A Cry For Justice

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

Some Common Wrong and Harmful Notions about Forgiveness and the Cross

In this post we further examine the comment which a pastor called Phillip submitted. In part one we discussed his assertion that “Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard.”  In this second part, we discuss what he said about forgiveness.

Please note that we are not implying that pastor’s motives are evil or that he is willfully trying to cause more suffering for abuse victims. But what we want to point out, especially to him, is that his thinking is flawed and that his words are going to do great damage by enabling abusers and further oppressing victims.

Here is the portion of his comment we are analysing in this post. The spelling & punctuation in his comment have not been altered. He is addressing Jeff Crippen’s post on forgiveness and the cross.

You wrote, “God never simply forgives sin – thus the reason for the cross – apart from His holy justice being met.”

I completely agree. I’m just hung up on this concept of us attempting to forgive (now), without the cross deeply impacting how we go about forgiving.

Doesn’t the cross impact us, as Christians? It is my reason for forgiving others, my fuel, my motivator, and my reason for loving.

I hope that makes sense.

Consider this: Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard. It’s not because he wants justice to be fleshed out. Justice was fleshed out on the cross. Our inability to reconcile is a heart issue, even when is  adultery or some other crazy life crushing sin.

Then the problem, in my eyes, is people trying to force forgiveness upon the offended. Although I think they should forgive, if their hearts are hard, moral instruction isn’t going to soften their hearts. Pointing fingers at a room full of offended people and telling them how scripture calls them to forgive isn’t going to lead to forgivness (at least not good, healthy forgivness). What will? Hearing that we are all sinners. That we don’t forgive like we should. How we too have sinned. That Jesus died for our sins. That those who have been forgiven much will love much. And letting the gospel melt our hearts.

Is our ‘inability to reconcile’ always an issue of our own hearts?

Phillip states: Our inability to reconcile is a heart issue. That is not always true. God Himself does not reconcile with all sinners. God Himself CAN NOT reconcile with all sinners. Is that because God’s heart is not right? No! It is because Holy God cannot and does not reconcile with the wicked — because the heart of the wicked is not right. There is no repentance there. God only reconciles people to Him if they repent of their sin.

To tell the wife of a an adulterer or an abuser that the reason she cannot reconcile with the philanderer/abuser is because of the hardness of her heart, is an utmost cruelty. And it is just plain wrong. In many cases, reconciling with such evil is what is wrong.

Let us imagine a woman called Jane who has suffered domestic abuse. She divorced her abusive husband some time ago. Jane is not a believer and she has little understanding of Christianity.

In her home alone and lonely on her couch in the evenings, Jane often thinks about how her husband mistreated her. She feels anger about what he did to her. Maybe she doesn’t hate him but she finds it really hard to stop thinking about what he did to her. After all, he’s still abusing her post-separation. And he’s won most of her friends and family over so they think he’s a great guy. She’s misunderstood by most people. She’s got some PTSD though she doesn’t know it. She’s got a log-jam of grief inside her and it’s hard to let it out because (a) no one wants to really listen, and (b) it’s congealed, crusted over, old and tired … same old same old…

Forgiving him has not been in the forefront of her mind; she isn’t sure whether she forgives him, or how much … but she sure knows she mustn’t reconcile with him … if she reconciled with him he would destroy her.

A friend invited her to church. Jane is sitting in Pastor Phillip’s church service and he tells the people, “Jesus died for our sins. Justice was fleshed out on the cross. Whenever we are offended by another person’s conduct, even when is adultery or some other crazy life crushing sin, our inability to reconcile is a heart issue. We are all sinners. We don’t forgive like we should. And because Jesus died for our sins, we can be forgiven. Those who have been forgiven much will love much.”  

What will Jane have learned? She will have learned three truths:

  • all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God
  • those who have been forgiven much, will love much
  • because Jesus died for our sins, we can be forgiven

But she’s also heard three gross generalisations:

  • we are all sinners 
  • we don’t forgive like we should (hear that ‘s’ word ‘should’ — red flag Jane!)
  • our inability to reconcile is a heart issue

We are not all sinners. That is to say, though we are born into this world in sin, when Christ redeems us we are saints. Scripture does not address Christians as sinners.¹ The statement that we are all sinners is vital when doing evangelism, but it is easy to misinterpret when doing discipleship. It can all too easily be intepreted as sin-levelling: “all sins are equally heinous.”

The pastor’s message has imparted some truth to Jane’s mind, but that truth has been inextricably linked to some terrible falsehoods that are likely to put her off the gospel for the rest of her life.

If Jane’s heart is soft to the gospel, she will most likely think: “I see that I am a sinner. I accept that. I know I’m far from perfect. The pastor says I don’t forgive like I should. He says my inability to reconcile with my abusive ex-husband is a heart issue. That must be one way I am sinning: having a hardened heart towards my husband: having divorced from him rather than reconciling with him. He always accused me of being too hard on him. That must be what this pastor means by me having a ‘heart issue’. But I CAN’T reconcile with him. He would destroy me! I can’t accept this Christianity if it means I have to reconcile with my husband!”

Here is the truth, dear Jane, which you needed to hear: All unbelievers are sinners, but not all unbelievers are abusers. Many unbelievers are not abusers.

Here at A Cry For Justice we would never tell a non-Christian abuse victim that “we are all sinners” and link that with an inference that her failure to reconcile with her abuser shows she has is hard hearted. Why? Because, while she does need to hear that she is a sinner in need of a Savior, and the only Savior is Jesus Christ, if we tell her “You are a sinner” while we are advising her how to respond to her abusive husband, she will hear “You are a sinner” as: You have sinned in this marriage; your sin has contributed to the marriage breakdown.

And you can be certain that she will conclude that we think she carries some (or most) of the guilt for this disaster called a marriage.We would have laid false guilt on her and innoculated her against the gospel by giving her a false idea. We would have caused her to think that God sees her as bearing blame for the marriage problem. She would thus see God as not her potential Savior whom she could love and cling to, but as her abuser’s ally.

How can we be so certain of this? How can we assert this as a fact, without any qualification? Because her abuser has been constantly telling her that it is all her fault, she is the crazy one, she is the ‘oversensitive one’, she is the abuser, she is the liar, she is the one who made him behave the way he did, she is the one who has lost her grip on reality, she is the one who is mistreating and falsely accusing him!   

Here is the truth: Many unbelievers (including our hypothetical Jane) are not abusers. Many unbelievers do not exercise a pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceed from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, they keep their targets subordinated and under their control. Many unbelievers do not have a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over their family members or dating partners (current or ex). Many unbelievers do not believe they are justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain power and control over others.

The rampant problem in the professing Christian church today is not that we don’t forgive like we should, but that we forgive like we should not.

In the fog-bound professing Christian church, believers are typically exhorted to reconcile in relationship with people who are not repentant. Such teaching fails to heed the Lord’s commands to:

  • come out from among them and be separate
  • reject the factious man after a first and second warning
  • refuse to even eat with those who claim the name of Christ but who walk in sin.

And these are the things that this fellow’s comments, whether he realizes it or not, are condoning.

And then this fellow’s comments regarding the gospel “melting our hearts.” Once more his statements are jam-packed full of false guilt and shame for victims of evil. “Letting the gospel melt our hearts” as we go forth and blindly embrace universal forgiveness and reconciliation may sound heart-warming.  It is anything but. It is a fantasy and fiction that leads to a very bad ending. The warmth of Christ’s love in our hearts is also supposed to burn with indignation against evil, not just with compassion for the lost and for those who repent.

Finally, this matter of justice being “fleshed out on the cross.”

We are not certain what Phillip means by this precisely, but we do know that such a statement communicates to us that we must not seek justice. That all justice upon our oppressors has been effected already at the cross. This is, of course, terribly unbiblical — and fertile fodder for abuser enablement. Justice has not been totally and absolutely meted out at the cross. There is much justice yet undone. Here is a taste of it:

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering — since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2Th 1:5-10)

And so we trust that this fellow Phillip will seriously re-examine his thinking on these things. To teach the concepts that he stated in his comments is to do great harm to the righteous who are suffering at the hands of evil, and to become an ally of evil — whether realizing it or not.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

¹  Christ died for all sin; but for that to be effectual in a sinner’s life, the sinner must repent and have faith in Christ as their Savior and Lord.

The bible uses this terminology: All have sinned: all were born in sin; all are born with a fallen nature. If a person is  born again through faith in Christ, that person is called a saint, a believer, a sheep, a child of God.  The Bible says that saints still struggle with the flesh (Romans 7) and only when they pass into the next world will they free from the presence of sin and that battle with the flesh. It also recognises that as believers, as saints, we sometimes fall into sin; it exhorts us to confess and repent at such times (James 5:16) and it promises us forgiveness in Christ (1 John 1:9).

It is unwise and misleading to call all people in the pews ‘sinners’ as if they are all unregenerate, when some, or many, are born-again saints. (Whether that is true in all churches in these darkening end times, only God knows…  In our view it is probable that some churches have not one born-again believer in their pews. )

The unregenerate person keeps on sinning; it is the chief distinguishing feature of his or her life. The saint may fall into sin, may have battles with the flesh, may have parts of their character needing much further sanctification,  but no one who abides in him [no saint; no Christian] keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6)

Thus, one of the chief marks by which we can distinguish the unregenerate (sinners) in the pews from the true Christians in the pews (saints): the sinners keep on sinning.

 

***

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19 Comments

  1. Sarah

    This is exactly what is preached in churches today
    ” It is unwise to call all in the pews sinners”….my ex loved to spout off how we are all the same, all sins are the same and we are all awful people (our works are filthy rags) I would take offense at this and now I know why. He was doing sin leveling and I was trying to say that murder not the same as a white lie etc. This is so important for pastors to watch what they say and do in the pulpit.
    When I refused to talk to my abuser right away or do counseling right away I was considered the one with the hard heart. Abuser was crying so he was the soft hearted. My pastor wrote me an email explaining this. Just like you explained above. It cut like a knife. I’m so glad that I found this group and it let me let go of the forgiveness issue before I was “forced” to do the forgiveness work through all the common pat answers that are preached.
    It feels good to forgive for awhile but we don’t learn about evil this way and we fall right back into it…
    The church and all it’s teachings did not save me from falling for an abuser and there is something deeply disturbing with this. In fact they encouraged me to turn off the warning lights and squelch the spirit in favor of mercy and grace at all costs
    Thanks for letting me vent!

    • surviving freedom

      Amen! Concerning this comment…
      “The church and all it’s teachings did not save me from falling for an abuser and there is something deeply disturbing with this. In fact they encouraged me to turn off the warning lights and squelch the spirit in favor of mercy and grace at all costs”
      So sad … but so true! What a marvelous way to articulate how the one place we would expect to help others stand guard against the evil that the Bible explicitly describes, rather finds ways to encourage the existence of it. Teaches us to blindly close our eyes to it, and condemns us as us being the unfaithful or ungodly ones when we attempt to expose or even make sense of it. Rather than being in the Light and encouraging and aiding others into the Light, they are pushing all who follow into the darkness and rewarding those who encourage and submit to the darkness.

      • Sarah

        “the one place we would expect to help others stand guard against the evil that the Bible explicitly describes”…
        yeah this makes me a little more than concerned….

  2. keeningforthedawn

    Sadly, some very common misconceptions represented here. (Some of these actually came up in a Bible study I attended just a few days ago!) In so many cases, what appears to be well-meaning, tenderhearted counsel turns out to be silver-tongued rhetoric designed by the enemy to perpetuate oppression. I do appreciate your dismantling each point.

  3. braveandstandingstrong

    Thank you, Pastor Jeff! Amen!

    My ex church is big on teaching peacemaker
    principles.

    Someone from the congregation texted me.
    “Praying for hearts to unite.”
    I am fine with my anti husband’s heart being united with God, but there is no way my heart will be united with my anti husband’s unrepentant heart!!!!!!!

    How can she say that? Does she not believe anything I have said?
    Another one….”I am believing for you. God is faithful.”
    Really? I don’t believe my husband will change, therefore, I must not believe God is big enough or faithful?
    I believe in prayer, miracles and Almighty God. He needs a willing vessel.
    I was told I did not have enough faith.

    Meanwhile, my antihusband is treated well at my ex church and continues sinning.(porn, etc.)

  4. Annie

    I can believe all I want but if my husband doesn’t then change won’t happen. I used to be frustrated that my prayers weren’t being heard as I expected–the proof for me would have been that my husband would change until I realized God hears my prayers but my husband isn’t not answering to God. So it’s not that I’m not trying hard enough!

    And this brings up what has been said here before. Why is it the wife’s sin that is the stumbling block but never the husband’s sins that started the whole mess anyway? Wouldn’t the answer be for the husband to stop what he’s doing? And problems solved? But no he can continue causing trouble and the wife has to accept it and forgive at the same time!!!Makes no sense.

    • RomansEightOne

      “”Why is it the wife’s sin that is the stumbling block but never the husband’s sins that started the whole mess anyway? Wouldn’t the answer be for the husband to stop what he’s doing? And problems solved? “”

      This has baffled me for a long time. I’ve just had to take comfort in knowing that GOD KNOWS. He knows my heart.
      So thankful to find this blog and this community.

    • Hi Annie
      We received the long comment you submitted today, but are cautious about approving it as it has so much detail, and might identify you.

      Email myself and/or TWBTC to discuss if you wish.

      our email addresses are on the ABOUT tab.

  5. If victim/survivors like myself give the appearance of having not forgiven our abusers, it’s often not because our hearts are hard, it’s because we don’t feel safe. When pastors like Phillip expect us to forgive and “reconcile”, what they actually seem to expect is for us to put ourselves back into danger. So who really has the hard heart?

    • standsfortruth

      The oppressed spouse does not want to reconcile because she does not feel safe, and she knows the abuse would continue. And when the church refuses to believe that she is being abused, and goes along with the abuser by obfuscating the facts and trying to “mutualize the problem” they make things worse.

      When the “c”hurch people asked me “what my part was in this disfunctional marriage?”
      I told them “the only thing I was guilty of was being abused”.
      They did not like that, because they realized it could implicate them to becoming an accessory to my abuse.
      So I said it all the more.

    • surviving freedom

      I often think that the abused spouse is being unjustly accused of being unforgiving. I’d like to see pastors such as this one start making comments concerning the offender being expected to repent and “reconcile.” A victim can forgive seventy times seven, but when the abuser deems forgiveness is owed to them and uses it as a means to further shame, blame, and abuse their victim … then there can never be reconciliation, even if one remains in the marriage.

      It’s odd how, when a marriage fails, the ‘c’hurch seems to deem it the fault of the one who’s been wronged due to unforgiveness, often wrongly assuming and judging us … whereas it seems the true cause for the failure of the marriage is the many years of abuse, the abuser deceiving and manipulating to cover it up, and not repenting (actually usually increasing the abuse and deceit) when the victim finally sees the truth and desperately cries for it to change.

      I’ve heard of very few cases that the victim just suddenly ups and leaves without having first offered forgiveness over and over, only having it thrown back in her face and used against her. Often the victim has endured it for far too long before the ever hardening heart of the unrepentant abuser leaves her with little choice but to leave.

  6. healinginhim

    Thank you for this post …

  7. Innoscent

    The words of this pastor sound like the serpent to Eve! Niceties and generalities, a hornet’s nest for the victim. It is mind-boggling that so many pastors are preaching for the Devil. This is what our Christian churches have become where basic doctrines such as forgiveness, justice, judgment, love, repentance, etc. are not even understood clearly by the spiritual leaders. The blind are then leading others into blindness.

    So glad and grateful each day for this ministry here that helps me gain discernment. So tired of this broken record of ‘we-are-all-sinners’ and of weak leadership in the church who keep the front doors open to more abusers and evil while kicking out the victims through the back doors.

  8. Grateful

    Thank you for addressing this topic. This article is much needed and much appreciated. A few years ago my husband did an exegetical study on the topic of forgiveness, surprised to find that much of what’s been taught in churchianity regarding ‘forgiveness’ is unscriptural. When he taught his findings in our home bible study, the truth contained therein (like your own findings) brought much freedom to a family we know whose children had suffered horrific sexual abuse at the hands of some grandparents. These teens had been told by establishment ‘church’ leadership that they MUST ‘forgive’ their abusers, and that not doing so was a sin. The misrepresentation of the character of God at the hands of those ‘leaders’ put seeds of doubt and confusion into the hearts of those young victims.

    Thankfully, the balanced, scriptural, whole-counsel approach to the subject (by my faithful exegete husband) was extremely liberating, and the kids and their parents were able to truly begin to heal from that point forward. Likewise, your biblical treatment of the subject is exceedingly valuable, needed, and appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hi Grateful, thanks for the encouragement.

      btw, I changed your screen name to what you have used before on this blog 🙂

  9. standsfortruth

    Could Hebrews 10:29 apply to teaching a wrong application of the purpose of the cross?
    Is he suggesting that the afflicted continue to be afflicted?

    Hebrews 10:29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

    • I don’t know if he is suggesting that the afflicted continue to be afflicted. Let us hope that he simply has not thought through what he wrote — not realised how it could be interpreted by others.

      Could Hebrews 10:29 apply to teaching a wrong application of the purpose of the cross?

      I don’t know. But I do know that Hebrews 12:4 (You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin) has been used to keep victims suffering under their abusers.

      Here is a post about Hebrews 12:4
      Counselors of Death

  10. I have emailed the pastor Phillip whose comment is featured in this post, to inform him about this post being published. I did the same after our post True or False? “Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard.” was published.

  11. layla1111

    I truly believe these abusers are demonically influenced. I can see now they have some inner intuition about how to make the victim feel like they are in hell, and they are probably trying to project onto the victim the punishment they fear they themselves will get which is being sent to hell. This is something very dark and it is something that the abuser needs to seek forgiveness from God himself. These abusers have pacts with the devil…I see it as something I neednt be involved with in terms of forgiveness/non-forgiveness. My abuser has much bigger problems than whether I forgive him, literally these abusers sell their souls to the devil.

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