Book Review: Not Forsaken
In recent months, the Protestant churches of North America and several other western countries have been forced to face ugly realities about abusers and predators in their midst. Reactions in the pews are mixed, but a large number of people are seeking to understand a sin so many had assumed lived “out there” instead of sitting beside us at the monthly potluck. Not Forsaken is a perfect beginning for such a reader.
Primarily a personal memoir, Not Forsaken does not dwell on the decades of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse Jennifer Greenberg suffered from her father. Instead, Greenberg weaves together a narrative of observations primarily rooted in her healthy marriage, and the process by which she came to understand her father’s actions for the wickedness it was. Part biblical reflection, part personal analysis, and part anecdote from other victims she has met, Jennifer manages to make the dark, and often threatening, subject matter approachable without sugar coating, whitewashing, or sin-leveling the crimes committed against her and others like her.
Anyone who has interacted with Jennifer on social media will immediately recognize her unique voice. She is both straight forward and lyrical, self aware in her honesty, and poetic in her expression. Her faith is the bedrock from which she writes, and her unshakeable certainty in God’s real, and loving presence shapes not only her book, but entire life perspective. This certainty, combined with her complete confidence in her husband, seems to be a sanctuary from which Jennifer can offer the reader some remarkably self-aware observations without apology or sensationalism. She avoids both ditches of self-pity and self-exultation.
In fact, this is the primary strength of Not Forsaken. Her unvarnished recollections create a window into the process of grief and recovery after abuse that few have the opportunity to see so clearly. Because of this perspective, there are two types of readers who would be best be served by reading Greenberg’s book. First, any Christian who looks at the charge of abuse either in churches around them, or within their own congregation and have no idea how to deal with the victims in their midst. Maybe they think the survivors should just move on, or maybe they want to offer support, and just have no idea how to go about it. Not Forsaken is the place to begin understanding the weight, grief, and internal dialogue of the victim/survivor who is also your neighbor. Secondly, there are people who hear of abuse allegations and wonder if their experience was abuse. Within Jennifer’s personal story, her biblical reflection, and the anecdotes of others, such readers not only find the tools needed to find the answers they seek, but will find a comforting guide to the hope of Jesus Christ, no matter the result of such personal inquiries.
Not Forsaken is not a diagnostic tool, or theological treatise, nor is it a “self-help” book for victims of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Jennifer’s story is completely her story, and it would be unjust to expect that all survivors of abuse eventually find that bedrock certainty underpinning this narrative. It should be seen as a gateway, helping the reader to begin asking the right questions as we seek to love our neighbor who has been harmed. Used in that way, it is an important read, and would be an excellent addition to any church library.