There is a complicated tension that we deal with in a theology of boundless grace, undeserved mercy, and unearned forgiveness. As Christians, in our rush to affirm the hope of God’s grace for sinners, we can inadvertently (or intentionally) silence the victims in the room. We want to move past the transgression and into the comfort. 

When we talk about the well-known forgiven sinners of the Gospel, we talk about the mercy that God so quickly gives them. We find our identity in them, as well we should. The Prodigal Son returns to the loving arms of the father. The Tax Collector is called out of his tree. And the Woman at the Well is known and loved. 

But I do wonder about those people they have sinned against. I wonder about the women that the Prodigal Son slept with in the name of sowing his wild oats. Do we know the pain and poverty that the Tax Collector caused entire families? And the Woman at the Well surely left some wreckage in her wake as she moved from one marriage to the next. 

What are we to make of these people that get left behind? How did they cope with the sin that was visited upon them?

To be honest, it feels incredibly brave to be a woman out in the world right now. Just leaving my house and getting in my car makes me tired. I have not been sexually assaulted. But I am a pastor. I was a hospital chaplain. And I’ve heard so many horrible stories from women who have been harassed, raped, and molested. From the closed doors of pastoral counseling, I can tell you that it is far more common than we’d like to admit. I have come to believe that it is safer to just assume that a woman has been sexually assaulted if she is coming to speak to me—even if her original subject matter is unrelated. At some point in these conversations, a fellow sister in Christ will lean in and whisper to me, “You know, I struggle with this because something terrible happened.”

My heart is breaking right now for those women who are being told that nothing terrible happened or that if something terrible did happen, it was too long ago to matter. 

I understand that our current moment is bound up in partisanship. But I also know that it is far from an anomaly that a woman accusing a man of assault is called into question. And actually, this makes a lot of sense. Rape and assault are such horrific things, such vile and evil acts. The fallout from naming the sin and accusing the sinner are catastrophic, and not just for those directly involved. The loss of job, family, and love are all too often the payment a victim receives for demanding to be heard. 

So when I read about (and identify with) these Great Sinners of scripture, I wonder what the church has to say to those who have been on the other side of the sin. What does the church offer the raped and assaulted of the world?

Where in this hell is their Good News?

I continue to believe that it hangs on the cross. Jesus was bloodied and violated and left for dead. He was abandoned by those he loved the most. He felt alone as he cried out to God. When we talk about Jesus taking on the sin of the world, we mean that he took on not only the consequence of those who sinned, but the suffering of those who were sinned against. 

When we rush past the wrongs that have been committed, we ignore those who have been violated. We do not want to deal with the crucifixion. We do not want to hear specifically about the pain that Jesus took on.

We want to head careening past the ugliness and dive headlong into the glory of Easter. Yet, sin does not work that way. Sin stays with people. Especially if they are the ones who have been sinned against. Especially if that transgression involved their bodies. Sin remains in a beastly way on the body.  

Which is why looking to the wounded body of Christ may be the only comfort we can offer right now. That and listening. And believing.

When I have prayed with people who have been hurt in this way I often suggest that God knows their suffering because “He suffered there with you.” I truly believe that.

The cross is the place where the sinners and the sinned against are reconciled. And one does not exist without the other. The cross serves as one fell swoop: Jesus as Victim and Jesus as Forgiver. Which also means that forgiveness is not a requirement for those who have been victimized. They do not have to carry that burden too. If I have learned anything from listening to and praying with women who have been assaulted, it is that there are just some things that human beings cannot forgive this side of Heaven.

Thank God that Jesus took on both of these roles for all of our sakes.