A Cry For Justice

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

Forgiveness Requires Justice: Else Why the Cross?

I have a problem in keeping up with my reading. I open a good book, start in with good intentions of covering a lot of ground, and then smack! I get stopped in my tracks by some really, really good piece of insightful wisdom – a blog post enters my brain, and I have to stop everything, go in to my study, and write the post. That’s what just happened, so here we go.

Forgiveness is much easier when there is justice. In fact, we might even be justified in saying that forgiveness requires justice. Here is the paragraph that sprung this gem on me. It is by Herman Bavinck and it comes from volume four of his Reformed Dogmatics:

Forgiveness is not natural….Pagans pictured the gods as human, endowing them with such passions as jealously, spite, and vengeance, and therefore could not grasp the sublime idea of a free and gracious forgiveness….This pagan notion witnesses to a greater seriousness and sense of truth than the shallow idea that forgiving is natural for God, just as sinning is normal for humans. People who know themselves somewhat also know how terribly difficult true and complete forgiveness is, and how it can only be granted after a serious struggle with oneself.  Certainly an assortment of sinful attributes such as envy, hatred, and vindictiveness, which cannot be part of God’s character, play a large role here. But there are also countless cases in which forgiveness is simply impossible and impermissible. When our honor and good name, our office and our dignity, have been publicly assaulted, no one is prepared to forgive without public redress, merely on the basis of a private apology and confession of wrongdoing. And when actionable crimes have been committed, the civil government is called, not to forgive but to punish, since as God’s servant it has to uphold justice and does not bear the sword in vain (Romans 13).

Opposition to the expiatory sacrifice of Christ [i.e., people who say that the Cross of Christ is a horrid thing that only a wicked god would require], usually supported by an appeal to the parable of the prodigal son [i.e., the father “simply” forgave him with no punishment], accordingly arises from a total denial of the value of justice as well as of the very idea of forgiveness, for forgiveness in the true sense of the word precisely presupposes justice and stands or falls with it.

Let’s repeat that. Forgiveness in the true sense of the word precisely presupposes justice and stands or falls with it. This is why Paul marvels at the wisdom of God shown in Christ:

Rom 3:25-26 whom [Christ] God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

For God to remain just (righteous), and still justify sinners, justice had to be answered. That answer was given on the cross where Christ paid the full price for our sins. God’s justice will not be compromised. The demands of His holy Law had to be met. God did not simply say, “aw shucks, let’s just forget about it.” Nope. Impossible. God will be God.

Now, let’s bring this truth home and apply it. You have all of these churches and Christians and church leaders laying the forgiveness thing on abuse victims. They must forgive their abuser. After all, Christ has forgiven them, so who are they to refuse to forgive? And yet a person who has been subjected to the terrors of abuse is a person who has suffered great harm and wrong. Such a person needs justice to heal. Make no mistake, a desire that justice be done and applied is NOT a sinful desire to exact personal vengeance. No. It is the Spirit within us hungering and thirsting for righteousness. And it is the Spirit of God in us that is also making us balk at simply saying, “well, ok, shoot, let’s just let bygones be bygones.” There, my child, don’t you feel better now?  No!

So here is the deal. If churches would diligently and rightly mete out justice to the abuser, guess what would happen? Forgiveness would be possible. Forgiveness would suddenly become much easier, particularly since you just might see, along with the exercise of that justice, some cases of real repentance by the abuser taking place. (We aren’t talking about reconciliation here. Just forgiveness).

Why are Christians insisting that abuse victims must forgive without justice? Why? Could it be that they have a very low and skewed view of the work of Christ on the cross?

Ok. Back to my book now.

45 Comments

  1. Sadly though, many times in church we also hear ‘let God deal with them’, or ‘one day they will stand before God.’ So those phrases are just another way for them to sweep it under the rug.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Lyndiegrace – which, of course, is just a denial of justice for the victim. Yep, rug-sweeping.

  2. Nicola Muir

    Thank you so much for this Jeff. This pretty much sums up my own feelings about forgiveness of the horrible wrongs that victims suffer, which are repeated over and over again because there is no justice. Despite the absence of justice, victims are expected to go beyond even the capacity of God, and forgive freely. I often feel as though forgiveness is treated simply as a philosophical concept that one could send out into the air and somehow gain healing or some kind of moral high ground by doing so. It’s almost as though those who advise others to do this kind of forgiving have no idea what forgiveness really is, what is means and the power that it has when it’s real. How much more would victims (of any crime) heal and have their lives restored if there were justice that then permitted complete forgiveness?

  3. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog.

  4. LorenHaas

    A very thought provoking post.
    Justice is highly desirable, but lack of it cannot be allowed to preclude forgiveness. Otherwise, the injustice claims another victory.
    In cases of churches pushing forgiveness without pursuing justice it can be seen that their motive is not forgiveness, but forgetfulness in order to maintain some status quo. It reveals their heart, but does not change the value of forgiveness in liberating the victim.
    I am not speaking of a cheap and easy forgiveness from obligation. Forgiveness is hard and comes at a cost. I have heard the calls to forgiveness from other Christians. They want it cheap, certainly not costing them anything.
    Forgiveness is not an event. It is a conscious process that moves at a different pace for each individual, but it has to start by a choice to begin. Pushing forgiveness onto others can lead to someone mouthing the words, but only delays or precludes what can only be freely given.

    • BeginHealing

      I agree Loren. I would love to see justice but in the event that does not happen I hope to still be able to forgive and let go at some point.

      I personally feel like justice would be nice, (especially since my husband has managed to isolate me and manipulate my church family and friends to feel sorry for him) but I pray that as an individual, with a deep love for my Savior, I can achieve forgiveness without justice. Forgiveness seems to be more about me and my spiritual growth and justice depends on the actions of others. I am learning that I really can not depend on the actions of others. I can not let their inaction and lack of understanding keep me from achieving deeper spiritual growth and connection with my God.

      But I will not deny…justice, affirmation, and my husband being held to account for his sins (not given sympathy for the result of his sins) would be very nice. But I can not live my life expecting that. That will only lead to more bitterness.

      • Perhaps the issue you’re concerned with is bitterness, not unforgiveness?

        I do not want to become a bitter person, therefore I release my ex into the hands of God for justice and/or vengeance and refuse to take matters into my own hands. If he repents, the Lord will forgive him. If the ex does not, he will not be forgiven. He will still reap the fruit of all the hell he sowed for all those years regardless because God is not mocked.

        Forgiveness is releasing someone else from a debt. When someone owes a debt, they will be held accountable by someone, somewhere. In the case of sin, Christ paid the debt/penalty for all but not everyone accepts that however, they must repent.

        There is a scripture that says those we forgive on earth will be forgiven in heaven– even if you take that scripture at face value without digging further, is it *right* to forgive someone who is not repentant so they are allowed to continue harming others without consequences? That does not make sense. Yes of course, true repentance is turning around and going the other direction. We are to forgive in that case. Most abusers do not turn around and bring forth works of repentance.

        I no longer worry about whether or not I forgive my ex. After learning more than the party-line definition, I just don’t see it as an issue anymore. I do search my heart for roots of bitterness and all the rotten fruit that can result– hatred of *all* men because one man hurt me, anger toward God because He didn’t keep this from happening, seeking to ‘get back at’ the ex through whatever means, large or small. If those things pop up, I take them to the father

  5. Wow, Jeff. Never saw it quite this way before. I’m sending this one to my kids.

    Thank you– needed to hear this today.

  6. Reblogged this on Thoroughly Christian Divorce and commented:
    Needed to hear this today. The need for justice simmers inside, some days more than others.

    Thank you, Jeff.

  7. Carmen S.

    One of the most celebrated forgiveness texts is Jesus’ prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” ( Luke 23:34). This is often cited as the quintessential moment of unconditional Christian forgiveness, and held up as a model that believes should seek to emulate. Often, pastoral caregivers present victims of violence with this verse to demonstrate the perfect Christian response to persecution and wrong doing. This becomes especially problematic when the victims–especially of domestic violence–are pressured to reconcile quickly and unconditionally with their abusers based on an idealized portrait of Christian forgiveness.

    When He cries out from the cross, He does not say to His attackers, “I forgive you,” or, as He has before, “Your sins are forgiven you.” Instead, He prays that God might forgive them. Considering that earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus makes it very clear that repentance was required for forgiveness ( 17:3), and since no repentance is forthcoming from the men attacking Jesus, we might assume that forgiveness is a non-issue in this case.

    Indeed, nowhere does Jesus plainly state that unconditional forgiveness is a virtue or a requirement in the new covenant community. However, in the same Gospel, Jesus does instruct His followers to “bless those who curse you [and] pray for those who abuse you” ( Luke 6:28), which appears to be exactly what He is doing on the cross.

    I ruffle a lot of feathers when I suggest that Jesus might not be forgiving His attackers as He is being crucified. But this interpretation pays off for victims who are concerned about living faithfully in the aftermath of violence. Instead of a Jesus who appears to be endlessly and impossibly forgiving, here is a Jesus who is true to His teachings and easier to imitate.

    Praying for one’s attacker is an easier—and safer—task than offering unconditional forgiveness and reconciling with unrepentant abusers. Requiring repentance before granting forgiveness gives victims another way to protect themselves while remaining true to biblical text.

    What Does the Bible Really Say about Forgiveness? by Maria Mayo

    Maria Mayo has a Masters of Divinity from Vanderbelt and a Ph.D in History and Critical Theories of Religion. Her research focuses on conceptions of forgiveness in the contexts of criminal justice, pastoral care, and conflict transformation. She currently writes on the ideology of forgiveness in popular culture and religious rhetoric.

  8. Carmen S.

    While modern conceptions of forgiveness focus mainly on its emotional dimensions, in Jesus’ first-century context, forgiveness had concrete implications. The Greek word translated as “forgive” in the New Testament, aphiemi, carried a wide range of meanings, including to remit ( a debt), to leave ( something or someone) alone, to allow ( an action), to leave, to send away, to desert or abandon, and even to divorce.

    In fact, the Greek word appears 146 times in the New Testament, but it is translated in most English translation as “forgive” only 38 of those times. Considering the wide range of meanings of this word gives us some indication of what forgiveness might have meant to listeners in Jesus’ first-century context. Most of all, forgiveness was an action rather than a feeling, and so our contemporary ideas about forgiveness as an emotional state must come from sources other than biblical text.

    5 Myths About Forgiveness in the Bible by Maria Mayo

    • Brenda R

      Carmen, Now those things make sense to me: to leave alone, to leave and divorce. Those things in a way mean justice to me. I left because there was no repentance or love from X, the relationship ended in divorce. I am free from him and do not feel he owes me anything and I certainly don’t owe him anything. He was given every opportunity to repent and he went through all of the I’m sorry lies, but in the end he lost me. There will be no reconciliation ever, Lord willing.

      Until yesterday, I was still periodically having contact with him via email only. We had last years income taxes to resolve and would rather discuss by email than talk to him. Hearing his voice gives me the creeps and brings back too many memories that I would rather forget.. Saturday he made new accusations against me which were ridiculous and grasping at anything to make me feel like he would damage my reputation somehow. How evil must you be to continue making up things about someone you haven’t seen in months or know anything about the direction their life is going? Anyways, yesterday morning I sent an email asking if he felt remorse for any of the things he said. The response was “No, nothing.” My response was to reply, “I’m sorry to hear that” and promptly pulled the plug on that old email account. Again, to me that is a form of justice. It may not be the Red Sea coming over him, but it is something, With God’s help, I took my life back. X is now completely in God’s hands. I am healing. I can’t say the same for X.

      Pastor Jeff, thank you for taking time away from your book to write this fine post.

  9. Jeff Crippen

    Loren- I understand your point when it comes to short term justice in this life – which we may never have. But the principle still stands, i.e., forgiveness always requires justice. God never simply forgives sin – thus the reason for the cross – apart from His holy justice being met. In our case, this means that we can look to the future Day when God will hold all accountable and effect His justice upon the wicked. An abuse victim can take great hope in this and, as you say, avoid the trap of vengefulness and bitterness, by turning to the certainty that the wicked will indeed be judged and that the innocent will be vindicated, receiving justice

    • BeginHealing

      Pastor Crippen. I wrestle with the fact that I don’t really want my husband to be condemned but I also want to be protected and vindicated. Can vindication happen in the absence of condemnation? This would be the result of true repentance, right?

      So then if I was in the presence of true repentance I would not be feeling emotionally unsafe, isolated, or defensive. Is this a right thought process? I understand that there is probably more to repentance than this but I am trying to put some sort of understanding to how I feel verses what I am being told.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Begin-

        No need to wrestle with not wanting your husband to end in hell. God doesn’t want that. He is not willing that any should perish. He desires all men to come to repentance and be saved. At the same time, it is right and proper to desire vindication and justice. God desires that as well and he will give it. Even where there is true repentance, there can only be forgiveness because of the cross. The cross is God’s judgment of sin for those who come to Christ. Those who persist in wickedness and non-repentance will have to be cursed themselves for their sin. Yes, it does sound like your feeling of being unsafe stems from your innate and right sense that the perp is not repentant. And remember, as Pastor Sam Powell said in his sermon, you can always tell when someone is not repentant becausse they will still be making demands.

    • LorenHaas

      I think we are almost entirely in agreement on this.
      Leading lots of divorced people through DivorceCare puts my emphasis on healing and restoration of the individual. We separate the concepts of forgiveness and reconciling, although they are related. You can forgive someone’s action without reconciling the relationship. Sometimes reconciling is deciding there can be no relationship. For certain, forgiveness in these situations is not to be considered while the knife is being twisted in your back. Your first priority is protecting yourself and family. Get safe.

  10. Carmen S.

    Loren,
    I just did a search for DivorceCare resources. They have Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ “Choosing Forgiveness”. I hope you might have the opportunity to suggest a serious reconsidering of DC recommending the book. DeMoss is a wealthy, privileged, childless, never married woman. Personally, I thought I understood divorce, until it happened to me….and what first took me by surprise was having no one willing to talk to me. I lived for Wed. nights when my fellow DCers could all get together and just cry. May the Lord bless you for helping wounded sheep.

    I honestly had no idea domestic abuse existed. That was maybe something covered on the ten o’clock news? Until it happened to me. I understand the disconnect and thinking I knew enough to give answers, without realizing I was saying something just to make it look like I’m “brainy”. I’ve done it countless times. He’s changing that with a new sensitivity to what coming along side another person really means. These days I pray and ask Him to give me the sensitivity I need to not “blow it” with pastors and various other people. They don’t “get it”? Neither did I. I’ve been there, also.

  11. Michael Lehman

    Jeff – That’s a wonderful insight on the subject, and so pertinent for us pastors to understand. I need to read more Bavinck … 😉

  12. hurt grandma

    Thank you so much for your blog!! Advice needed: my grandchild has been physically and emotionally abused by stepfather. Her mom/my daughter lied to cps and counselor saying gd lied about abuse and made her lie to them as well. Would it be wise to make my own appt w/ the counselor to tell truth? You’re right, counseling is a big mistake for abusive relationships!! It just brought more abuse!

  13. hurt grandma

    The point in making appt w/ the counselor is to in essence bring about some justice for my gd and maybe a wake up call to the counselor. I would just act like I was sharing her/my story w/o revealing knowledge that they were patients there. They are now isolated from all of our side of the family, blocked phones, facebook,etc. And my daughter (emotionally abused herself) is condoning it all! Heartbreaking, especially for my gd who is trapped! I told her to tell the truth, the truth would set her free, but so far it hasn’t at all.

    • Dear Hurt Grandma
      sorry to have taken a little while to respond to your request. I think that probably the best way you can promote justice for you grand-daughter is to tell CPS the facts as you know them. Tell them all you know about the case, including what you know about the lies that have been told. Tell them the evidence you have that your daughter is being isolated from her extended family (blocked phones, facebook etc.) To me, that evidence is very relevant as it strongly suggests that your daughter is being abused by this man too, which would explain is why she has lied to CPS and the counselor about the abuse of her daughter (your grand-daughter).

      Hopefully CPS will take another look at the case. Sometimes CPS workers do not fully understand the dynamics of domestic abuse; they are trained in child protection not domestic abuse. It is very frustrating when this is the case. If you find them brushing off your evidence of your daughter being abused by this man, then contact a domestic violence support service (see our Hotline page under our Resources, for how to find your local agency) and ask them to advocate for you at the CPS office.

      As for your idea of seeing the counselor yourself, I am not sure how useful that would be. The counselor may not join the dots if you were not planning on mentioning the names of your daughter and granddaughter. If you saw the counselor with the intention of stating the name of your grand-daughter, it may or may not lead to a better outcome for your grand-daughter.

      Rather than focusing on seeing justice for your gd by going direct to the counselor, I think it might be better to seek protection for your gd through CPS. Having said all that, I am only one person, and I’m not professionally trained in CPS or in counseling.

      An additional idea might be to contact the body in your state that is responsible for monitoring the professional behavior of registered counselors. They would probably have some good suggestions for you.

  14. Abigail

    After we took the 8 hour Love and Respect seminar + about 6 – 8 weeks of follow up Love and Respect courses offered by our church, my abuser / husband would run through the house screaming; “You’re not respecting me! You’re not respecting me!!!” (Making everything my fault and my responsibility, as abusers always do.)

    Translation: “You’re asking me to stop abusing you and I don’t want to stop!! I must be allowed to do anything I want, anytime I want, regardless of how it hurts you and the children!!!”

    Before and after he gained this new weapon from the fatally flawed L&R seminar, his other favorite demand was “Everything’s your fault because you won’t forgive!!!”

    Sick, sick stuff for abusers to demand forgiveness and respect from the targets of abuse.

    His mother, a born again Christian pastor and my Christian mentor, fed him those condemnations of me and fueled his sense of entitlement to continue to abuse me – the mother of her only grandchildren. (I found out in hind sight, she was hiding her son’s adultery partners from me too.) She never apologized to me before she died. She was held up as a lovely pillar of her community, however.

    Eds. note: Mark Baker has a 12-page PDF that exposes the biblical error of the Love & Respect book by Eggerichs.

    And another review that exposes Eggerichs’ errors: Love, Respect, and Proof Texts.

    • Brenda R

      Abigail, I have to wonder if this Mom was truly a Christian. Fueling abuse and hiding adultery seems nothing like Jesus to me. I read the Respect Dare–it was a horrible book that is in my don’t let anyone read it bookshelf and I am assuming the L&R classes were similar. They are ONLY meant for people who are truly living a Jesus inspired life and may have stumbles along the way, but have no violent and entitlement issues whatsoever. ((HUGS))

    • Abigail, I agree with Brenda: Your mother in law does not sound like a Christian to me.

      Covering up her son’s adultery and colluding with him emotional abuse of you — this not Christlike behavior! It is helping the devil do his work!

  15. Amary

    Excellent post, and a timely response to those who would redefine the cross and Jesus Christ’s atonement to ‘at-one-ment’ by a God who extends mercy with no requirements that His justice also be satisfied (i.e. emergent church and David Bercot’s teachings on the atonement).

    In dealing with abusive family, I found the following article on forgiveness very helpful in understanding what the Bible teaches. It was incredibly freeing to recognize that I do not have to ‘pretend’ that no harm was caused or that I am not ‘owed,’ but that I deliberate give up the debt someone else ‘owes’ me by sinning against me and commit that real debt into God’s hands!

    I hope the article will provide encouragement for those who feel like they have not truly forgiven others because we still cannot pretend like nothing happened or are unwilling to restore trust — http://www.birthpangs.org/articles/biblical/forgiveness1.html

    Amary

    • anonymous

      This was helpful. Thank you Amary.

    • “those who would redefine Jesus Christ’s atonement to ‘at-one-ment’ by a God who extends mercy with no requirements that His justice also be satisfied ”

      That devious addition of hyphens into the word ‘atonement’ to make it ‘at-one-ment’ is something I came across years and years ago. 1981. I had just been born again. Not long after that, someone I knew in the New Age told me to read A Course in Miracles. Well I tried to, and it sidetracked me off getting into the Bible and true Christian teaching. That sidetrack lasted nearly 14 years. Many painful memories of that period of my life.
      The Course in Miracles uses the term at-one-ment. As a naive baby Christian who had been in the New Age prior to my conversion, I swallowed the lie whole. It messed me up big time. Thank God I never could finish reading the Course In Miracles.

      Happy ending: when I finally got to church and started getting my head straight, I prayed and asked God what I should do with my Course in Miracles book. He said ‘burn it’. I have a good memory of feeding all the pages of that book in to the fire. And my astrology chart, my I Ching, my books on Runes, and Reflexology, and all my books on Theosophy.

      • Amary

        Barbara, it’s so encouraging to hear how God freed you from that deception… I gained more familiarity than I ever wanted with ‘new age/new spirituality’ teachings when trying to talk with my ‘christian’ grandmother. She’d been down this path for decades, and I’m not sure she ever rejected it for the truth of God’s word.

        Unfortunately, I just came across the glaringly ‘new age’ re-definition of atonement to at-one-ment from friends of my parents, solid (I thought) Christians for many decades. They’d been listening to David Bercot (of the ‘convergence movement’ and ‘return to authentic Christianity/early church ‘fathers’ ‘) and actually sent me his teachings on the atonement with THAT re-definition!

        I was shocked and told them about how new age it was, with Alice Bailey’s channeled writings and others (ACIM, etc) but they absolutely refused to hear it. Keep an eye out for this, because I suspect it will continue to pop up, along with stuff like ‘fractals,’ quantum physics, ‘chaos’ theory, ‘as above, so below’ (yes, the occultic phrase in Eugene Peterson’s The Message ‘Bible’), etc…

        I’m glad to find someone else who recognizes this stuff straight out! Soli Deo Gloria, and may He use our painful experiences with these ‘doctrines of demons’ to warn others.

        Amary

      • Looks like you and I are close sisters here, Amary! Nice! 🙂

        Most Christians I know have never heard of Alice Bailey and other teachings from the New Age subculture.

        And I’d never heard of David Bercot before, so thanks for pointing him out to me. Another to beware of.

      • Brenda R

        Amary, Thank you for the warning. Once again I lead a sheltered life. I have never heard of any of this and don’t want to know anymore. Satan is certainly out there in full force. When I hear the word “movement” used in context with religious conviction, I see a red flag flying high.

  16. I have a problem in keeping up with my reading. I open a good book, start in with good intentions of covering a lot of ground, and then smack! I get stopped in my tracks by some really, really good piece of insightful wisdom – a blog post enters my brain, and I have to stop everything, go in to my study, and write the post.

    Me too. It happens often, especially when I read the Bible. And in church, during hymns or the sermon. Sometimes I almost dread picking up my Bible because I know it will probably prompt my overtired brain into a cascade of a new blog post idea. These ideas come in a twinkling, but they take many hours to write out.

    End of vent 🙂

    • Brenda R

      It is a gift, Barb. It may not always seem like it, but it is still a gift.

  17. Anonymous

    Pastor Crippen – thank you for taking the time to write this most enlightening post. Barb mentioned the many hours it takes to write these posts. Praying that all contributors will be blessed as they faithfully nurture many via ACFJ.

  18. Anonymous

    I know this is an old post, but I’m really wrestling with the topic of forgiveness right now.

    -Am I obligated to forgive an unrepentant former abuser?

    -What *IS* forgiveness anyways (and what does it look like)?

    I’ve been counseled in the past that even though my former abuser is an unrepentant unbeliever (who is likely continuing to abuse others), that I have to forgive him because “God already forgave him when Christ died on the cross.” This has never made sense to me. After receiving this counsel I told my abuser that I had forgiven him, even though the very words cut to my soul when I said them. Now the very word “forgiveness” make me feel physically ill.

    • Dear Anonymous, are you obligated to forgive an unrepentant former abuser? It depend on what is understood by the word ‘forgiveness’. Christians are very confused about forgiveness because they use the same word for at least three different concepts.

      Here is what I believe. “Forgiveness” has three meanings or domains, and we need to be very carefuly what meaning or domain we are referring to when we use that word. The first meaning is judicial forgiveness: the wiping clean of sin. This is solely the providence of God; none of us can forgive sin in that sense. The second meaning is psychological forgiveness: the vow and firm decision to not pay back the offender for the harm he or she did to us. It is the firm determination to leave vengeance to God (after all, He is going to be far better at delivering vengance on the evildoers than we could ever be!). This second kind does not mean we will cease to feel any hurt or anger; we may continue feeling those things and processing through them as part of our recovery, but we will not act on those feelings by taking vengeance on the perpetrator. The third kind is relational forgiveness. This is only wise or safe to do if the abuser actually and truly repents and shows the fruit of repentance. Depending on how long and how egregiously the perpetrator was abusing us, we might want to evaluate that fruit for a longer or shorter time — this is only wisdom and self-care 🙂

      Now; You are certainly NOT obligated to relationally forgive an unrepentant former abuser. To relationally forgive him — to enter back into free and unguarded relationship with him again — is likely to only expose you once again to his fangs and talons.

      As a Christian, you are called to renounce vengeance against him and to leave vengeance to the Lord.
      As a Christian, you may still have lots of hurt and anger and other feelings about what he did to you. This is only natural and normal. Being oppressed and abused is not something we ‘get over’ lightly. The damage to our minds, souls (and sometimes also bodies) takes time and loving care to heal. If you break a bone it takes time to heal, and it may never be as strong as it was originally. The same goes for soul trauma and emotional trauma. If you have feelings and thoughts you are still processing as a result of the trauma, that is not a sign that you are being “unforgiving”. It is simply a sign that you are processing the trauma and gradually healing from it and recovering and coming to terms with the losses and damage it caused you. It is HEALTHY to feel unhappy and discontented after being traumatized and treated with contempt!

      The first kind of abuse: the judicial kind; the kind that of forgiveness which God and Christ accomplished and made available to us on the Cross — this gets into what one believes about a deep subject in theology. It is not easy to explain in a balanced and accurate way and maybe Jeff C can do a better job of this than I can, but I’ll have a go.

      1. Christ died for the sin of the whole world.
      2. Not all souls will come to Christ. People who reject the offer of salvation through Christ are going to go to hell. So in that sense, Christ did not die for them.
      3. For a person to be saved, God most certainly requires them to repent. He is judging and will judge those who don’t repent. His salvation is not effectually applied to all people; it is only applied to those He has elected for salvation: those whom He is effectually calling and whom He will, most assuredly, keep safe within Christ to the end. The Bible talks about those whose names were written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world. This is what I’m talking about. And Jesus says how no person the Father has given Him will be lost; He has and will be keeping them safe in His hand.

      If you accept that, then it is easy to see that an unrepentant former abuser is not going to be forgiven by God and will not go to heaven . . . unless he repents and comes into the Kingdom before he dies.

      With such a person, you may if you wish pray for their repentance, and you can cultivate within yourself a willingness to extend forgiveness to them should they truly repent, but that’s all you really need do. (I’m assuming you are already renouncing taking vengeance on them yourself.)

    • Also —
      Forgivness is not tolerance.
      Forgiveness is not amnesia.

      And here are some links for further reading:

      Love covers a multitude of sins, but not all.

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

      Why is Forgiveness Even Possible?

      Abuse and Anger: Is it a Sin to Be Angry Toward Our Abuser?

      We have a sermon on our the “What Does Scripture Really Say?” section of our Resources. It is by Ps Bob Kerry.

      In this sermon Pastor Bob Kerrey explains what forgiveness is and what it is not. The sermon was originally titled “Breaking Barriers to Intimacy with God: Overcoming Unforgiveness” but Ps Kerry has given permission for us to apply a different title to it so we have given it a title that will be more engaging for survivors of abuse.
      Here are links to the pdf and the audio of that sermon.

      Similar teaching on forgiveness to that by Ps Bob Kerrey can be found in chapter ten of Steven Tracy’s book, Mending the Soul, which we have on the books section of our Resources.

  19. Anonymous

    Thank you for the resources.

    So, as long as I am not having revenge fantasies, or plotting personal vengeance against my former abuser (as in, hiring a hit-man to go beat him up or something), does that mean that I have forgiven him?

    I do not love him, respect him, or have any warm feelings toward him whatsoever. Reconciliation is out of the question, as he will never be a safe, trustworthy person. I still feel sad and angry when I think about what he did. I pray for him occasionally, but I also want him to face the consequences of his actions — earthly consequences, and if he does not repent, then eternal consequences too.

    Does what I just stated above mean that I have a vengeful spirit, or are my feelings normal and healthy — and have I already forgiven to the extent that God expects me to? I know that no one can speak for God except for God, but I’m really looking for answers right now, and looking for freedom from the guilt-trip of being expected to offer some kind of sappy, un-biblical forgiveness to a dangerous, evil, unrepentant person.

  20. Anonymous

    Thank you for this post Jeff. And thank you for leaving these old posts up–the wisdom they contain still holds true, as God’s truth doesn’t change.

    There are two “forgiveness” stories that come to mind when I hear this “YOU MUST FORGIVE EVERYONE FOR EVERY WRONG DOING!” evil spew from the mouths of the deceived and the deceiver.

    The more recent one–when the Duggar girls were forced to forgive their molester (their brother Josh)–and it was clear that behind their words and public statements were the lawyers as well as the good “c”hristians of the church feeding them what to say. I get sickened by that show and refuse to watch it because it always triggers me and is a horrific reminder how abusive wrong theology is and how these children are actually living in a traumatic environment and when they become adults they should have a chance to leave and heal–but instead they stay at home until they marry at which time they are expected to conceive immediately and start the next generation of abuse. It’s the mindset that I was raised with as well.

    The other one is the story of the Amish school shooting that happened back in 2006. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Nickel_Mines_School_shooting. I remember being mortified that the elders immediately went and told the family of the shooter that they forgave them and then a short time later they tore the school house down.

    I remember how WRONG it felt that these people immediately and easily forgave the situation because it felt forced and like there hadn’t been enough time gone by. It felt like a lie. In this post https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2015/09/16/living-with-trauma-memories-video-presentation-by-diane-langberg/ the author explains that in order to come to terms with such a traumatic event, a person must go through the process and it takes talking, tears and time to overcome it and to be able to forgive. Forcing someone to SAY they forgive another person is a lie and we force that person to become a liar on top of denying them the right to feel the horror of that trauma.

    The shooter had a history with the Amish and had known them all his life. He had planned this rampage and even had the children help him carry in the supplies he had premeditatedly gathered so that he could commit this horrible crime. (It’s another horrific example of how when we train our children to blindly submit to everyone and deny them the right to call evil what it is or to be aware of danger, we set them up to become participants in their own murder! Soul-murder is also murder!)

    Forgiveness is a GIFT–not something we are OWED as so many abusers tell us. And if we don’t realize that this is a GIFT that Jesus gave us when he died for his children on the cross–we lose the blessing of it. For most of us here we are VERY aware of this gift–it’s the evil ones in our lives who demand the right to claim this gift as their own right and who insist on this right even when they are unrepentant, that harms us. This is abusive and as Jeff points out–not biblical.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Excellent thoughts and examples! You nailed it. Thanks!

  21. EPH320

    At women’s Bible study, we discussed Genesis 33.
    The pastor’s wife noted how Esau RAN to Jacob,
    and then recommended that we read a book by nancy leigh demoss on forgiveness.
    She HIGHLY recommends that we read it.
    Then, during study time, she suggested that we comment on how we have been convicted by this.
    We have not joined this church yet…….
    We have also been told in the past that we must “submit.”
    My stomach hurts…………

  22. EPH320

    WOW!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!
    •”I understand the importance of submission to church leadership”
    •”I will submit to the elders and other appointed leaders of the church”
    These are the same “power” words that I am hearing!!!!
    They are BIG into “correction”……… “church discipline.”
    Is this church?
    Power, Control, Making decisions independent of the congregation???
    “THEY” decide if we are in sin????
    Barbara, thank you for sharing the articles!
    I sometimes wonder if “churches” can borderline on being cultish!!!!
    The Lord bless you for all you do to help others!

    • Seeing the Light

      “I sometimes wonder if ‘churches’ can borderline on being cultish!!!!”

      Yes! I believe that they absolutely can. I believe my husband is in one. He acts like a cult member who wants to become the cult leader. I don’t think his “church” has anything to do with real Christianity or that it is a real church with the Spirit of God.

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