Jesus and the Victim Card
All men share in the common experience of being image bearers of God, in having descended from the same first parents, of being fallen in the same federal representative and in needing the same salvation in Christ. However, no two people have exactly the same experiences or conditionings in their lives. Even siblings who have grown up in the same home--who have experienced the same love and the same sinful dysfunctions of their parents--have many different life experiences. This fact is profoundly intriguing when we consider the way in which our unique God-ordained personalities and our unique God-ordained circumstances intersect. However, it can also be a profoundly dangerous thing when one seeks to use uniquely painful experiences in order to hide our sin. It is this danger to which I wish to focus our attention.
We are all masters at latching onto any and every excuse in order to dismiss our sinful actions and words. Like our first parents, we are natural born experts at blame shifting, covering ourselves and downplaying the severity of our sin when it comes to light. One of the most sophisticated ways that we can excuse our sin is by hiding behind the painful experiences of our lives. It is actually quite easy to adopt the persona of a victim. We have all--at some time or another--been the object of unjust actions or words. Accordingly, all of us have an ample supply of experiences with which we can play the victim card.
This problem is often compounded by the fact that God has commanded His people to bear one another's burdens. It is one of the greatest of all Christian virtues to sympathize and empathize with those who have suffered (physically, sexually or emotionally). When someone begins to share their burdens in the context of the church, they inevitably draw the attention of deeply compassionate church members. They immediately identify those who could give them the attention for which their hearts have longed. Love for approbation and affection then leads such a person to nurture his or her sin struggles by constantly linking them to past experiences of suffering. One of the evidences that this has happened is that he or she will talk about these struggles ad nauseam. No amount of friendship or counseling ever helps. Rather than experiencing growth in grace, they paralyze themselves by nurturing self-pity. Instead of going to the Scriptures and to Christ, they form an unhealthy dependency on others.
When we find ourselves in a situation in which we are seeking to help someone who is playing the victim card, we must remind them that Jesus also had painful experiences. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus wasn't particularly physically attractive (Is. 53:2). The Evangelists constantly draw our attention to the fact that he was ridiculed by His brothers (John 7:3-5), mocked by his fellow church members (Matt. 9:24), forsaken by his disciples (Matt. 26:31; 56), falsely accused by powerful government officials (Luke 23:6-12) and crucified with criminals (Mark 15:27-28). As a boy, Jesus was most likely scorned by His friends on account of the fact that his mother conceived out of wedlock--though she was a virgin (John 8:41). We can be sure that Jesus had many other painful childhood experiences. Yet, he never adopted a victim mentality. Jesus never played the victim card. He never allowed his past circumstances keep him from pressing on in order to accomplish the will of His Father in Heaven.
The writer of Hebrews brings the experiences of Christ to the forefront of the secret of Christian growth in grace when he tells us that Jesus "was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). On account of that, he can sympathize with us in our weaknesses. We have a great High Priest who was touched with the feelings of our infirmities. This is what qualifies Jesus to be the perfect helper in our time of weakness. No one will sympathize with us like Jesus. No one has power to change us but Jesus. Jesus became the man of sorrows in order to help His people in their time of sorrow. He never allows us to live in our sin, and never turns His back on us when we come to Him for grace and mercy to help in time of need (4:16).
While God calls us to be compassionate and sympathetic toward those who come to us with their burdens, we must also ask whether we are helping them or not. We may actually be enabling others to hide their sin behind their painful past experiences. At the end of the day, our job is to point others to Scripture and to the Savior who is revealed in Scripture. We must resist the snare of putting ourselves in the place of the Redeemer in the name of "being there" for those who are hurting. Our job is to point others to the only one who is able to give both us and them the grace that we need to change.