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Victim (n): late 15c., “living creature killed and offered as a sacrifice to a deity or supernatural power, or in the performance of a religious rite;” from Latin victima “sacrificial animal; person or animal killed as a sacrifice,” a word of uncertain origin. Perhaps related to vicis “turn, occasion” (as in vicarious), if the notion is an “exchange” with the gods. —Online Etymology Dictionary
A helpful synonym for the word victim is vicarious. Christians understand this word through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus took our place by taking on our sins. The Father pressed His wrath on His only beloved Son instead of us (John 3:16; Isaiah 53:12). Jesus became the sin-bearer (2 Corinthians 5:21). In “theology-speak,” Christ was a vicarious sacrifice. Rather than us bearing the weight and wrath of our transgressions, Jesus was the substitute—or victim.
The word victim (vicarious) is the right word that communicates one of the most powerful truths in the Bible. From the early hours of Genesis until the cross of Christ, the Jewish nation had been victimizing animals as a temporal and insufficient way to expiate their sins. They needed something to take away the weight, brunt, and cruelty for what they did. They needed a victim—a vicarious sacrifice. They used lambs until the Father gave the Lamb as our vicarious (victim) sacrifice (John 1:29).
Vicarious means “to lay down your life for another as a sacrifice.” When you take on a victimhood identity, you continually lay down your life to the one who sinned against you. Being sinned against is not a choice, but victimhood is. —Daniel Berger
When Jesus cried from the cross that it was finished (John 19:28-30), He meant that there was no need for any more victims. The cross is the world’s sin magnet that draws every transgression—yours and others—to Christ’s person and work. Nobody should be that vicarious sacrifice (victim) for any offense. It’s a punishment that we can’t bear, which is why we must talk about what happens when someone places their sin on you.
They make you the victim, which you can’t control. Your call to action is not to let it become your identity. The long-term effect of “taking on” that person’s sin will have a detrimental impact on your soul. I trust what I have to say to you will begin to turn the tide from victim to victor.
Though this idea of “vicarious sacrifice” may be new to you in the context of abuse, the more significant issue is to find the help you need to work through what happened to you. If you don’t find the proper caregivers, you may become like me, post-abuse. My soul roasted like that animal on the brazen altar in the tabernacle in the wilderness (Leviticus 9:24). A vicarious sacrifice feels the ongoing effect of someone else’s sin.
Sometimes it’s helpful to pull away from your experience and look at a similar thing through another lens. We have a vivid, cultural illustration of folks who react like vicarious sacrifices. It’s the black community as they wrestle with the historical slavery in our country. None of them have had the experience of slavery, but they act as though they are the victims of it.
They are “taking on the sin” that slave owners put on their forefathers, acting as though they are the victims of those atrocities. What they are actually doing is conflating episodes of discrimination from today with the slavery of the past. It’s the conflation of slavery with today’s injustices that carries the vicarious residue.
Their black counterparts—who also experience discrimination—do not carry the mantel of victimhood. But these vicarious victims of slavery show us what can happen to anyone who wants to shoulder the burden of someone’s sin. To compound their struggle, they have ineffective counselors—our paternal government who encourage this victim-mentality.
This cultural phenomenon is not to minimize anyone’s legitimate suffering but to demonstrate that if a victim continues to embrace the role of a victim, they will experience more than the evil perpetrated; it will affect their soul at a granular level. They must learn how to give that sin to the one and only vicarious sacrifice.
Suppose you had a beaker that was full of water. The beaker is your body, and the water is your soul. Let’s pretend that someone with a syringe full of blue dye puts the dye into the water. The water turns dark blue; it becomes the vicarious sacrifice for what the perpetrator did.
The objective is for the “beaker” not to be the vicarious sacrifice. There must be another victim to carry the weight of what happened. Thus, the most critical need is to find that burden-bearer. If the victim does not, the fires will continue to burn until there is nothing left of the soul but the ashes.
If you’re black and have experienced discrimination, you must not take on a victim’s role. If someone has abused you or you have experienced some other horrific sin, you must learn how to not stay in the victim’s mindset. A significant key for you is to find the right person to walk with you through your trauma.
What happens too often is that the caregivers continue to perpetuate a victim worldview. They do an inadequate job transitioning the hurting soul from what happened to them to the person who must become the transgression’s victim—Christ. They don’t know how to move them from the “once a victim, always a victim” worldview to casting these problems on our vicarious Savior.
You can help these vicarious victims by letting them know that nobody but Jesus can carry the full weight of what happened. You want to warn them how the vicarious nature of victimness turns toxic and seeps out, defiling others (Hebrews 12:15). Your initial goals to help them are threefold.
When a legitimate sufferer becomes a toxic person because they continue to be that vicarious sacrifice for what happened to them, it’s an easy temptation to cast them aside. I’m not suggesting that you never stop caring for them because sometimes the damage of what happened damages them so much that you are not able—at least at this time—to restore their charred, vicarious souls (Galatians 6:1-2).
These sadder counseling situations are victim-sinners. The victim becomes an active sinner because they did not learn how to cast what happened to them on Christ. The worst of these struggling souls are blind to their sin. It’s these folks that you may have to back away from because they are too toxic to receive your care. The way you recognize the vicarious struggler is multifaceted. Here are five of those vicarious effects, though I’m sure you can think of more.
Sinful Anger – The most common effect of the vicarious soul is sinful anger. I have been in this spot. My daddy was an abuser. I did not know the vicarious Savior, so I “took on his sin.” I carried it deep inside me for many years. Because God never intended me to take on another’s sin and without the hope of the gospel, my father’s sin burned in my soul. The outcome was that I was an angry teenager. It did not take much to set me off. Typically, it was injustice: when I saw someone abusing another, I did not hold back. I was a justice warrior with an attitude from hades.
Bitterness – Sinful anger turned out is easy to spot. When you turn it inwardly, it becomes bitter to the vicarious soul. After the root takes hold, it starts defiling their relationships. This type of abused person has an ever-weakening optimism. They lose hope and become cynical, which is the onset of the bitter spirit. Those around them will easily succumb to the temptation to give up because they will feel the defiling effect of their vicarious friend.
Insecurity – As the effects of the sin linger, the person creates false narratives about who they are. Fear and insecurity are two outcomes (Proverbs 28:1). The darkness convinces the abused that they’re not normal, worthy, or like other people. They feel different, inferior, and insecure. Once this stronghold takes effect, it can wreak havoc on the vicarious mind (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
Double-Minded – Continuing to carry the sin of another can create an alternate personality. James called this the double-minded (James 1:5-8). This person can think rationally (biblically) at times, but there is also another kind of mind. This “head swiveling believer” confuses their friends. It’s the triggering-effect. For example, the victim thinks about their abuser, and because they have not correctly dealt with what happened, it triggers them. One minute, they are fine, and the next, they have become another person.
Blindness – When a vicarious victim becomes the caregiver, they are blind to their counseling worldview. Out of a sincere heart, they want to help others, but they cannot see how their help does not help because they instill the victim mindset into their abused counselees. One way to recognize these blind caregivers is by their overuse of descriptive psychology; they mostly talk about (describe) what happened to the victim.
They don’t bring sound solutions but explain what the abuser did, how the victim felt, etc. The unwitting victim hears these descriptions and feels affirmed—in their victimhood. If you’re building a following of victims rather than victors, it’s the blind leading the blind. All of them are heading for a ditch.
There are two ways to respond to this article. You could focus on the effects of being a victim, or you could praise God as you try to get your mind around the stunningly incomparable, vicarious sacrifice of Christ. I trust it’s the latter. We are the people of hope. We have a gospel, a sacrifice. We do not have to carry the weight of our sin or anyone else’s. How will you respond?