By Hillary Grigel, iBelieve.com
Disclaimer: The following article mentions sexual assault and may be triggering for some individuals. If you find yourself triggered, please reach out to a trusted pastor or counselor for help.
As Christians, we have probably all heard the phrase “more than conquerors” at some point, even if we don’t know its exact address in the Bible (Romans 8:37) or that it was penned by Paul. Paul wasn’t referencing trivial, everyday annoyances when he proclaimed us as more than conquerors. No, he was referring to all manner of suffering and affliction even unto death.
Yet, if we are honest, most of us reach for the victim card rather than the conqueror card when facing hardships. I don’t think Paul is discouraging this all together. Rather, he is arguing we are not meant to permanently reside in victim status. In life, we may find ourselves temporarily in the role of victim or survivor, but we are called to walk through that to arrive at conqueror.
How do we make this transition from victim or survivor to conqueror? Let’s look at two Old Testament women for some further insight, Tamar and Naomi. Studying biblical characters can show us behaviors we want to emulate or avoid. These are case studies of the latter – what to avoid.
One of the most tragic characters in the Bible is Tamar. To clarify, there are two Tamar’s mentioned in the Bible, one in Genesis and one in 2 Samuel. I am referring to the Tamar of 2 Samuel.
For those unfamiliar with Tamar’s story, it is found in 2 Samuel 13, and she is king David’s daughter. Her story begins with her half-brother, Amnon’s, infatuation with her beauty. He tricks David into sending Tamar to care for him as he pretends to be ill.
This false pretense sets Amnon up for a private encounter with Tamar. During this encounter, he asks her to sleep with him. She declines, suggesting rather he speak with David and ask for her in marriage so they can lawfully be together. When he realizes she will not agree to sleep with him, he sexually assaults her.
After this, his feelings immediately turn from infatuation to “intense hatred (2 Samuel 13:15).” He literally has Tamar thrown out of his home. She flees to her brother Absalom’s house, and this is where we are given the last mention of Tamar:
"So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom's house." (2 Samuel 13:20, ESV)
To better understand her final state, it is helpful to look at different translations of this verse and "desolate." She is also referred to as – “isolated (NASB),” “secluded (AMP),” “sad and lonely (CEV),” “a broken woman (CEB),” and “devastated (NET).”
Tamar embodies the state of a perpetual victim, and this is where the greatest tragedy occurs. She survives sexual assault, but she never again thrives. There is no redemption in her story.
As a sexual assault survivor, I empathize with Tamar. I too have felt desolate, devastated, and broken, but by the grace of God, I did not remain in that state. I believe God’s intention for Tamar was not to remain in that state either. In fact, he never intends for any of us to remain in a constant state dictated or defined by our circumstances or what has been done to us.
This leads us to our next example of a woman in the Old Testament who struggled with being defined by her circumstances – Naomi. Naomi’s story can be found in the book of Ruth. Naomi is a married Israelite woman with two sons. Famine strikes the land, so she and her family move to a neighboring pagan nation. There, her two sons marry pagan wives. Tragedy strikes and eventually both her husband and sons die.
When she learns the famine in Israel has ended, she plans to return to Isreal. She sets out with her daughters-in-law but stops to send them home. One returns home, but Ruth is adamant she will remain with Naomi. Naomi returns to her hometown and the townspeople recognize her. In response to their recognition of her, she declares:
“Don’t call me Naomi…call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me." (Ruth 1:20-21)
Naomi is allowing her circumstances to dictate her emotions, her name, and ultimately, her identity. Naomi is afflicted so she becomes affliction. “Call me Mara,” which literally translates – bitter:
Hello, my name is Bitter.
Good morning, Bitter!
See you later, Bitter!
Would you like to grab a coffee, Bitter?
Doesn’t she sound like an absolute delight to be around? (Sarcasm intended.)
Let’s not dismiss or diminish Naomi’s suffering. As a mother and wife, I cannot imagine the overwhelming grief I would feel if I lost my husband and my children as Naomi did. The problem is Naomi is a survivor, but at this point, she is not thriving. Naomi is just getting by.
As children of God, we are not called to just survive. Christ did not die on the cross so we could just get by. Christ came so we could have an abundant life:
"I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10b, ESV)
The Amplified Translation elaborates upon an abundant life by adding: “to the full, till it overflows.” The Message describes this life as: “real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of,” the exact opposite of victimhood or just getting by.
What does an abundant life look like? It is important to note an abundant life does not mean an easy life without any hardships or troubles. Jesus himself promised us:
"In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." John 16:33b
Hardships and trouble are not indicators we aren’t living an abundant life. We can live abundantly despite life’s tribulations.
First and foremost, an abundant life looks like salvation. The forgiveness of sins, but also the means of healing and restoration. Just look at Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Living an abundant life in Christ means we walk in freedom. Jesus began his ministry by reading Isaiah 61 (emphasis added) in the synagogue:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
Upon reading this passage, Jesus declared himself the fulfillment of abundance (Luke 4:21).
Jesus lived out this passage during his lifetime. He sought out the hurting, the outcasts, those shamed and discarded by society. And he set things right. He healed. He restored. He cast off shame.
Jesus’ ministry did not end at the cross. He rose again, and he still ministers today. He still sets things right. He still heals. He still restores. He still casts off shame. He still sets captives free, whether that be literal captivity or physical, mental, or emotional captivity. He still frees those who are oppressed. This passage and Christ’s ministry are the heart of what he longs for all believers, victims, and survivors – freedom.
Living an abundant life gave Paul the confidence to pen “we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)” in every circumstance because of God’s steadfast love. And God’s love changes everything.
Circumstances do not define us; God’s love does. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see our circumstances. He doesn’t see a victim. A survivor. Sins or scars. For those who are in Christ, when he looks at us, he sees Christ.
Christ was not a victim. Christ was not a survivor. Christ did not just get by. He was an overcomer. A conqueror. He defeated death and sin.
Christ did not die on the cross so we could remain a victim, a survivor, or just get by either. He extends redemption and healing to us so that our lives can be further evidence of the freedom and peace only Christ can impart to our souls.
How we walk through adversity is a testimony of our faith. It is a journey. It begins at the victim or survivor, but in Christ, the destination is always the conqueror. Delivered. Healed. Restored.
Yes, we may still live with repercussions and lingering emotions from life’s tragedies, but we are not defined or defeated by them. We do not face these tragedies in our own strength, but with the power of God. We never face them alone. God is by our side. What breaks our hearts breaks his. As a loving father, he longs to set all things right in our lives, but we need to surrender our tragedies to him and allow him to do the work in our lives.
Today if the title victim or survivor resonates with us, may we lay these titles at the feet of Jesus. May we surrender the tragedies in our lives to God’s healing and restorative touch. Knowing God intends for us to walk in the confidence that we are more than conquerors.
Hillary Grigel is a licensed architect, writer, speaker and blogger who proclaims hope and encourages women to live confidently and embrace freedom. She is a survivor of sexual assault and breast cancer. Hillary feels passionately that we are not defined by past hurts or struggles, but by our identity in Christ. There is nothing God cannot redeem. God answers prayers. God is still in the business of doing miracles. Hillary lives in Vail, Arizona with her husband, three children and dog.
You can find more from Hillary at her blog hillarygrigel.com, on Instagram @hillarygrigel or Facebook @hgrigel.