With President Trump’s rhetoric of “fire and fury” I have noticed an uptick of fear among people who have survived spiritual abuse. I find my own anxiety level spiking up and then down. The spike of fear is a learned response to years of looking for signs of the end, from years of spiritual abuse, and from being told the end is coming, the end is coming. It's also a biological response (fight or flight) of my nervous system, which is responding to a trigger. I respond by taking a few deep breaths and remember what I know.
The passages at Matthew 24:34, Mark 13;30, and Luke 21:32 “This generation will not pass away” was used to instill hope and fear in me as a child; what I learned as an adult, helped me break the fear.
First, I learned that the books were not written at the same time as Jesus was alive. They were written between 70 and 90 C.E., some forty or more years after Jesus' life time. The authors were writing from an oral tradition that was a generation old. Some were not even eye witnesses.
Why is this important? It is important because the authors were writing about past events. Some Bible historians believe that they were describing what happened when the temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. and showing that Jesus predicated what they had observed.
The language used in the passages, of “will not pass away” is interesting. When I was learning biblical Greek, I learned that the writer used what is called the ‘emphatic never, ever” which our professor explained is like saying, "Hell No! That’s not going to happen.” The writer is basically saying, “This generation will never ever, ever die off before what Jesus said is all completed.”
Here we have two new thoughts, 1. The writer is describing events that already happened, 2. The author is saying “All these things will be completed before this generation is gone.”
As time went on, and years passed, it became evident that the kingdom that Jesus talked about wasn’t literally there. Christians had a few choices in how to deal with this. They could turn it into a metaphor: Jesus never meant an earthly kingdom; Jesus is reigning invisibly. Or they could say, the promise is for a future generation because all these things haven’t happened yet. Either way works well. By making a metaphor or by saying it will happen later, it allows readers to bypass the literal meaning of the words.
When I asked my professor, “If Jesus got it wrong, what does that mean for us?” I really wanted to know, was Jesus wrong? If so, how do I deal with this passage? My professor looked at me, with a scrunched-up face, and took the metaphorical route. But it was not a satisfying answer to me because this passage had been used as a club, held over my head for many years. If Jesus was wrong, that tool of control was gone.
Each person who wishes to keep their faith must answer the question for him or herself. But I have only hinted at the third option. The third option is to take into account the historical reading, understand the passage using history, language, and textual criticism. Do what I did, learn about it. Maybe the scholars are correct and the authors were describing what they saw (i.e. the temple being destroyed) and saying, “Jesus told us this would happen.” That interpretation opens another set of questions; however, it does free one from fear.
If the passages are not meant to be a prophecy, and were a retelling of events, we do not need to look for it in the future with dread or with longing.[i]
By way of conclusion, the bigger issue is how to deal with things that trigger you due to spiritual abuse. I have found research is the healer. Allowing myself to ask the difficult questions led to a deconstruction of toxic teachings. Allowing myself to hold an unpopular opinion took power away from so-called authorities.
You can avoid the triggers, but by definition, a trigger is an uncontrollable reaction in response to a stimulus. A trigger causes a biological response in our sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze). Exposing yourself to the thing that triggers you can help reduce the response. If you learn about other views, you may adopt some of them and be liberated from the abusive interpretation.
I am saying, learn about the verses that cause you fear. Take the power away from the teachers who abused you by instilling fear. Adopt your own unpopular opinions, but let them be your opinions, based on what you learned, know, and feel.
[i] I Googled “this generation will not pass how to interpret it” and Google returned pages upon pages of articles on the topic, reflecting each of the views I presented above. I encourage you to read a bit and see that there are many understandings not just what you may have learned.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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