In Genesis, God made mankind in the image of Himself, using male and female genders to fully express this image. Man was formed from the ground, so men are predisposed to doing. Woman was formed from Man, not the ground, so she is more predisposed to relationship. The two genders were designed to be good gifts to each other. The man works and provides emotional and physical protection for the woman. The woman “impart[s] life in communion with others.” (163) However, after the Fall, sin caused them to hide from each other in shame, preventing them from fully being good gifts. God then states that the woman will desire her husband, wanting him to satisfy her more than he is able to. The man is assigned to authority over the woman because of her capacity for temptation, but men misuse their role and rule over her.
The wounds that lead to sexual dysfunction often happen while we are children. Children learn about same-gender interactions primarily through the same-gender parent, and vice-versa. If one of those parents is not in the home, or not emotionally engaged, the child usually does not get a successful model. The child can also be affected by how the opposite-gender parent relates to them: a mother who has been hurt by her husband and talks about how bad men are will instill a sense of shame in her son. Vows that the child made to not be like a characteristic of a parent can also influence how they relate to that gender. Divorce really hurts a child because it makes one of the parents absent, hence unable to model effectively, as well as often causing the child to feel abandoned. Also, abuse of any sort severely damages the child.
Men are often wounded by their father failing to connect emotionally. Men tend to fail by being silent and doing what they are good at—relating—which can lead to workaholism. As boys, they may have decided it was not worth the effort to become a man and dropped out of the game. If done at an early age, this can lead to gender disidentification, not coming to terms with the fact that they are male. When done a little later, they may become people-pleasing chameleons, “good boys” who adapt to whatever is expected of them, but never becoming themselves. Opting out even later can lead to trying to become a man through competition, power, or heterosexual prowess, but it is done without a compass and is destructive. Other wounds can come from the shame developed from mothers or wives who put them down. Since the woman is more relationally skilled, men tend to lose verbal matches. The wife of a weak man often tries to mother him, producing shame in him at being weak, leading to a vicious cycle. Other women appear compliant but are actually manipulative, seductive, or passive-aggressive.
Women are often wounded by the men ruling over them, which they are vulnerable to because their sin makes them tend to “bend toward” the man, seeking to get him to satisfy her needs. Men who are out of touch with their hearts tend to abuse the woman, often by demanding perfection of her, even demanding she accept his mistresses because she is not good enough. There may be a cultural value that women are less valuable than men, hence it is acceptable to be ruled over. Men that succumb to pornography or adulterous affairs wound the woman by making her feel insecure and unprotected. Women can also pass down hatred of women to each other, leading to wounds. Additionally, women have more “space” to store hurts than men do, and with a sinful propensity to put their identity in the quality of their relationships, if a woman does not get rid of the hurts through forgiveness, she can become completely overwhelmed.
Instead of taking our pain and brokenness to God, we tend to choose the easy ecstasy of sex instead. One common way is sex outside of a committed relationship for life. This is destructive, because sex bonds for life, but the commitment is not there to sustain the weight of such a bond. Essentially it is mutual masturbation. So the relationship destroys the lives of the participants as the bond is ripped apart when the relationship unravels, as well as damaging any kids involved. Adultery has similar results. Masturbation is not discussed, but presumably Comisky sees it as a form of medicating as well.
Another form of sexual sin is homosexuality. Comisky writes from an authoritative perspective, having himself identified as homosexual as a result of teasing at school, living the lifestyle for a number of years. Homosexuality is disidentifying with your gender, and seeking the strength you perceive as missing from others of your same gender. Men who are insecure as men will seek strength from another man. The homosexual community deals with their shame by trying to get their lifestyle accepted, hence the epithet of “intolerant” against those who refuse to cooperate. There is a pervasive cultural myth that homosexuality is biological, but this is not true; homosexuality is a choice that we make. Homosexuals can, and do, deal with their pain and become functioning heterosexuals. Robert Spitzer (not a Christian) did an extensive study published in 2001 of homosexuals that sought help to change that showed that 66% of gay men and 44% of gay women in his study had become heterosexual with healthy, loving relationships. His study was not reported, however, and he was surprised at the level of professional prejudice that he experienced.
Shame causes us hide from our pain, and enables a cycle of medicating (in the context of this book, sexually), leading to more shame. Shame can come from our own sinful actions. It can come from cultural factors, for instance, shame of one’s ethnicity or gender. It can come from abuse, often because sexual abuse feels good at some level, leading the abused child to think that they are a participant in the abuse.
The way that shame usually manifests itself is in a “good, false self,” which is an outward projection of what we wish we were. We show everyone a good picture on the outside, but have disconnected from our pain on the inside. We are essentially deceiving ourselves and leading a double, and ultimately destructive, life. Shame is destroyed by admitting the shame, sin, and wound, and internalizing that, as Christians, we are children of God. We are not accepted based on what we do, but, through Jesus’ death for us, we are accepted simply because we are God’s children.
Healing the pain comes through the Cross. Jesus took our sin on the Cross and he took our shame, by being exposed, naked, on the Cross. Comisky believes that the healing process requires a community of both women and men to support us, but certainly close same-gender friends with whom we can share deeply. We first acknowledge the wound, and let ourselves feel the would deeply. All feeling is to be done with the Resurrection in mind—Jesus did not stay on the Cross, but the work was finished. We forgive those who wounded us, just as Jesus forgive is. Then we let Jesus cleanse us of the sin and shame by putting it on the Cross for him to carry.
Comisky has thoroughly identified the sources of sexual and relational brokenness, but has not been as effective at communicating healing. This is an excellent book to identify one’s dysfunctions, as he talks about every combination of men and women, children and adults, and sexual and relational sin. Readers will come away with an understanding of many of the dynamics in their relationships. However, while he has communicated that healing is possible, even giving examples, the book does not convey the feeling that complete healing is possible. Perhaps this is because the pain is discussed in detail, with some detail to the process of healing, which then ends with the suggestion that they are healed. Perhaps it is because Comisky himself still struggles with homosexual temptations, despite a long and happy marriage. It seems like maybe he understands the temptation as a failing, despite having essentially said the opposite. Or perhaps because his Desert Streams/Living Waters ministry involves leading regular groups in healing, he is simply more often exposed to the pain than the healing.
Comisky also has tendencies to view suffering as beneficial. Nothing he says is strictly incorrect, as God does call us to forgive even when it is painful, and sometimes to stay in painful situations instead of simply bailing on it, and this suffering does strengthen us. However, he comes close to considering suffering as a virtue, which is not helpful. Catholicism has long sought to identify with Christ through suffering like him (since writing the book, Comisky has become Catholic after having identified with the Vineyard movement for many years), but Jesus suffered for a little while, and “for the joy set before him.” Hardly an endorsement of suffering as virtue. Also, if suffering is virtuous, there is less hope for complete healing; why stop the virtue by becoming whole?
Still, Strength in Weakness is excellent for the rawness that Comisky presents pain, and the thoroughness of his discussion of the causes of our brokenness. It is similar to Experiencing Father’s Embrace, but more thorough in the identification of pain. Comisky gives a good framework for healing, and in our North American, individual mindset, his statements about the necessity of community are very valuable. I also like his idea that we are created to be good gifts to the other gender, and that we are really not complete without the experience of the other gender (including friendships, not just marriage). However, complete healing will require a community skilled in and/or books on experiencing God’s presence and healing, outside of this book.