It's Hard to Get Close to God
After Being in an Abusive Group
Many of you have expressed how it seems almost impossible to get close to God after exiting. You wish it wasn't that way, but every time you think about Him, something fills you with dread and despair. You find yourself fearing Him and hating the thought that He might come near if you asked.
Some of you have come to see that what you were in wasn't "God's one true church," there wasn't a "God's government" and the leader was just another false teacher/prophet who was more interested in power and money than your well-being. In other words, he lied. But have you wondered if what was taught inside the group about this "god" was also lies?
(Before proceeding, it may be helpful to read Getting the Group Out of Us.)
The "god" you were taught in the group was not characteristic of a God of love. He had more the traits of an evil being, almost comparable to Satan. If those words seem too strong, think for a moment about how "God" was presented to you. The emphasis was always placed on a powerful, judgmental, angry "god" who would punish you (and others) if you didn't obey Him the way the "Pastor General," or "Apostle" and his ministers commanded you. This "god" was hard to trust and He would cause very bad things to happen to you if you didn't measure up. Fear, dread, guilt and anxiety were your constant companions--while at the same time you felt compelled to serve this "god" because, after all, this was "God's one true Church." Or was it?
The powerful leader in the group focused on O.T. prophets, end time prophecies, Laodiceans, new revelations, Satan, and how "you better not fail, or you won't make it into the Kingdom of God." All this striving and performance (with accompanying fear, shame, confusion and guilt) served to keep you from thinking on your own and asking hard questions. And it kept the true Jesus Christ (who was "God with us") at a distance, almost like the children of Israel wanted Him kept at a distance when they gathered around Mount Sinai.
This wrathful "god" that you were taught always seemed so far away, yet you felt that He was waiting and watching to punish His people for the slightest sin. All those years your focus was on what you needed to do and how one slip-up in disobeying this "god" (actually the "government of God" which was correlated with the leader) would bring a curse, disfellowshipment, punishment and eternal death. You learned that this "god" didn't let people get too close to Him.
Now, since you're out, it's very hard to let God--whoever He might be--into your life. There is a fear that He might hurt you. But who really hurt you? Wasn't it those who lied to you, deceived you, placed bondages on you, and treated you in cruel, harsh, and unmerciful ways?
It seems inconceivable that any of us could ever find ourselves enmeshed in a system so deceitful that the leader's sole purpose was to betray us, exploit us financially, and who would use all manner of lies, abuse, and manipulation in order to accomplish this. What you were involved with was only one of hundreds of abusive, totalistic Bible-based groups in society that are deceiving others with similar words, techniques, and even teachings (Read: All or Nothing Statements [from those that have "the truth"]) and Leaders of Totalistic Groups Have These Traits in Common (Includes at end: Totalistic Groups Have Much in Common).
These groups have nothing to do with "God." They actually keep you from knowing the true God of love and instead replace Him with some kind of satanic "god." Love, mercy, compassion, comfort, grace, forgiveness--especially as it was revealed through Christ Jesus--were twisted and mingled with hate, anger, terror, dread, guilt, shame, isolation, and depression. Are these good fruits??
How can you begin healing spiritually and emotionally when you have messages inside your head that are untrue? It's hard to separate God's love and acceptance from what you feel is His anger and displeasure, let alone comprehend how you could ever come to love Him. That false "god" of the group is so hard to get rid of. But in time it is possible to replace the lies with the truth and to see how God has revealed the exceeding kindness, love, grace and complete forgiveness, when He manifested Himself through the Lord Jesus. You don't have to "study the Bible," or do certain works, in order to win His favor. The first thing that is needful after exiting is to rest, realizing He understands all you've been through, and that you need time to heal.
God Loves Us Because of Jesus:
Grace is despised in abusive high demand groups. It's even been called as "license to sin." But that is not the definition of grace. Grace is unmerited favor. We don't receive it by doing any kind of work or ritual, or by being in a certain church. It's not based on fear. It's based on knowing God's comforting promises which never fail. But you've had much fear placed in your mind. Why? To keep you from leaving the group; to keep you in bondage and darkness. It is this fear and dread that oppressed you. It will take much time to sort through all the lies and to understand what has happened and to know it's not your fault.
God loved us so much that He came to us in human form to live among us and to die for all our sins. Jesus was "God with us." (Matthew 1:23) It is only through Jesus that we can ever know what the true God of love is like. Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Grace means: "approval, favor, mercy, pardon and privilege." Truth means: "faithful; sincerity in action, character, and utterance." Jesus was merciful, kind, loving, gentle, and compassionate. He went about doing good--healing the sick, encouraging others, and providing for their needs in various ways. Instead of making the common people afraid, He calmed their fears. Using a concordance, you might want to look up how many times Jesus said, "fear not," or "be not afraid." Even after His resurrection, some of the first words he said to His disciples were "peace be unto you." (Luke 24:36; John 20:19)
Everything that we can know of God (not the one taught in the group) is what has been shown us in Jesus, who brings us face to face with the true God of love. The Bible reveals that Jesus is known by over 100 different names and titles. (Read some of them on our site.) Only the Lord Jesus Christ, through His Holy Spirit, the Comforter, can open up our minds and begin to show us the truth about the goodness, mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love and acceptance God has towards us.
Through Jesus' death on the cross, God demonstrated once and for all how much He loved us. There is no greater, nor deeper love than this. When we place our faith in Him as our personal Savior, He will at that moment give us the Holy Spirit and eternal life, which can never be taken away. Jesus saves to the uttermost--and that means eternally. It is possible to have a closeness with Him without fear or terror of punishment. He has made us "accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6) and we have assurance of salvation (I John 5:13). This is not based on our feelings (which have undergone much manipulation), but on His sure promises.
"And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." (I John 5:20)
Remember when Jesus was transfigured in His glory with Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28-31) and how that afterwards Peter wanted to build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah? What did the voice they heard from heaven say?
"This is my beloved son, hear ye him." Then when they looked up, they saw no man, only Jesus (Matthew 17:8).
Instead of focusing on a man (whether it be Herbert Armstrong, Gerald Flurry, David Pack, etc.), our eyes need to be turned upon Jesus.
"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1).
Because of the depth of your betrayal by unscrupulous men who would corrupt the Word of God for their own gain, it takes a long time to heal emotionally and spiritually. There is no shortcut in spite of how you would like to trust Him and to find Him faithful. But those of us in ESN who have been through this can affirm that He will never leave you, nor forsake you; neither will He stop loving you. (Read: Jesus is Always There) He will continue to send you encouragement no matter how weak and depressed you feel. He will comfort you in your sorrow and carry you through. No matter how many questions you have, no matter how much pain, anger and confusion you are experiencing, you can tell Him how you feel and He will always understand. You can make it through.
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-29).May you come to know this true God of love, mercy and grace and may you find rest and eternal life in Him.
By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
January 4, 2004
Last updated September 17, 2013
"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us..." ~I John 4:10
Praying in the WCG (note at end for those who are finding it very hard to pray)
Poems/Free Verse/Comfort in Music (no audio)