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Faith and Family: Dealing with self-injury — Scripture speaks about escaping pain, sufferingcomment (0)

July 24, 2014

By Kathryn Steele

As we seek relief from emotional pain at varying points in life many of us use unhealthy coping methods such as food (too much or too little), exercise to the excess, a disproportionate focus on work or another person or abuse of alcohol or drugs. Another method of coping with pain, self-injury, has become a frequent method of coping in our culture today.

The Bible speaks directly in only four passages about using self-injury to cope with pain, but Scripture speaks volumes about seeking to escape pain or suffering. Learning to deal with pain is essential for self-wounders. They must develop a healthy response to pain and suffering. The Bible offers hope for those who inflict pain on themselves to escape from pain. Consider these truths from the Bible related to the reasons why a person might self-injure:

  • God promises to be with us in all pain and suffering, and reminds us He is able to strengthen us to deal with our losses. In Leviticus 19:28, Jehovah commands the people of Israel to “not cut their bodies ritually” (some translations say “for the dead”). A common reason for individuals to self-injure is to cope with the pain they feel from a loss, often of a loved one. Deuteronomy 14:1–2 says: “You are the children of the Lord your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be His treasured possession.” God wants to be our comfort and our Healer (Isa. 53:5).

Cry out to God

  • God wants us to cry out to Him for help. In 1 Kings 18:28 the prophets of Baal tried to get the attention of their gods by “shout(ing) louder and slash(ing) themselves with swords and spears, as was the custom, until their blood flowed.” We don’t have to sacrifice our blood to have the help and attention of our God. Christ completed everything necessary to assure our protection and His help (Heb. 10:17, 18).
  • It may seem no one cares, but God does. Mark 5:1–20 records the experience of a self-injurer who was isolated, living in the tombs and struggling with demons that tormented him. Jesus showed him compassion and sent the demons away from him. Hebrews 4:16 reminds us God is always available: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
  • Rejection by others is painful. Colossians 3:12 declares that God’s children are chosen, holy and dearly loved no matter how others respond to them. Our true value and worth is found in Christ.
  • Abandonment is a frequent emotional experience that motivates self-injury. God promises to never abandon us and He loves us even in our sin (Matt. 28:20; Rom. 5:8).
  • Self-contempt may result from abuse or neglect. One who has experienced abuse or neglect may believe he or she is unworthy of love or happiness. Sometimes the act of believing one deserves abuse gives an explanation for why others have inflicted pain on him or her. God declares we are a treasure of infinite value. God purchased us for a huge price. Each person is worth more to God than he or she can comprehend, “precious and honored in (His) sight” (Isa. 43:4). 
  • Regular negative messages bring immense emotional pain. These messages come from parents, culture or graceless religion. Such messages constantly communicate that a person is not good enough and never will be. However, Psalm 139:14 declares that God made us wonderfully complex and we are a delight to Him.
  • Physical pain can bring distraction from emotional pain. First Corinthians 10:13 tells us God is faithful and will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear.
  • Some self-injurers cut or burn believing it will purify them. One cutter said, “I needed to see blood leave my body to know I was cutting out all the sin, the sadness, the anger, the hatred, the frustration.” Jesus tells us He lived to sacrifice His blood for us once and for all. Our blood is insufficient, so Christ bled in our place.

Our body belongs to Christ, therefore we must honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). God’s Word offers much hope for those who are using self-injury as a method of coping. Together with God’s strength and help appropriate for the situation of each person, the patterns of self-harm can be changed. 

Editor’s Note — Kathryn Steele is an associate professor of psychology and counseling and director of clinical training at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. 

To read other articles in this package, click here or here

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