A Heavenly Perspective on Pain Caused by Believers
By LESLIE LUDY
It was a snowy day in January 1892 when Amy Carmichael put pen to paper in an attempt to express to her beloved mother that God was calling her to leave everything and pour out her life on a foreign mission field. She was living a full and satisfying life in England helping her family, serving in a prominent ministry, and sharing the Gospel with young people in her community. But a burden for unreached people began to weigh so heavily upon her heart that she knew she had to go. Where? She didn’t know. She only knew that He was calling her somewhere far away as His ambassador — most likely for the rest of her life.
Her soul said yes to the call. But at the same time, as one biography states, “Her heart shrank from the pain and ache of what leaving those she loved would mean.” She went through an excruciating inner struggle so intense that she compared it to the Bible story of Benaiah (one of David’s mighty men) wrestling with the lion in a pit on a snowy day.
Ironically, her biggest struggle didn’t come from facing the hardships of a foreign land or the uncertainty of starting her life over in an entirely different culture. It came from the criticism of fellow Christians.
Though her closest family members and friends were in support of her decision, other believers whom she loved and respected began to say terrible things. Some told her that, in leaving, she would be responsible for the untimely death of an older godly man who depended upon her. Others questioned her motives, saying she was merely enchanted by a romantic notion of living in a foreign land. Still others said that she would not be acting in Christian love if she left those who needed her. As one of her biographers explained, “In truth, Amy did not want to go; but she felt she had to go in answer to Christ’s call. When she responded to that call, it was the Christians who hurt her, not the unconverted.”
From the time that she said yes to God’s call to pour out her life overseas, Amy experienced many seasons of hurt caused by fellow Christians. The year of 1912 found her in India, launching a ministry to rescue children from the horrors of temple trafficking (a lifetime of abuse and sexual slavery). She faced incredible spiritual battles and practical obstacles in this important work God had appointed for her. But amazingly, even amid severe persecution and extreme threats from unbelievers, her biggest struggle came from Christians.
As one biography says, “Quite a movement arose among missionaries and Indian Christians, to ‘get Amy Carmichael out of India.’ Her implacable opposition to mere nominal Christianity, the high standard of godliness expected in her fellow workers, her wearing of the sari [Indian vs. English clothing], and her dependence on faith and prayer for funds, drew deep opposition. She was accused of being a dictator, of being opposed to marriage; and that her attempt to save temple children was only a stunt to draw attention to herself.”
Despite this movement against her, God was with Amy. No weapon formed against her was able to prosper. She stayed in India for the rest of her life. She became a world-class missionary, a voice for the voiceless, and a powerful force against some of the most terrible injustices of her time. She became a beloved mother to hundreds of vulnerable children, a spiritual mentor to scores of Indian women, and a hope-filled light in the midst of a very great darkness.
And yet it is startling to realize that the most significant attempts to quell the light that she reflected did not come from hardened unbelievers who hated the God she represented, but from fellow Christians — those who called themselves by His Name.
The first time I read about the hurtful experiences that Amy Carmichael endured, tears pricked my eyes, and a familiar ache squeezed my heart. Though she lived in another era and had a calling far different from my own, I could personally relate to certain aspects of her story — specifically the misunderstanding and criticism she faced from within the Church. Unequivocally, the deepest wounds in my life have been caused by other Christians. Maybe you can also relate?
When Eric and I were a young, newly married couple, we enthusiastically stepped into full-time ministry. As we prepared to travel around the world to speak in churches and at Christian events, I had a romantic (and naive) vision of what things would be like. I imagined the thrill of connecting with like-minded, loving, Christ-focused believers from all over the world. I envisioned gleaning spiritual strength and wisdom as we worked alongside many Christian leaders that I admired and respected. It didn’t take me long to realize that my expectations did not align with reality.
To be fair, there were many significant and powerful things that happened in those early days of ministry. And we did meet many edifying and godly believers. Many lives were transformed by His truth. For this I am deeply grateful, even now. But what stands out most vividly in my memory is the jarring emotional pain I experienced from Christians. I simply wasn’t prepared for it.
I was 21 years old one of the first times it happened, and I had been in ministry with Eric for about a year. A pastor who barely knew us accused me of publicly disrespecting my husband. It was a ludicrous accusation, and Eric told him so. The pastor wouldn’t listen but went on to tell me that I was unfit to be in ministry, that I needed counseling, and that he believed I had unresolved issues with my father. I was devastated and had to fight off depression and insecurity for many months following that phone call.
Another time, just as our ministry was getting off the ground, a Christian man who had been highly recommended by believers we respected came to work alongside us. Even though our pastoral team and board had approved our hiring him, he deceived us and drained our ministry of all its resources. It took us several years to recover both emotionally and financially.
Those were some of my first experiences with hurtful Christians, but they certainly weren’t my last. Over the past 25 years in ministry, Eric and I have faced many situations where believers have hurt us. There have been times when people we trusted have stabbed us in the back. There have been times when those we sacrificially served have despised and ridiculed us. There have been times when we have been falsely accused and publicly slandered. There have been many times when we have been manipulated, lied to, used, and disregarded.
All of these experiences have involved fellow Christians. The pain has sometimes been so intense that I have seriously considered changing our names, leaving the country, and disappearing for good. But thankfully, God has not allowed me to follow through with that plan!
When Christians Let Us Down
For most of us, it is far easier to handle mistreatment from non-believers than wounds caused by Christians. Whether you have Christian family members who are harsh and insensitive toward you or fellow believers who have hurt you through behaviors like gossip, betrayal, or selfishness, it can be extremely difficult to know how to process this kind of pain in a healthy and Christ-centered way.
Oftentimes, this is because we expect more from Christians. We intrinsically feel that someone who calls themself by Christ’s Name should also reflect Christ’s love and character. But let’s not forget that, as Christians, we are each still a work in progress. We all have rough edges — those areas of our lives that are still being refined by the Spirit of God. Every Christian has blind spots and areas where our sinful nature is still vying for control. As the Apostle Paul said, “Not that I have … already become perfect, but I press on…” (Phil. 3:12 NASB).
This certainly doesn’t mean that we should just shrug our shoulders and accept it as normal when Christians hurt each other. God’s intention is for Christians to be hallmarked by supernatural, heavenly love and care for each other. That is why Jesus says, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). And, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12 NASB).
This kind of love is only possible by the enabling grace of God — but it is possible. It is a supernatural miracle that God must do within us. It requires something more than good intentions. It does not come naturally simply because we believe the right things. In fact, in the early Church we see frequent indications of the believers’ uncanny propensity to hurt each other:
If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Galatians 5:15 NIV
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?
…When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you… 1 Corinthians 11:18
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.
Philippians 4:2 NIV
For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be … I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.
2 Corinthians 12:20 NIV
Yet we also see beautiful glimpses of God’s supernatural, victorious love that triumphs over our sinful propensities when we choose to yield to Him.
Of Timothy, Paul declared:
I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.
Philippians 2:20 NIV
To the church at Thessalonica, Paul wrote:
Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia…
1 Thessalonians 4:9–10a NIV
To the Philippians, Paul said:
…For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.
Philippians 4:16 NIV
And of Philemon, Paul wrote:
I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints…
Grasping God’s Victorious Love
If you have experienced (or are currently experiencing) hurt from fellow believers, you can be encouraged that you are not alone. Since the early Church, Christians have been prone to cause pain in each other’s lives, but God has a solution to this problem. The solution is His victorious love — a heavenly love that triumphs over our selfish nature and reflects the incredible, selfless, sacrificial attitude of our King. It’s that victorious love we see demonstrated in Timothy, Paul, Philemon, and the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica.
We may not be able to control whether other Christians walk in this kind of victorious love or not, but we can personally choose to allow it to flow through our own lives. And that is where it must begin.
Darlene Deibler, a missionary prisoner during World War II, described the incredible power of God’s victorious love among herself and her fellow missionaries during a time when the temptation to turn against each other must have been very strong as they faced extreme persecution, sickness, and trauma. In her biography, she writes:
In those years of the very closest of associations, there had never been a quarrel or even cross words among us. I was the youngest, and I needed their counsel, which they freely gave. They had loved me, encouraged me, and supported me in every way. These women of God truly adorned the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am blessed to have known them. “How good and pleasant it is for brethren — and sisters — to dwell together in unity.”
What powerful evidence of God’s victorious love at work within the lives of believers! Instead of unkindness — genuine concern. Instead of insensitivity — sacrificial love. Instead of selfish distance — unreserved sharing. This is what the grace of God can accomplish in relationships among believers when we yield to Him. Let’s allow it to start with us.
Experiencing God’s Amazing Redemption
Another important truth to grasp when we are struggling with pain caused by fellow believers is the amazing power of God’s redemption. I have learned from personal experience that God can redeem all that the enemy means for evil in our lives — including pain caused by Christians. In fact, some of the most important spiritual truths that Eric and I have ever learned have come as a result of being hurt by those within the Church. And even when certain relationships in our lives have seemed beyond repair, God has brought supernatural healing.
If you have been hurt by believers, the story isn’t meant to end with confusion and pain. God can turn the situation around and leverage it for His glory when we choose to trust Him. As Lilias Trotter so beautifully said, “Take the very hardest thing in your life — the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom.”
For me, for Amy Carmichael, and maybe for you, the “very hardest thing” has been pain caused by Christians. Do we expect God to triumph gloriously in that area of our lives? Or do we expect to be hindered by those painful memories forever?
Amy Carmichael wrote about the amazing power of God that not only enables us to forgive but also sets us free from the control of those hurtful memories: “If I say, ‘Yes, I forgive, but I cannot forget,’ as though the God, who twice a day washes all the sands on all the shores of all the world, could not wash such memories from my mind, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”
We serve an amazing, powerful God who is not indifferent to the pain we feel when other believers hurt us. In fact, Jesus’ greatest suffering was caused by religious leaders and trusted friends. He was betrayed by someone very close to Him. His disciples deserted Him when He needed them most. He was disowned by the one friend who had vowed to die with Him. And highly respected church leaders celebrated His torture and death.
But Jesus’ story didn’t end there. That path of betrayal and heartache led to the greatest triumph of all time. So be encouraged — Jesus not only knows exactly what we are going through, but He is able to turn each one of our hurtful experiences into a picture of His triumph and grace.
Though wounds caused by hurtful Christians can be excruciatingly painful, there are countless spiritual blessings awaiting us when we lay our pain at Jesus’ feet. He knows. He cares. He understands. And He is ready to fill us with Himself. He is ready to turn all that the enemy means for evil into good. And He is eager to equip us not only to forgive, but also to become a catalyst for His victorious love — a love that can turn this world upside down. What a mighty God we serve.