt of the Lord is upon me for He has anointed Me to teach the Gospel to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted,” and He’s still doing it.

Stuart Hamblen used to sing,

It is no secret what God can do.
What He’s done for others He’ll do for you.
With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you.
It is no secret what God can do.

Will you let Him?

Let’s pray.

Father, in this moment I pray that You will do what I can’t do and no human being can do. Would you reach down and minister to hurting people, people who have been abused, alienated and rejected, people who have a part of their soul missing? I pray that you might fill it with Yourself and make them whole and complete and at peace. Do it, Father.

I pray for all of the women who have struggled because of abuse in their background, all of the young boys who were abused, all the verbal insults, the curses (that still come to many ears) of parents who should have loved them. May they, in these moments, hear the words of Jesus, the kind loving words of Jesus, the blessings and not the curses, the garland and not the ashes, the oil and not the stench. Speak to them, Father, in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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