The Pain of the Victim: Extending the Reach of Gospel

The Confession: Frank DickseeIn the previous post I told a personal story about the healing potential of a public apology from a Christian to a nonChristian. I didn’t realize how deeply that story was going to resonate with readers. As they responded with stories of their own, I thought that it might be worthwhile today to share a thought about why I see that kind of apology as a missing jewel in Christianity.

It’s a blind spot that we have, theologically. Christian doctrines of sin and salvation are big on the moral agency of the sinner and his or her standing before God as guilty, and our pulpits ensure that we get this. It’s a good thing. If we are unwilling to accept that we are sinners, we never make it to the first step of salvation. So far, so good.

But we have an “I-me-mine” problem. If our pulpits are only pounding out a theology of sin, guilt, and reconciliation with God in which I am sole subject and object, the concerted focus on my own sin and my own guilt and pain can easily leave me inadequately prepared to deal with the sufferings of the victims of my sin.

The Wounded Heart of GodBy being fixated on “the sinner saved by grace,” the church truncates the reach of the gospel by overlooking the person sinned against. The church, therefore, has precious little salve for the pain of the victims of sin. This is the theme of The Wounded Heart of God, a book by Andrew Sung Park, which I think should be read by every Christian.

Park, a Korean American theologian, argues that the church throughout its history has almost unilaterally focused on “the sinner’s” sin, repentance, and forgiveness when thinking about the problem of human evil. As a result, we Christians have an inadequate understanding of sin and guilt if we fail to include the sufferings of the victims of sin.

Most of the book, however, discusses the pain of the victim by exploring the Asian concept of han. I found this approach hugely helpful in getting rid of my own “I-me-mine” problem. Han, Park writes, is the ineffable experience of deep bitterness and helplessness suffered by victims of various types of wrongdoing, whether it is the han of individuals or of groups, and it may be conscious or unconscious.

Pope Francis in KoreaPark’s discussion of han ranges from that of exploited workers, to holocaust and incest victims, to racial and cultural discrimination, and to the ruling power of capitalism in the developing world. He offers many other illustrations as well, all with the purpose of showing where the resolution or dissolution of han is needed, whether individually or collectively. (He even includes a short discussion about the han of animals and nature, based on Romans 8:19-23).

“Han is frozen energy,” Park writes, “that can be unraveled either negatively or positively. If it explodes negatively, the han-ridden person may seek revenge, sometimes killing oppressors. If han implodes negatively, the han-ful person can slip into fatalism that might develop into mental disorders or suicide. If han is unraveled positively, it can be converted into the fuel for transforming the social injustices which cause han in the first place and for building up a new community.”

The Wounded Heart of God seeks to redress a theological imbalance with practical admonitions to the church to understand the pain of the victim in its view of sin and the gospel. This is essential to the good news. Have we missed extending that saving grace to others?

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Top Image by Free Parking and bottom image by Korea Net (permissions via Creative Commons)

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