Review: Not Forsaken

I first came across Jennifer Michelle Greenberg when someone I follow on Twitter recommended hers as a thoughtful but funny account to follow. I quickly learned that she had recently written a book: Not Forsaken, published by the Good Book Company. The opening sentences of the About blurb—“Jenn Greenberg was abused by her church-going father. Yet she is still a Christian.”—arrested my attention sufficiently for me to purchase it.

The book opens with a series of brief, heart-breaking recollections, written in the third person, of the abuse that she suffered at the hand of her father. She scatters additional accounts of abuse throughout the book, never going into gratuitous detail, but always carefully designing her recollections to offer insight into the mind of an abuser and remove any excuse for the sins committed.

The book is subtitled “A story of life after abuse—how faith brought one woman from victim to survivor.” Greenberg does not wallow in a mire of defeatism and allow the abuse she suffered to explain a life of dysfunction. It is not a story of sheer grit and determination that leaves one admiring the sheer tenacity of the author to overcome her trauma in her own strength. Instead, she clearly highlights how the gospel of Jesus Christ delivered her from what might otherwise have been an inescapably dark existence. She reveals—in keeping with Psalm 36:9—how she found light in God’s light, revealed most clearly in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Contributing the foreword, Russell Moore gets to the heart of the hope that Jennifer Greenberg experienced: “At the cross we see the nauseating brokenness of this devil-haunted universe, and, even more than that, the grace of one who poured out his own blood to save us.”

Greenberg expresses her goal near the end of the book: “If this book helps one person heal—if it can stop one heart from breaking, ease one life of its aching, or soothe one pain—I consider my suffering a worthwhile endurance.” Comforted in her affliction with gospel hope, she writes so that she may be able to comfort others in similar affliction with the comfort she herself received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). Personally, I can in no way relate to the abusive upbringing that she experienced, but I have no doubt that she will have accomplished her goal.

Greenberg offers no quick fixes for those who are dealing with the trauma of abuse. Indeed, she relates with brutal honesty the struggles she still faces from the emotional and psychological scars inflicted on her as a child. But she shows with equal clarity and insightfulness the hope for healing that lies in the gospel. Survivors of abuse will do well to mine the depths of the gospel with Greenberg.

But the book is written for more than survivors of abuse. The insight she offers will be of help to anyone who wants to understand how to walk alongside those who have suffered abuse at the hands of others. Pastors will benefit from this book. Parents will benefit from this book. Friends will benefit from this book. Church members will benefit from this book. If you have ever wondered what goes on in the mind of an abuser, or the mind of a survivor, this book is for you. If you have ever wondered why abuse victims don’t quickly report their abuse, you will find help here.

It should go without saying that this is not  primarily a self-help book. Greenberg does not write with the expectation that she is the expert who understands every survivor’s unique story. It is her story, but hers is a story where a history of sinful abuse is met with the love of Christ at the cross. As such, while it will not necessarily answer the unique questions that haunt every survivor it will at least help the reader to begin asking the right questions when thinking about how to think biblically about abuse.

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