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)


problems solvingPolitics, science, education, economics, society, and every other basic aspect of a nation’s life – in the long run these are not neutral subjects. The way in which these areas develop in the minds of individuals or communities is determined by the kind of god that governs the thinking of those individuals or communities. And that determines how collective problems are analyzed and solutions enacted.

This is vitally important to get into our heads, at least for anyone who wants to see a nation directed by a gospel-shaped wisdom: because the way the gospel thinks is different from other ways of thinking about sociology and politics and economics and foreign policy and so forth. A gospel-shaped wisdom is going to have different ways of analyzing such problems and offering solutions for them.

The difficulty is that a gospel-directed and -shaped wisdom for a nation’s problems may seem terribly odd to both individuals and communities. The reason for this is because the gospel doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere; it is different than the ways people are used to thinking about problems and solving them. (For an introduction to this phenomenon, refer to the series on Jesus as a Teacher of Wisdom in Ancient Palestine.)

Here I want to note some apt examples from theologian and philosopher John Peck, whom, I should add, was also my tutor. From a lecture many years ago, Peck’s observations about the oddity of gospel answers to the collective problems of a nation remains pertinent today:

“We are in a society which, since Freud, has been pleading increasingly diminished responsibility. Well, that makes the gospel assumption of human guilt seem pretty silly. And our politics is torn between individualism and collectivism and a lot of uneasy compromises in between. That makes the concept of the Trinity – a God of individuality in community – one God – an unbelievable God. puzzledIt makes the God-man Jesus an impossibility, logically anyway. And our economics is obsessed by the two alternatives of breakneck progress or stagnation. So that the idea of slowing up for the sake of the helpless seems an unrealistic idealism. It hasn’t got any space. And our education is so devoted to scientific measurables, that faith and hope and love sound a bit daft – because you can’t mark them on a dial.”

This is equally true in areas of interest to this blog, such as diplomacy, international relations, and foreign policy. In the U.S., foreign policy analysis and decision making, for instance, is deeply rooted in ideological thinking. This makes the idea of constructing international relations based on what the gospel would have to say about peace and human mutuality seem ridiculous.

If a nation is not run on a gospel-directed and -shaped wisdom, it is by default run on some other wisdom, on some other way of seeing national life and expressing it, on some other way of trying to analyze and solve its problems.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Boy image by Daniel (Permission via Creative Commons)