Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you,
whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
For you have been bought with a price:
therefore glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
If you are an abuse survivor it can sound like God wants to take your autonomy. For the sexually abused, this verse can serve as a reminder that in the most precious and private parts of their body, their privacy and choice did not matter. Their body was bought with a price by their abuser.
Can you imagine the fear that this verse could produce, a fear that God might want to overwhelm our will?
As this series is about the way the Bible has been twisted to justify sexual abuse and sexual shame, I’m going to focus on how this verse (improperly understood) can decimate a sexual abuse survivor.
Choice is very precious to all those who feel marginalized. Sexual abuse violates how a survivor belongs to herself and to others in her community. The improper relating of sexual abuse (abuser/victim) makes it hard to imagine that “my choice matters” (See the inclusive, rhetorical brilliance in the pro-abortion movement’s slogan “Pro-Choice”?). Sexual abuse victims’ current social patterns may still feel forced. They may be unable to choose on their own. This is because their pressured “agreement”, trembling or fighting body, even their cries did nothing to stop the abuse. They wonder if their “No” can every be properly respected.
Can a survivor recover agency when their power to say “No” was not respected? Does their “No” really matter? Many survivors fail to recover their capacity to choose, to insist that their boundaries ought to be respected.
To heal must include a chance for the abused to come back to their bodies, to come back to enjoying their desires, to come back to owning their beliefs, feelings and choices.
So when we, as well meaning Christians, preach this passage from 1 Corinthians as good news, many survivors simply hear that God, like their abuser, wants to take their body for his purposes.
Just as their abuser bought their body with force, seduction or manipulation, so God has bought their body for his benefit.
And since the majority of abusers are stronger, larger, often masculine, often in authority, sexually abused find their metaphor of authority and power completely polluted. They easily can believe that God, as the ultimate authority, must also be manipulative, hurtful, invasive. This is why I ask pastors and Christian leaders to use the TNIV or other gender accurate translations when preaching. Exclusive use of male metaphors (as in King, Lord, Father, Son) will continue to isolate survivors. (For examples of Biblical passages with feminine metaphors for God see Chapter 6 in my book Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home). We must be careful that our interpretations of Scripture communicate that God is neither authoritarian, domineering or overpowering.
With the ratio of sexual abuse so high (1:3 women, 1:6 men), is it any wonder we have so much confusion about power and authority today?
So what does Paul mean in this passage? In context, Paul is focused on our value as humans. God wants to be for us, to raise us up (see verse 14), to renew our body’s potency and life. We are, in Paul’s words, a sanctuary, a holy place (see verse 19). Our body is holy ground and doesn’t belong to others (in verse 16 Paul mentions harlots, but he means anyone we’ve “done it” with who is not our lifelong spouse). God wants us to be using our body for uniting with good, lasting love. For sex outside of God’s protective boundaries (one partner for life) harms our bodies (verse 18).
In fact, illicit sex (whether chosen or perpetrated upon us) harms us in a way no other sin does.
This gives theological teeth to the feelings sexual abuse victims endure, of being used, of violation and destruction.
Paul knows that sexual sin harms our own bodies. This is as true when sexual sin is committed against you as when you join in willingly. As I explained in Part 1, sexual abuse feels like someone tracked dog poop through your house then left. You are left cleaning it up, ashamed that your home smells so horrid. Paul’s metaphor lets us see sexual abuse as desecration to the sanctuary of God. This is abuse that God wants to help you overcome.
Paul’s words of “bought with a price” refer specifically to the price of crucifixion that Jesus paid to free us. Notice the beautiful verse just a few verses before, “God is for the body” (1 Cor 6:13). What a hopeful, nourishing thought! That God wants to help us realize the enduring value of our body. We’re not trying to escape the body, not trying to pretend sexual sin or sexual violation or sexual pleasure did not happen. Instead, Paul wants us to try to show the world what God is like (or glorify God) with our bodies.
I like to put it this way, “What would God do in your body?”
If you’re a survivor of sexual abuse, “What would God do with the body that other’s abused? How would God care for, heal, restore faith in your body’s beauty? How does God show the world more power by the way I wrestle with the evil that was done to me?”
It’s not simply “forgive and forget” (I covered that Christianese myth in Part 1). Stewarding our body, its wounds and victories, is part of glorifying God with our bodies.
We are not our own in that we have joined ourselves with the ultimate power in the universe to heal from the evil in this world. And this evil includes all sexual abuse.
“Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through his power.” We are part of the Messiah’s plan. This world’s evil is not the end.
For those pastoring the sexually abused, let me leave you with a better verse to use to share God’s power to heal. This comes from David, who knew both sexual sin and sexual shame.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
Read more posts about sexual abuse and recovery.
This is Part 3 in our series of how the Bible can be twisted to silence sexual abuse survivors. Read on to see the comfort Scripture can offer when read in context. Help free the Bible to speak the truth God brings by sharing this post. Part 1 and Part 2
If you (or someone you care about) has suffered through sexual abuse, consider the patient and careful work of therapy to help you reintegrate what you have lost. If you are nervous to start therapy (and who isn’t?!), see my post “How to Find the Right Therapist.” If you have suffered at the hands of “biblical” counselors, see Dale’s post “Does Biblical Counseling Bring the Freedom You Need?”
I can highly recommend the following licensed therapists as I know them personally. Regions they service are listed first.
Los Angeles, Orange County – Heather Mather – 720 897-5277
Virginia, Texas, Colorado – Dr. Sally Falwell – 214-810-1718 – firstname.lastname@example.org
All verses are in the New American Standard Version.