Christians who have been spiritually abused often have a prolonged feeling of antipathy toward everything associated with Christianity – church, the Bible, even God. Not only do they feel they aren’t growing spiritually, they feel they have lost whatever progress in the faith they might have had. They begin to wonder, “Am I still a Christian?”
Something like this is often said about those who doubt their salvation: “The best evidence is not the memory of having raised a hand or prayed a prayer. Nor is it having been baptized or christened. The true test of the authentic work of God in one’s life is growth in Christ-like character, increased love for God and other people, and the fruit of the Spirit.”
This analysis may be helpful in general, but it doesn’t take into account the person who has experienced spiritual. It seems to depend on an unspoken assumption that the Christian life begins with the new birth, and proceeds in an unbroken arc toward Christian maturity, much the same way a newborn baby inevitably grows into an adult. There is never a prolonged period when a baby doesn’t breathe or drink or eat or grow.
But the spiritually abused have gone through an interrupted period where there was trauma, and growth was stunted. Jesus seems to take this into account in several of his analogies of the spiritual life. The parable of the seed and the sower comes to mind. There are seeds that sprout, but then fail to grow. Jesus speaks of us as branches. Branches have a life process. They begin with a bud, they grow, they bear fruit, they are pruned back. They may even have a dormant period, they may die and be cut off.
For survivors of spiritual abuse, there may be different criteria than growth, love and fruit. First, faith. Whether there is evident progress or not, the question is, do I still believe that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, or do I now flat out deny this? If I can no longer say I confidently believe this–because I am racked with doubts about everything–but I am not prepared to deny it, I think that still qualifies as faith, faith under siege but still hanging on by a thread. The seed, the fetus, may still be viable; the bare brown branch may still have hidden sap.
The second criteria would be discomfort. The Holy Spirit will not allow those who belong to Jesus to be comfortable turning away from him. If a person has no inner qualms about walking away from Christianity, I think there may be grounds to question their salvation. The person who has been spiritually abused may back off from Christianity, may even run in the opposite direction, but that is not proof positive they were never really a child of God. Even the apostle Peter went fishing for awhile after denying he knew Jesus.
Those who truly belong to Jesus will eventually be uncomfortable with their antipathies. They will be unable to decisively reject the faith and stick to it. So take heart – these are signs of life. Pruned branches eventually put out buds again, and begin to show signs of fruit.