I wish there were no need for books like Rid of My Disgrace. I wish there were no such thing as sexual assault. But the ugly truth is that sexual assault does exist, and it is way too common. Statistics show that “one in four women and one in six men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime” (13). That is shocking and alarming.
Because this is a real and troubling part of our world, I am thankful for Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s gospel-centered work in writing Rid of My Disgrace.
Justin Holcomb is a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle and director of the Resurgence. He is also an adjunct professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. His wife is a deacon at the church and counsels victims of sexual assault and trains leaders to care for those who have been victimized.
This book is important because sexual assault is deeply painful and can leave victims feeling shamed, humiliated, betrayed, mocked, lonely, silenced, and violated. The effects produce a deep internal trauma.
This book is written for those who have suffered and for Christian leaders who wish to help victims. Justin and Lindsey Holcomb write with tender care and wisdom. And I love that they write with their Bibles open. The book is divided into three sections: Disgrace, Grace Applied and Grace Accomplished.
The Holcombs begin by defining sexual assault as “any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority” (28). This definition is important because some people don’t know they have been assaulted, and others excuse their symptoms as irrational. This definition challenges society’s overly narrow view of assault, expanding the spectrum of what is considered sexual assault.
In the first section of the book, the authors use “disgrace” as a category to capture the essence of sexual abuse saying that, “disgrace destroys, causes pain, deforms, and wounds. It alienates and isolates” (15) The Holcombs show that “disgrace is the opposite of grace.” But they don’t stop there! They show the reader that, “Grace is love that seeks you out even if you have nothing to give in return. Grace is being loved when you are or feel unlovable. Grace has the power to turn despair into hope. Grace listens, lifts up, curs, transforms, and heals” (15). We have grace through the person of Jesus, who came to our isolation and disgrace.
This book seeks to tell the truth about assault in order to see victims walk forward in healing. The authors do this by extending God’s grace to the hurting, not with wishy-washy self-help ideas. They apply grace to six common results of sexual assault: denial, distorted self-image, shame, guilt, anger, and despair. Each chapter takes the reader straight to the cross and shows how the Gospel changes everything. Jesus can sympathize and heal no matter what has happened. Between chapters are stories of men and women who describe their abuse, the consequences, and how Jesus healed them and brought them great hope.
Again and again I was amazed at Jesus and how he brings grace to disgraced people. I was astounded that “the story of Jesus on the cross is a story of victimization and shame.” I love that Jesus became a “man of sorrows” and “acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3) because he can relate to our shameful experiences as “he was sentenced to death in the most shameful manner possible–naked and on a cross outside the city gates” (95). Jesus not only relates to victims, but He also paid for every sin committed in this manner. As the Holcombs said, “God is angrier over the sin committed against you than you are” (128). On the cross Jesus took the full wrath of God upon himself so that we could go free. By his wounds we are healed (Isa. 53).
I love how caring this book was, even though parts of this book took a bit of an academic tone. I love that the authors were so methodical and Biblical in approaching such a tough topic. While I was profoundly helped, enlightened, and instructed by this book, I would caution people from buying this book and handing it out before they have read it themselves. For some younger readers it would be great to accompany the book with a good conversation.
Rid of My Disgrace is a powerful book that is saturated with Scripture. It highlights that “where darkness, death, and decay had reigned, Jesus breaks in with light, liberation, and love” (194). It views sexual assault through the lens of the Gospel and offers profound help to victims by extending Jesus’ hope and restoration to them. I believe this book will serve victims and help church leaders and families better love and serve people who have been assaulted. To hear more about this book and listen to an interview with the author check out The Gospel Coalition Blog.