“Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up….’” John 5:5ff

There must be something attractive about developing a victim mentality, or else there would be less of it in our world today. It is such a pervasive malady in our society that we would do well to investigate whether we too have ingested the poison even to the point of souring our relationship with both God and man.

First, let’s define what we are talking about. There seem to be three distinctions which grow increasingly powerful over a person. A victim is anyone who has experienced a loss, injury, or misfortune as a result of an event. A victim mentality moves the loss within the victim; it is the desire for empathy and allowances in light of a person’s perceived innocence in causing the loss, injury or misfortune. Then, a victim complex is a pattern that defines a person’s complete outlook on life.

Next, what makes nurturing a victim mentality so attractive? All men are victims in one way or another, but that fact does not give any of us permission to nurse a victim mentality, nor install a victim complex. As a wise person once said, “Even victims have responsibility.” One of the conveniences of cherishing a victim mentality is that it feels like it gives you a pass from any responsibility. The victim feels he is not responsible for anything. If anything he thinks he is the object of unjust, immoral, and undeserved aggression. The victim likes the attention and empathy it brings, and gains satisfaction from telling his story. He reserves the right to complain and expects a pass from criticism. The victim mentality continues to “victimize” the victim because he sees himself as powerless to change his situation and he sees the world as “out to get him.” It is a small step to attributing all his misfortunes to someone else’s misdeeds. Esau and Absalom illustrate some traits of the victim mentality.

Even criminals evidence victim thinking. They often believe themselves to be moral, even when engaging in a crime, thinking they are reacting to an immoral world run by authorities that single them out for persecution. Children also have a propensity to see themselves as victims of parental rules, and seek to make their parents feel guilty for enforcing the rules. Rules do not make rebels, they merely reveal them. A lesson for one and all is that others do not “make” you do anything. Responsibility rests squarely in the individual human heart. It is not so much that we need counselors as much as we need repentance.

Victimhood often indulges in playing “the blame game.” The earliest illustration of this is in Genesis 3:11–13: “And [God] said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tee of which I commanded you that you should not eat?’ Then [Adam] said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’ And the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” It is in our fallen nature to blame our sin and our misfortunes on our fathers, mothers, teachers, friends, and anyone within our view.

One of the beautiful hallmarks of western law finds its roots in the Scriptural principle that a father cannot be punished for the crimes of the sons and the sons cannot be punished for the crimes of the fathers. But we like to find solace in shoveling the blame upon others. Jeremiah 31:29f reads, “In those days they shall say no more: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But every one shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.”

There was a saying in that day that essentially meant “You can’t blame me, it is because of my father’s failure.” God’s plain truth is that a man is responsible for his own sin. Romans 14:12 reinforces this truth: “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Our Lord faces down what appears to be a case of victim mentality in John 5 in dealing with the paralytic man. Our Lord’s question seems odd, at first. “Do you want to be made well?” How odd to ask a man who has been sick for thirty-eight years, who is waiting by the pool where healing miracles are reputed to take place. I suspect there was a little bit of victim mentality deep within the sick man because his answer was not “Yes!” It was “I have no one to help” and “I get there too late.”

Jesus challenges him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” He healed the man when he took up his responsibility to obey and trust the Savior.

Of all who have walked this earth, our Savior had every excuse to play the “victim card” (Hebrews 4:15f). He was ridiculed by his brothers (John 7:3ff), mocked (Matthew 9:2ff), forsaken (Matthew 26:31), falsely accused (Luke 23:6ff), and crucified (Mark 15:27ff).

God’s solution to victim mentality is to face your past and deal with it (Hebrews 12:12–15), take responsibility for your own actions (Luke 15:17ff), forgive as you are forgiven (Matthew 5:12), trust God and His promises (Romans 8:28ff), and serve others (Philippians 2:5ff). Trust and obey.