Rejecting the Role of Victim

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler

What if we examine our hearts and find no fault there? Surely there are those among us who are innocent. People who've been treated with contempt merely because of their skin color, their age, or their sex, or because of the misfortune of falling prey to abuse. Even for these people, it is unhealthy and dangerous to accept the role of victim for any length of time. As Miroslav Volf, author of The End of Memory, points out,

"Victims will often become perpetrators precisely on account of their memories. It is because they remember past victimization that they feel justified in committing present violence. Or rather, it is because they remember their past victimization that they justify as rightful self-protection what to most observers looks like violence born of intolerance or even hatred. So easily does the protective shield of memory morph into a sword of violence.... Remembering wrongs will forge an identity, but the identity may be that of a person imprisoned in his own past and condemned to repeat it."1

We needn't minimize or deny the scope of the wrongs we have suffered in order to reject the role of victim. Admitting these and giving ourselves time to deal honestly with the sins of others is part of the healing process. Still, defining ourselves entirely by what we have suffered will prevent us from becoming who we are in Christ. We cannot be both victim and victor as Christ calls us to be. We cannot appropriate the freedom he offers while remaining in bondage to those who have hurt us. Neither can we access his strength if we continue to give our power away to those who have oppressed us in the past.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul instructs believers to clothe themselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. In Romans 12:14,17 he tells them to "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.... Do not repay anyone evil for evil." By remembering rightly we can keep ourselves from repaying evil for evil, opening up the possibility of blessing those who persecute us.

Remembering rightly does not require that we ignore the offense, acting as though it never happened. Doing so risks harm, both to ourselves and others, because repression can achieve neither healing nor justice. In fact, ignoring an offense may open the door to further abuse if the guilty person is allowed to continue unimpeded. Remembering truthfully is the first step toward justice. Again the point is not whether to remember but how to remember. We have the option of either learning the right lessons from our memories or the wrong ones.

1. Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), p.33.


Originally published June 23, 2020.