If you’re reading this as a sexual assault survivor, I want to start off by saying that I am sorry for what happened to you. I know that there is a lot of grief, pain, and heartache that comes with sexual assault, and I wanted to first and foremost acknowledge that.
“Why didn’t God stop my sexual assault from happening?”
I have wrestled with this question for a long time. I think this question is one all assault survivors have to wrestle with at some point or another.
This question can be boiled down to the two much simpler questions: Where was God when this happened? Why does God allow bad things to happen?
When bad things happen, I have found that people have a variety of responses.
Some will try to construe God’s will. They may say things like, “God has a plan for you in this.” This minimizes the reality of the pain that an assault causes a person and forces them to question God’s goodness. How can God be good if God’s plan can include this?
Some will try to say that God cannot intervene. They say he cannot stop bad things from happening because he gives us free will. We can do whatever we want without oversight and without consequence. This suggests that God is powerless to stop human behavior. To believe in this would minimize the power and authority of God. But, we know this is not true; we see instances throughout the Bible where God intervenes on the behalf of his people.
Some will try to say that there is a lesson in being a victim of brokenness. That God permits things to happen so that you can learn and grow from them. Yet, this is not the way in which God instructed Moses when he gave him the Ten Commandments. It is not the way Jesus taught his disciples. To believe in this would suggest that God is a cruel teacher, who manipulates and abuses us into drawing close to him.
When we experience trauma, we want answers to our questions: Why didn’t God intervene? Is he inattentive? Is he powerless to stop it? Or even worse, is he unloving and unkind?
So, is there an answer out there that neither minimizes our pain or the character of God?
I think there is. When we are weighed down by our trauma, we need to remember these things: God sees, God bears our shame and redeems, God’s justice will prevail, and God trades beauty for ashes.
God Who Sees
Psalm 46:1 says, God is “an ever-present help in trouble” (NIV). To me, that felt like a lie. At times I felt like God must have turned his face away; that he was busy doing something else, or something more important must have been happening. He must not have seen me or surely, he would have done something.
Genesis 16 tells me a different story. It tells me the story of El Roi: The God Who Sees Me.
The Lord revealed this name to a woman named Hagar. She was an Egyptian servant for Sarah and Abraham. Sarah, frustrated by her barrenness, decided to have Abraham conceive a child with Hagar. Then filled with jealousy, Sarah emotionally and physically mistreated pregnant Hagar to the point that Hagar fled to the desert.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to her in that moment, reminding us that in our lowest moments, when we want to run away, when we want to hide ourselves, when we feel abused and mistreated and are hurting, we are seen. God sees us in our moment of pain. God hears our cries of distress.
In the midst of Hagar’s anguish, an angel of the Lord meets her and reminds her that her abuse is not the end of her story. And she responds to him and says, “‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13 NIV).
The story in Genesis 16 is a reminder that God is not some great “overlord” who is simply allowing bad things to happen. He knows you personally, and when you cry out in desperation and pain, he calls you by your name. He is an intimate God, a loving God, and a compassionate God.
He sees you and is with you even in your darkest moments. He grieves over the pain you are experiencing. And he lavishes his love over you.
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”Psalm 56: 8 NLT
“The LORD is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good.”Proverbs 15:3 NLT
God Who Bears Our Shame and Redeems
I used to feel like I was walking around with a neon light behind me that flashed “Damaged Goods” or “Broken Beyond Repair” or some other sign that conveyed my shame. That’s a common feeling for those who have been sexually assaulted. It feels like the violation has left a visible mark for everyone to see—that I was now defined by this one thing.
Yet Isaiah 61:10 says this:
“I will rejoice greatly in the LORD;Isaiah 61:10 ESV
my soul will exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
The beauty of the cross is the message of hope and freedom. Jesus bore our shame and traded it for righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Whether the shame was put there by our own sin or inflicted on us by the sins of someone else, Jesus bore our shame on the cross. He died so that we could live free of the shackles that shame tries to ensnare us in. He bore our shame so we no longer have to bear it. He took it all away so we know longer have to carry it.
Isaiah 61:10 is a direct contradiction to all the emotions we experience. When we feel dirty and ashamed, God reminds us that we are clothed in garments of salvation. When we feel exposed and shamed, we are reminded that we are covered in a robe of righteousness. When we feel dirty and ugly and broken, we are told that we are adorned in a beautiful headdress and jewels. Jesus has cleansed us and made us whole. No person or circumstance can change that reality. No person or circumstance can change your identity.
“Praise the LORD, my soul . . . who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.”Psalm 103:2, 4 NIV
God of Justice
There are a few stories of sexual assault in the Bible, and truthfully, they are painful to read through. But I do find comfort in the verses provided in Deuteronomy 22:
“But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.” Deuteronomy 22:25-27
The verses around this passage of text talk about situations in which consent is given. Verses 23-24 describe a case of consensual adultery in which two willing parties engage in sex and then are subsequently punished. Verses 28-29 talk about a case of consensual sex before marriage—in which the punishment demanded is marriage. Neither of the cases described above use the Hebrew word for force, nor do they compare the act to an “attack comparable to murder.”
In Deuteronomy 22:25-27, we can find comfort because not only was the man punished, but the woman was proclaimed entirely blameless.
God communicates two beautiful messages here:
- It is not your fault.
- Those with whom the blame lies will be held accountable.
What is beautiful about this passage of Scripture is that it promises what our modern-day justice system cannot: that we will be heard, listened to, and believed. Even though the woman in Deuteronomy was alone and no one heard her cry out, she was taken seriously, and she was given justice. Though we may not see it on this side of heaven, we can be assured that the Lord our Judge will give us our justice.
Nothing you did will ever make sexual assault your fault—not your clothing or your intoxication level or any other circumstance. God makes this very clear in his Word. You did not deserve it. This was not a punishment for your sin. And those that committed a sin against you will ultimately have to account for it at the end of time, even if they never account for it on earth.
God Who Trades Beauty for Ashes
We know that evil exists in this world. We were told that the moment that Adam and Eve took a bite of the apple and sin and brokenness entered the world. But the presence of evil, the presence of sin, and the presence of brokenness do not negate the power of God. It does not mean that God is not in control. It does not mean that God is evil or has evil intentions for us.
In fact, the story of Joseph found in Genesis directly contradicts that. After being sold into slavery, Joseph says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” (Genesis 50:20 NIV). God can make beauty from ashes, trade sorrow for joy, and create laughter from tears.
This in no way minimizes your pain or trauma. Just because God can create beauty out of evil, does not mean evil did not exist in the first place. God trading beauty for ashes, does not negate the ashes of ruin that once lay at his feet. Just because God can make good things happen from evil things, does not mean you have to shove your pain into a box and wait for the “lesson” that will grow you and others closer to Christ. God can absolutely work through terrible things and use them for His glory. But that in no way, shape, or form makes them less terrible.
You are allowed to hold both the grief of your assault and the hope for the healing and goodness that is to come. You can be sad for what has happened, yet expectant for what God will do. Both can co-exist. They do not cancel each other out.
I wish I could give you a beautiful, succinct answer to why God didn’t intervene during your assault. I wish I could give myself that same answer. But the reality is that I simply don’t know. I am not God, and I cannot answer for him. He works in mysterious ways that I cannot even begin to comprehend.
While I may not understand why my sexual assault (or any sexual assault) happened, here’s what I do know. God came to my rescue in the darkest time of my life, and he continues to be a place of refuge in my non-linear path of healing. There are times when I wake up and feel like I have taken a million steps back in my healing journey, and God shows up in those moments. There are times where I hardly think about it for an entire day, week, or month. God is no less present there.
So, while I cannot answer the most pressing question of “why,” I can know and trust and cling to the truth that God sees me in those moments. While there may be moments in which I have to put my hands up and accept that horrible things happen sometimes, I can trust that he is working to redeem me in those moments. I know that he will restore me in those moments. I can believe that he can create beautiful things out of terrible circumstances. And I know that one day I will experience the fullness of his justice. My prayer is that one day, you can cling to those truths, too.
A Note from the Editor
While some of you may resonate with these stories and experiences, we understand that no two stories are the same. Our enemy is cunning and knows exactly which lies to whisper in our ear to pull us back into isolation. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and we encourage you to wield it as a sword against the lies of the enemy—but don’t do it alone. There are times when we are so weary from battling the lies of the enemy that we don’t have the strength to stand. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” Find friends and community who will speak God’s truth to you and over you. You are not alone in this fight.
In his infinite wisdom, God has chosen to work through ordinary people to accomplish his eternal purposes for our good and his glory. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I mentioned Ecclesiastes 4:9 earlier; the very next verse says, “Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Too often, we wait until we have fallen and have no one to lift us up before we seek help. God can work through organizations and resources like these to provide you with the tools and friends you need to ensure you have help when you need it. And if we can pray with you and for you, we would love to do so. You can submit your prayer request here.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Kayla Carthel is a dog mom, future counselor, lover of all iced coffees, and devoted daughter of God. You can typically find her twirling in flowy dresses, listening to true crime documentaries, belting the Hamilton soundtrack, and redecorating the house for the millionth time (much to the consternation of her husband).