As a boy I was fascinated with pain. I often wondered how the pain I felt compared to pain others felt. I mostly kept this to myself, but there was at least one occasion I got into an argument with friends about who had experienced the most pain.
We all shared our stories: fractured limbs, concussions, road rash, and a hernia (that was my trump card). As each story concluded the storyteller would lean back, content with his story, expecting white flags to be raised in defeat. But, in fact, each of us was disappointed with the reception of our tales of woe as the next storyteller would jump in, one-upping the last teller’s story of pain with his own.
I look back with embarrassment at the immaturity and narcissism this pain one-upmanship revealed in me. And yet, is this not the culture we live in today: a culture of victimhood?
The Royal Flush of Victimhood
There is nothing more powerful in today’s culture than playing the card of victimhood. And there appear to be more playing that card than ever before. Recently, as I listened to a variety of podcasts, I heard someone bemoan International Women’s Day because “The other 364 days are International Men’s Day.” I then listened to Trump supporters dismiss their boorish behavior because “you had it coming – you never listened to us before.” But the one who took the victimhood cake was a woman who, as though proudly citing skills on a resume, declared she was “black, lesbian, and disabled.” You could almost feel the other panelists shrink as she played this royal flush of victimhood cards.
My point here isn’t political. In fact, if there is one thing that both sides seem to agree on, it is how rough they both have it. My point isn’t that there isn’t victimhood. If you are a human being, you have been victimized. And I confess I have undoubtedly been victimized far less than most.
How Victimhood Robs Us
My argument, rather, is that such a mentality of victimhood robs us as Christians. Four ways it robs us are:
1) Victimhood robs us of gratitude: when we focus on the ways we have been victimized, our eyes grow scales and we become blind to the blessings that fill our lives.
2) Victimhood robs us of joy: the book of Acts, a book in which the followers of Jesus experienced great persecution, is a book punctuated not by a veil of victimhood, but rather joy. After their first arrest by the Sanhedrin, the disciples rejoiced that they would be “counted worthy to suffer dishonor” for Jesus (Acts 5:41), and that joy continues unabated to the very end of the book.
3) Victimhood robs us of repentance: we are all victims and victimizers. When we focus on how we have been victimized, we become blind to the way in which we have victimized others.
4) Victimhood robs us of salvation: most seriously, our narcissistic focus on our victimization can blind us from considering the one true victim, Jesus Christ. Jesus was the only true victim that ever walked the earth. He was guiltless. And yet he was a willing, not unwilling, victim. He was a victim for the victimizers, for you and for me. On the final day we will all join in song, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12). May our eyes not be blinded to the glory of the true Victim of God by fixing into the naval of our own victimhood.
Brothers and sisters, don’t be robbed by victimhood. May we look to the true victim, Jesus Christ, and may our hearts break by how we have victimized and be filled with gratitude for the great forgiveness of the Lamb of God, who has died in our stead.
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