The Gospel of John is a treatise on Christology. John emphasizes several essential doctrines of the Christian faith less obvious in the Synoptic Gospels: the deity of Christ; the preexistence, the Word made incarnate. One additional feature prominent in John’s Gospel that stands out to me is the patience and perseverance of our Lord under unrelenting verbal attacks and criticism.
While the reader needs to be extremely careful not to read his/her own agenda into any biblical text, one can easily read between the lines into the character of Christ and thus what He expects from His followers. Each time I read John, from the challenge to His authority issued in chapter 3 to the mocking of the Roman soldiers at the crucifixion, I am struck anew at how much unmitigated hatred and slander Jesus endured… all the while still extending the offer to His tormentors: “Come to Me.”
Yesterday, while discussing the lingering effects of abuse with a counselee, I was able to pull together a few biblical insights we have on how to bear up under unjust suffering and slander. To answer the question of how a victim’s heart is to respond, 1 Peter 2:13-4:19 is an excellent passage. The Bible is filled with additional exhortations on how a Christian is to respond to attacks either from an enemy or fellow believer, and it is unnecessary to enumerate them all here. What I wanted the woman to see, however, is how Jesus is able to empathize and have compassion on victims of all kinds of abuse – including verbal – because He continually took it on the chin during His earthly ministry.
“Jesus, Did You Hear What They Said About You?!?”
The next time you read through John, pay special attention to the reaction of the Jewish establishment and their cronies from chapter 5 (following the healing at the Bethesda pool) right up until the Triumphal Entry in chapter 12. Long before we get to Calvary, Jesus bore the hateful attacks, sneers, and unfounded criticism of the religious establishment. Literally no good deed was left unpunished, and Scripture records at least two other attempts on His life (by stoning; for alleged blasphemy). On the heels of one such attack, Jesus heals a blind beggar – unasked – on His way out of town. The man is subsequently excommunicated from the Synagogue for bearing witness to Christ, and Jesus then goes out of His way to find him.
Think on THAT the next time you’re tempted to slide into self-pity!
Chapters 7 and 8 of John primarily compose one verbal barrage after another against the One Who came to save them. Each time I read the account, my jaw drops at the amount of hostility Jesus put up with… including a barely-veiled jibe implying that He was illegitimate (John 8:41b). And how does He respond? Righteously, by calling out the sin and hypocrisy of His critics – but also graciously, by calling them to repentance. Right up until Wednesday of Passion Week, two days before His humiliating execution, we see Jesus in the temple courts – preaching, persuading, imploring those who despised Him to come unto Him.
While we know that Christ was, and is, fully human as well as fully divine, I can’t help but wonder if the rejection and attacks hurt His feelings in the same way we would experience emotional pain. The reason this gives me pause is that, usually, when our feelings are hurt, it is a personal slight – not God’s honor and glory – that has been wounded. The only time we see Jesus getting angry in the Gospels is when His Father’s honor has been compromised. The personal attacks seem to roll of His shoulders, and He is consistently willing, ready and able to overlook the offense and forgive. His continual call to repentance is just that – an invitation to lavish grace and undeserved forgiveness.
What does this have to do with nouthetic counseling? Almost every issue for which a person seeks godly counsel is a result of sin – either one’s own, or the effects of another’s sin upon the counselee. Many have (accurately) noted that the scars of emotional abuse go much deeper than those of physical abuse…long after the bruises are healed, hateful words and false accusations still ring in our ears. It is not helpful to pretend that this is not the case, but nor do attempts to re-write the past (inner healing; visualization) help the victim. Furthermore, seeing one’s self as a “victim” can cause compounded sin – self-pity and sinful reactions. What I have found, along with many others, is that returning to the plain text of the Bible reveals a Savior Who truly knows what it is to suffer even this maddening type of abuse. His patient, principled and loving response (forgiveness; a desire for reconciliation) provides us, His disciples, with the only God-honoring response there is to abuse and slander.
Douglas Bookman writes, “…our besetting temptation is to glorify self: to live life as if we were the center of the universe,
as if the enhancement of our reputation were a meritorious pursuit, and as if our contentment were the greatest good of the cosmos. That is why every believer must continually be confronted with the demand that God be honored as God.” (Emphasis mine; “Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically”, p. 56). Do you see the irony here? Jesus, Who was God in the flesh, did not seek to enhance His own reputation – although He was due ALL honor and glory alone. Yet we are preoccupied with seeking our own glory, and this is the underlying reason unmerited criticism hurts us so much. It all goes back to pride, a sin which (obviously) never marred Christ’s character.
Jesus Himself warned us that we are to expect to be torn down:
“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.” (John 15:19-21)
While I am deeply sorry for the harassment and rejection Jesus endured, I am eternally grateful that He did. His response shows the incredible humility and meekness [def: power under control] embodied by our Gentle Shepherd, and knowing the human level on which He can relate increases my trust and love of Him. His assurance in John 10:13-15 that He cares about the sheep is woven throughout all 4 Gospels, and we can be sure that He cares, and understands, when we feel the sting of slander.