A Cry For Justice

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

The Lord is Merciful and Gracious: but He Does Not Forgive His Enemies

In this article, I would like to demonstrate the following principle to you from Scripture and then help you apply it to this matter of “forgiving the abuser.” Every victim of abuse, especially Christians, know what it is like to be pushed and prodded with “as a Christian, you are required by God to forgive your abuser.”  Too often this pressure includes the demand that the victim reconcile with the abuser, and it leads to being deceived by the typical false repentance abusers love to claim for themselves.  Here is the principle:

God does not forgive His enemies. He never has, and He never will. As His children in Christ, we are to reflect His character and attributes. Therefore, this has profound implications for how we deal with our enemies, who are also the enemies of the Lord.

First, I can hear someone saying (because this is what popped into my own mind right away too)… “but if God does not forgive His enemies, then none of us can be forgiven, because we were His enemies the moment we entered into this world.  And doesn’t Scripture say,

Rom 5:8  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Notice that these verses do not speak of God forgiving us while we were still sinners, but that Christ died for us when we were in that condition. He loved us when we did not love Him, and the result of that love was that the Father send Christ to be the propitiation (satisfaction of God’s Law) for our sins. Christ died for us when we were still His enemies. But God does not forgive us as long as we are still His enemies, still in rebellion against Him, still haters of His Law, still…. un-repentant and unbelieving. Do you begin to see it?

God does not forgive His enemies. He never has, and He never will. His enemies end in Hell and they will remain there for all eternity. Consider this summary of God’s character, taken from the London Confession of faith (our church’s doctrinal standard which is quite similar to the Westminster Confession of Faith) –

“The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.” 

There it is.  Yes, the Lord is abundant in His forgiveness of iniquity and sin. But what kind of people receive that forgiveness? Those who diligently seek Him. For the rest of mankind, He is most just and terrible in His judgments… He will never clear the guilty.”  Never. Not for all eternity, and that is a very long time.

So we need to mark this down carefully. It is being widely denied in what professes to be the Christian church today. We are being told that the Lord is all love, all mercy, all grace, and that He forgives His enemies. That He forgives those who refuse to repent, who refuse to bow before Christ, who continue in their wickedness and in their hatred of Him. He does not. He never has, and He never will. I suspect that most all of our readers need to be reminded of this, and that perhaps as you read these words you are thinking…. “Man!  That is right!  I’ve been pretty fogged up on this whole thing!”

Ok, now, let me put this question before you:

“If God does not forgive His enemies, why would He ask us to forgive our enemies who are also His enemies?”  Indeed, does the Bible say anywhere that we  are required to forgive unrepentant enemies who persist in their evil against us?”

What we DO find in Scripture is the Lord’s instruction to us that we are to do good to our enemies. And I believe that this is what the Lord means when He tells us to love our enemies:

Matthew 5:43-48  You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Rom 12:20-21  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God loves His enemies in the sense of showing them common grace. He does good to them, though they do not deserve it. We are to reflect His character by doing good to our enemies and even praying for them, desiring their salvation. But this is not the same thing as forgiving them. Consider a few more Scriptures in relation to this:

Mat 6:14-15  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Mar 11:25  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

Notice that the “others” here, the ones we are to forgive, are often interpreted to be all-inclusive, including un-repentant enemies of the Lord and of us. But in light of other Scriptures that indicate that God Himself does not forgive unrepentant enemies, it would seem that we go too far in applying these words to enemies. Is it not more likely that these “others” whom we are to forgive are our brethren — people who have repented and asked for forgiveness?  To refuse to forgive such a person as that would indeed warrant the warning, “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Here is another pertinent Scripture:

Joh 20:23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.

Here, the Apostle John recounts Jesus’ words as He granted the apostles His authority. Of course, the authority was not inherent in them, but in His Word He had given them. They forgive and withhold forgiveness according to Christ’s Word, not because they felt generous one day and mean the next! We do the same thing as Christians today. We measure with the Word of God and if someone is repentant and believing, we know by that standard that they are forgiven. If they are hardened and unrepentant, then we know they are not forgiven. But the point I wanted to emphasize here is that there are people whom God does not forgive. Furthermore, there are people that we withhold forgiveness from as well. ALWAYS because of the standard of Scripture, not because we happen to like one guy better than another!

And then there is this passage:

Col 3:13  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Notice once more that this forgiving spoken of here is that which is directed to “one another,” meaning of course brothers and sisters in Christ. Again, the “one another” is not a universal phrase for all human beings, including enemies.

Alright, now to bring this all in for a landing. My theory is this: that much of the conflict and intense anxiety experienced by victims of abuse over this whole matter of forgiveness is unnecessary, and it results from a misunderstanding of biblical forgiveness. We are required by the Lord to treat the unrepentant enemies of the Lord as He treats them. We are not to seek personal vengeance upon them, but to leave that vengeance to the Lord. We are to do good to our enemy if we find him hungry or in some other condition of need. This is what Christ did, as we read in the Gospels. But pronounce them absolved and no longer in danger of God’s judgment while they remain unrepentant? No way.  Therefore, I conclude (and I am certainly wide open for correction on this if I am wrong), that it is un-scriptural to teach people that they must forgive their enemy, even though it is evident that the enemy is not repentant and is, in fact, persisting in his evil. God does not do so, and neither should we.  In fact, I will state it more strongly — God cannot forgive the unrepentant evil man, and neither can we.

17 Comments

  1. joepote01

    Jeff, I see God’s forgiveness a bit differently from how you have presented it in this post. Our differences in perspective seem to be largely a matter of definitions and use of terms.

    Here is a link to a post I did on the topic of God’s forgiveness a few weeks ago, if you’d like to read it: http://josephjpote.com/2012/02/does-god-harbor-unforgiveness/

    Blessings, my friend!

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thanks Joe. Before we are in Christ, we are objects of God’s wrath. We are His enemies. As you point out, in His election of His people, He sets His rich mercy upon us and grants us faith and repentance as a gift, regenerating us and placing us in Christ, so that we are no longer under His condemnation. But the person who remains in unrepentance and unbelief is an object of His wrath and is not forgiven by Him. This, as you point out, is what makes His love for His elect so incredible. While we were still His enemies, Christ died for us to make reconciliation possible. But forgiveness only comes in Christ, when we are joined to Christ. Ephesians 2:1ff shows the process, beginning with us being dead in our sins, alienated from God and ending in union with Christ. No one who is unrepentant and unbelieving is to take comfort in the idea that God is not wrathful toward them. I would say in that sense, God does “harbor” (ie, remain in) unforgiveness toward all who are not in Christ. I think that what you emphasize in your article is that God desires all men to be saved, is rich in mercy, and does not delight in grudgingly granting forgiveness. All true, of course. As applied to us, to victims of abuse, this means that we really desire our enemies to come to repentance and be forgiven. That is one of the chief reasons I suppose that we are to reflect God’s goodness by showing our enemies kindness when they are in need. But, we still do not grant them forgiveness in the sense of pronouncing “all is well” even if they have not repented. Hope that all makes sense. I agree — terminology and emphasis on a multi-facted subject are what we are dealing with here.

      • joepote01

        “we still do not grant them forgiveness in the sense of pronouncing “all is well” even if they have not repented.”

        Agreed!

        In fact, I would even go so far as to say that reconciliation, in the sense of a close, intimate, trusting relationship is not required, and in many cases would be counterproductive and potentially dangerous, even if they do repent…or appear to have repented…

        I believe you covered this quite well in your post a couple of months ago: https://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/christians-are-very-confused-about-forgiveness-by-jeff-crippen/

  2. Diane

    Thank you for your article. I agree with it. It helps me to think about Romans 12:18– and so far as it depends on you be at peace with all men…

    That is something to strive for, isn’t it. Being at peace is not the same as forgiving or reconciling I don’t think, is it? But it pleases God for us to do it–so strive we should. Your article has really cleared something up for me–I have had trouble forgiving a family member for something she did over a year ago and have been wondering why I seem to hang on to the unforgiveness and resentment. It was not a horrible thing she did, but hurtful nonetheless. I think I should try to forget about the forgiveness part ( she claims to be a Christian but has not shown any repentance towards me) and concentrate on the being at peace part by not wishing her evil and blessing her family when we are able. For me, overcoming evil with good comes to mind. Evil is done to me; I can overcome the evil thrust upon my head by doing good either to the person themself or their family. It seems to take the edge off the hurt-knowing I am trying to live at peace with them while not necessarily having to forgive or reconcile. Well, hope I am making some sense here. You know, allowing God to be our Avenger and trust He will.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Diane, you are making perfect sense and probably said it all clearer than I did. Thank you. I really do think getting these things straight will remove a huge amount of inner conflict in sincere Christians who want so much to obey Christ.

  3. Jim

    This is a big help to me, thanks.

    • Jeff Crippen

      You’re welcome, Jim. Understanding all of this has been a big ehlp to me too.

  4. Renee

    Thanks, Jeff, for you comments on this subject that can be used to manipulate and twist our minds!

    I spent 32 years “forgiving” my ex-husband’s abuse. I was the Queen of Forgiveness.
    Recently, I made the mistake of engaging in a conversation with him on the phone (I KNOW better!)

    As he was calling me “bitter and angry and unforgiving” for divorcing him and telling me (for the millionth time) that he’s changed now; I was trying to defend myself and said “I forgave you for 32 years…” And he said, “Yes, but, that 33rd year you didn’t.” Unreal.

    I release him of the 32 years of pain that he will NEVER re-pay me for.
    He will face the Lord and answer to Him.

    • Renee

      I guess what I’m trying to say and resolve in my mind, as well as to others… being labeled “unforgiving” because I will not have fellowship (choosing to divorcing him), can truly mess with your mind! My ex-husband always claimed Christ, claimed repentance… yet had shown NONE of this by his life or actions within our decades-long marriage. My “forgiveness” throughout the years was sincere in my heart, but I know now that it was also dysfunctional, co-dependent and enabling.
      His charges toward me and to others about my “un-forgiveness” hurts my heart, but I know I have to release this for my healing.
      I do hope for TRUE repentance for him and perhaps will see him in heaven. But, I’m thankful to be released from that burden of somehow always judging the sincerity of his apologies, whether his words were actually true… it was so very, very draining and wearying…
      Does this make sense?

      • Jeff Crippen

        Yes, Renee it makes perfect sense. It is vital that we get this matter of forgiveness straight in our thinking because distortions of it are so often used, as you say, to mess with our minds and keep us in turmoil What you have described is that you are choosing not to hate, not to seek vengeance, but by wisely withholding relationship with him (in spite of huge pressure on you to do otherwise), you are declaring that he is unrepentant and therefore, unforgiven. I like how you describe the false forgiveness as dysfunctional, co-dependent, and enabling. I suspect that every Christian who has had to deal with an abuser (myself included) comes under fire from those who should be our allies, as they accuse us of being unmerciful and unforgiving.

      • Makes perfect sense, Renee.
        Just re-read 1 Corinthians 5, and ponder what it means in verses 11-13. We are not merely advised, we are *commanded* to dissociate from people who do any of the sins in that list. You are not guilty for refusing to have fellowship with him. On the contrary, you have been obedient to Scripture! Hallelujah!

  5. Belle

    I agree that we definitely need to love our enemies. We need to do good to them. And what enables me in this is the truth that God sees me, God cares for me, and God will make all things right. He is just, and I can trust Him to take care of justice in the end. The Psalms are so full of pleading for justice, and I can join in that plea. It is not wrong, nor mean, nor unforgiving to ask for God’s help and attention and justice.

    The distinction you made between reconciliation and forgiveness was very helpful to me. Perhaps I have tried to make too much of forgiveness,and it has been an impossible task to forgive with the definitions I have attached to it. After all, we are human, and to forget a traumatic event and wipe it out of our memory in an attempt to forgive just isn’t going to happen! Everything in us says, “Ouch, that hurt, stay away from the fire! Beware!” However, I can trust God to take care of me, and I don’t have to take the matters of justice into my own hands. “Vengence is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

    However, if we don’t have to forgive our unrepentant enemies, how does one explain the Matthew passage about forgiving 70 times 7? That really sounds to me like forgiving someone who is unrepentant since repentance would mean a change in a person and it seems you wouldn’t have to have this endless supply of forgiveness for a truly repentant person?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Belle- Good question. That passage is so often misunderstood and misapplied, to the detriment of the innocent and to the enablement of the abuser. I think you are onto those kinds of tactics though and not duped by them. Your question brings up a good point though. Notice who it is that Jesus is talking about — Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (22) Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

      I am finding that Scripture does not use “brother” universally, but for someone who is our brother/sister in Christ. This passage is not addressing someone who is your enemy coming to you in false repentance. It is a brother who is truly repenting. And I think that the 70 x 7 is simply Christ’s metaphor to tell us that when our brother in Christ comes to us in repentance, we are to forgive them readily and always. It isn’t a sweeping license for the sinning man who keeps right on sinning and sinning the same old sin and saying “gee, I’m sorry. You have to forgive me.”

  6. This is a bit of a litmus test I like to run myself through occasionally:

    I recall people who have abused me, and what they did that hurt so much, and then think to myself: “When I am in heaven, how would I feel if I suddenly run into that person? If I were to meet them in heaven, they would clearly have repented and found forgiveness in Christ before death. Would I be instantly glad for that? Would I be glad to see that they had found Christ, or would I be resentful that they made it to heaven?”

    If I would be resentful, then clearly there’s something wrong with my heart attitude. It would show I hadn’t left vengeance to God. That I’m secretly hanging out for God to punish them, to wreak on them the suffering they so richly deserve for having hurt me. If I was thinking that way, I’d not be following Christ in humble gratitude for him having forgiven my own sins.
    But if I met that person in heaven and my heart jumped with joy that they had found the Lord and come to true repentance before they died, I think that would be a right response. “Praise God they’ve come to genuine repentance! Who cares that I never heard about it before they or I died? Who cares that they never came to me and confessed and sought forgiveness from me personally?” I wouldn’t care at all. I would be just rejoicing that the mercy I’ve found in Christ had also been found by this person, through the mysterious working of God’s sovereign will and plan. All praise to His name!

    • Jeff Crippen

      Litmus test it is indeed! Though God does not forgive His enemies (i.e., those who remain His enemies in willful unrepentance), He nevertheless desires that all men be saved! “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I would have gathered you….”. And that is the balance for us as well, as I see it. Our enemies are enemies. We do not declare that they are not (which, I think is at the heart of forgiveness). But at the same time we pray for them, do good to them as opportunity arises, desiring that they come to repentance and faith in Christ. I think that the problem comes when victims are told that forgiveness means living and acting as if no wrong had been done to them, of pretending as if their abuser is not their enemy when in fact he is. Thanks, Barbara.

  7. What Does Doing Good to Enemies Look Like?
    Here is what Jeff Crippen has written to a survivor:

    Consider how, in Scripture, we see the Lord dealing with His enemies. There is no syrupy niceness. No forgiveness or reconciliation with the unrepentant. He tells them truth and He confronts them with their sin. Ultimately He will judge them and for all who remain His enemies on that Day, He will send them to hell.

    For now, He sends the rain on the just and the unjust. He announces the gospel to them and calls upon them to repent. But He also instructs us not to be bound together with them. As the Lord told Jeremiah, “You must not go to them. They must come to you.” Christ never acted naively toward the wicked. He told them (John 8:40ff) that they hated Him and were trying to kill Him. He did not allow them to attack Him or kill Him, but only did so when it was His appointed time to go to the cross for our redemption.

    As a reformed pastor, I [Jeff} maintain that the Bible teaches us that Christ died for His elect, effectually and actually redeeming them on the cross. He did not effect redemption for everyone. This is where so many go wrong today, teaching us that WE must redeem the wicked (as if we could!), that we must let them persecute us even if we have a way of escape, that we must treat the wicked as if they were our friends! These things Jesus did not do.

    Yes, if we come across someone who hates us and is an enemy, we are to show kindness to them if they are in need. We would call an ambulance for one of them if needed or give them food to eat if they were starving. But we would be very foolish in all of that if we forget that they are our enemy and hate us.

    And I suppose that there could be a distinction in some cases between those who are our enemies (out to destroy us) and the wicked in general. It takes more wisdom perhaps to deal with an enemy that it does to deal with, for instance, a neighbor who is a worldling, dead in his sins apart from Christ. But in neither case are we to be in intimate association with them. Rather, we are called to come out and be separate from them.

Trackbacks

  1. Forgiveness Matters « Thoroughly Christian Divorce

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