Monday, 13 May 2013

The knowledge and love of God

There seem to have been so many items in the news over the past few weeks relating to the abuse of children and young people. Every day there's a new and horrific revelation from the guilty plea of TV presenter Stuart Hall to the sheer scale of abuse in children's homes in Wales, and then the harrowing accounts of the murder of Tia Sharp today. And this is to name only a few.
One of the hardest things to acknowledge is that human cruelty is an everyday event. One of the most revealing details came when the neighbour of Ariel Castro struggled to get his head around the fact that an average bloke who attended backyard barbecues and made small talk was also capable of abduction, abuse and torture.Finding out that someone you assumed was basically decent can carry out atrocity shakes your faith not only in them but in your own judgements and ultimately in human nature.
If, while listening to these cases on the news, you have had a fleeting moment when you have asked yourself whether it is safe to trust anyone, or safe to assume that most people are decent, imagine how much more of a challenge this poses to those who have been abused. Those abused as children have grown up with that disconnect between appearance and reality because they have experienced what a trusted and seemingly decent adult, who goes about their everyday life in an ordinary fashion, is actually capable of. Survivors of abuse are rarely very surprised at what goes on behind closed doors.
Yet trust is an essential part of human life, without it you close down and emotionally you die. You can't let people get close to you. You can't be honest with others or be yourself with them. Because you are unable to develop a sense of who others are, you may lack a sense of self and show a casual disregard for your own needs or be unable to identify your own emotions.
We all need to be able to trust others and I think that to have a faith can be an enormous blessing for those who have been abused and for all of us in our doubts about goodness in ourselves and others. If you can truly grasp that God is pure goodness, pure holiness, pure love, and can be utterly trusted, then this provides that still centre in a turning world. If you have this, then the knowledge that evil is real and everyday is balanced by the knowledge that goodness is also real and everyday- and you will begin to  find it, and even to expect it, in yourself and others.


  1. Well said, Sue!

    Iffy Vicar

  2. A friend of a friend of mine worked in the same benefit office as Denise Nilson – the serial killer. He got on with Nilson very well and after Nilson was caught this friend of a friend could not understand how someone who appeared so ‘nice’ could be so evil and thus began to worry and mistrust everyone he knew – he had a nervous breakdown as a result.

    I have spent much of my working life dealing with some of the nasty sides of life. I tend to take people as I find them now: I rarely see people as either ‘saints’ or ‘sinners’ – because the vast majority of us possess the ability to be both. By nature I tend to be reasonably positive about people and only readjust my assessment once evidence is presented to the contrary.

    I will add that a good deal of the hype around child abuse, grooming, celeb arrests and the like is just a species of pornography (as is much that we class as ‘news’). I think people would do well to remember that no matter what stories we hear on the news about Asian gangs, has-been celebrities or white-trash dysfunctional families (and I have purposefully used pejorative terms because these are the discourses the media wishes to initiate) the vast bulk of child abuse take place in the family. Most children are sexually abused by a near or step relative and only a tiny proportion of the children killed each year don’t know their killer (most children are killed by a parent – and do remember our child murder rate is VERY low!).

    Yet I think we also need to rejoice that people are now being listened to. The day Jimmy Saville’s death was announced on the 10pm news, I turned to my partner and said: ‘A lot will come about him, now that he’s dead...’ (How right I was!) – I’d heard rumours in the 1980s and 90s from friends who worked in the BBC who said it was well known Saville had a predilection for children – I’d also lived in Leeds for four years in the late 80s/early 90s and heard similar stories. But no one would have believed many people who came forward or it would have just been swept under the carpet at the time.

    As a teenager, on Thatcher’s YOP scheme, I was working at a specialist nursing home in Lancashire – I was 17 and a very young (and naive) 17. Like many homes, it had a handyman – a married man, grandfather – he was in his early 50s – a real lady’s man. One day afternoon I was in a resident’s room, putting laundry away when this man trapped him the room and tried to force me to... I fought back and pushed my way out of the room. But I knew no one would ever believe me if I reported what had happened. (As an aside, I ran into this man when he was out shopping with his granddaughter, ten years or so later and he refused to acknowledge he knew me...). I am sure this has been a problem for years. My father is 86 and a few months ago we were chatting about what he did in the war – he worked in several factories (from the age of 14) and he hinted that sexual abuse of boys by older men certainly took place – as did the sexual abuse of girls. Proving ‘Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions...’ Ecclesiastes 7:10

    At least things are out in the open a little bit more now – which is something for which we should be grateful! We have to believe there is a lot of good in the world... But it is necessary to believe there is a lot of nastiness too – and one thing is certain, religion (of whatever flavour) is no protector – indeed at its worst it is a good means of appearing outwardly ‘virtuous’ without asking too many questions... We have to be ‘...shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’ Matt 10:16!


  3. This is so very true. On Friday we found out that a pupil I teach just stabbed someone minutes after walking out of school. We thought we knew him and to find that out, shocked me to the very core. It temporarily changed my perception of everything. A simple shopping trip on Saturday made me look at every young person in a different light. Although I regularly go into town, I've never felt as unsafe and wary of people as I did then. How dreadful it must be for people who feel like that all the time, who never have had any trust in human nature. Great article. Thanks!

  4. I think having a reasonably positive attitude to people but being prepared to readjust that if you need to is the right one. How difficult to find out you've worked with a serial killer though, and also your experience, Michelle.I like to think we can basically trust most people. I have to think that way.