A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

What Does Forgiveness Require?

Look carefully at this statement by the Apostle Paul:

2Tim 4:14-15 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.

We know that Christ calls us to forgive one another. We are to love our enemies and do good to them (Matthew 5:43ff; Romans 12:19-20). We are not to take vengeance against them, but to leave it to the Lord to effect justice. (I am still researching whether or not we are commanded to forgive our enemy.  We are to love our enemy by doing good to them, not returning evil for evil 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9).

Therefore, we can certainly assume that Paul acted in love toward his enemy Alexander the coppersmith. Alexander had done Paul great harm. He was an enemy of Christ, opposing the gospel. Notice however that Paul’s actions here do not square with the following widely held notion of what forgiveness is:

  • I will not dwell on this incident.
  • I will not bring up this incident again.
  • I will not talk to anyone about this incident.
  • I will not let this incident hinder my personal relationship with the offender.

This fourfold formula definition of forgiveness appears in articles and books that are widely circulated among Christians. Yet these two short verses in 2 Timothy clearly discount at least three, if not all four of these supposed elements of forgiveness. Paul is, in a sense, “dwelling” on what Alexander did. He isn’t just forgetting it. Paul IS bringing Alexander’s sin up again. Paul IS talking to someone about it. Paul IS letting Alexander’s evil hinder his personal relationship with him! Big time! There is no relationship! Are we supposed to charge the Apostle Paul with bitterness and unforgiveness? Hardly. In fact, Paul’s actions in regard to Alexander are a very wise and right guideline for an abuse victim’s attitude toward their abuser. Watch out for him. Don’t trust him. Recognize that what he has done is evil and has effected great harm. Have no relationship with him. Warn others. Dwell on what he has done in the sense of being reminded of his true character, thus not succumbing to the common temptation and pressure to imagine that it is the victim that has been wrong.

The fact is that we do not treat our enemies in the same manner that we treat a brother or sister in Christ who wrongs us. When Paul instructs us to forgive one another just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13), we must remember who the “one another” is! Fellow believers. Repentance then is assumed. There is no repentance in the case of an enemy else they would no longer be our enemy! And yet we are being told by prominent Christian teachers that there is no difference  in how we are to forgive an enemy or a fellow believer. That is, we must say, preposterous and in the case of an abuse victim, dangerous and naive. Forgiveness, in its essence, is simply agreeing to not seek vengeance for the wrong committed. In some cases we will reconcile the relationship, we will never speak of the wrong done again, we will never mention it to others. But all of that is “gravy” on the real meat of forgiveness and must not be insisted upon in every case.

***

Further Reading:

I left him because I loved him

Standing against abuse requires the making of enemies

Distinguishing enemies from brothers, and how we deal differently with each

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Just a few of the people not forgiven in the Bible: Judas, Pharaoh, Cain, Korah, and Balaam. Then we have the created beings such as Satan and his demons. We are told NOT to be like these people/beings and they are held up (written about) as examples for us to see what evil looks like and what happens to it. God didn’t shy away from their sordid stories and he used them to forewarn us. Just like we are supposed to do when we speak the TRUTH about evil and abusers. (By the way, how offensive would it be if God forgave these WHOLLY evil beings who never repented of their evil? How could we trust Him If he showed no distinction between those who choose to be evil and those who choose good?)

    You are so right Jeff that we are trained to blindly forgive everyone of every wrong and to shut up about their past sins else WE are guilty This is so dangerous and so anti-Biblical! It’s another one of those childish interpretations of the Bible that people without the capacity to empathize with others, ends up pontificating.

    The more God shows me the more I see how this is what’s kept those of us who belong to him from growing in Him, All these ways we’ve been forced to behave based on supposed “Biblical” principles. Blindly serve, blindly give, blindly forgive, blindly obey all men and authority. But the Bible tells us that we were once blind but that now, when he shows us the truth, we can SEE!. We are NOT to do things BLINDLY but to look and see and test and taste and stay away from evil and those who endorse it and to be offended by it as well! We are not to pretend evil didn’t happen or that an offense wasn’t committed against us. Opposite. Part of the process of forgiveness is to first trot out the offense itself and then forgive (after one has shown true repentance). And our testimony is to be ALL of it. When we use our life stories to testify for Christ it is not supposed to be some watered down, churched-up version of reality but THE TRUTH of it. This would mean that we would have to disclose the offense committed against us, thus revealing evil.

    Having others keep their secrets is one of the four hallmarks of a sociopath, according to Martha Stout. When we are told not to disclose the offense committed against us, we keep evil ones secrets. It’s funny how once we all start sharing on this website, many secret tactics of the evil one are revealed. Just goes to show you just how EVIL it is to force God’s genuine children to forgive evil ones and then to shut up about it. Evil indeed!

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