Forgiveness. What an amazing word. What an honorable act. What an indescribable sensation when once we receive it and also too, when we dispense it.
Our good friend Webster defines “Forgive” as – To pardon an offense or offender. To grant pardon for or remission of an offense; To cease to feel resentment against. Synonyms include, absolve; excuse; exonerate; exculpate.
Also mixed in with the word “forgive” is “forgiveness”. Words associated with it are: Mercy; Charity; Compassion.
I’ve struggled a long time with these words. You see, when the very organization that is supposed to teach you the meanings behind these words refuses to protect you. Even goes so far as to take aim and target you as being a bad person. When, in fact, you are the victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a minister. It becomes increasingly difficult to find any forgiveness for those who allowed it to happen, for those that covered it up, for those that protected the abuser instead of the innocent child, and especially the one who raped, molested and sexually assaulted you.
And please understand I write this from my own perspective which is one of a Christian background. I don’t presume to know another’s pain, only what I’ve been through, so know this is only “my own” belief system and I’m not trying to push it on anyone else.
I give lectures and presentations to civic and religious groups, to parent organizations, even to small groups of couples wanting to know how to better protect their children from sexual predators. And you want to know the single most asked question I get? I don’t mean it’s asked a little more often than not, I’m telling you I get this question more than all other questions combined. I’m asked, “have you forgiven your abuser?”
At first, I have to admit, I didn’t really know how to respond. I was taken aback. Shocked actually. Of all the questions I expected, this was not one of them. Initially I deflected. Because in truth, I had not even given it consideration. I was so focused on keeping my abuser away from more children, so intent on preventing more children from going through what I did, and so preoccupied with helping support other survivors of CSA that it never entered my thought process. Until now.
Now I was forced to face a daunting challenge. You see, my dilemma is this. My spiritual background is Protestant. And within that Protestant faith was a teaching that we were to forgive as we are forgiven. So it says right in The Lords Prayer. On the flip side was my heart. Having been torn apart by a man who has molested, raped and sexually abused an untold number of little boys. How do I forgive that?
So I did something it took me a long time to do after having felt betrayed by the very God that my abuser claimed to represent. I spent an awful lot of time in prayer and study. I went to every doctrine of various faiths and religious texts I could find having to do with forgiveness. And time and time again I saw, forgive as you are forgiven. Jesus, Gandhi, no matter the reference, If you don’t forgive, how can you expect to be forgiven? We’re these folks right? Was I supposed to forgive this most heinous of crimes perpetrated against myself and all those other little boys?
In all the passages, texts, quotes from people of faith, when they spoke of forgiveness, they did so when addressing those who had faith, who held in their hearts a belief in repentance for transgressions. Even those that had done them wrong.
It was while having a bible study with my fiancé, now wife, Linda that we came across the scripture that opened my eyes. My spiritual eyes, and my heart.
In Matthew 6:14-15 it talks about forgiveness. And most of this chapter has to do with Jesus explaining to his followers how to do certain things. How to pray, fast, etc. And as we read and prayed we began to understand. Jesus was talking about Christians forgiving other Christians, not about forgiving the unrepentant.
So this led me to a question. Is it within my ability to forgive someone who does not have faith or who has no regret or repentance? This led me to an even deeper question from a trusted friend and man who has spent his entire adult life in study and prayer. He posed the following query, “Is a person without faith or repentance even capable of receiving my forgiveness?”
I was blown away.
Rather than paraphrasing, I will simply let him explain in his own scholarly, yet layman terms.
“Until someone has been first forgiven by God unto salvation through Christ we do not have the ability to forgive them. I will take it a step further, until a person has become forgiven by God unto salvation they are incapable of recieving human forgiveness. Only God can forgive a non Christian. That is not to say that we should not pray for their forgivness. By praying that the non Christian be forgiven by God helps us deal with the wrong done to us by that person and help’s God understand our need to forgive…Hope that is not too confusing, for most Christians do not understand that part of forgivness. Certainly, you may offer forgivness by a non Christian, but still until that person is forgiven by God for his orginal sin forgiveness can’t be recieved by the non christian.”
And this led me to an even greater insight. To those who said, you must forgive to be forgiven, if that were the case, it would mean there are stipulations to my faith. A “work or act” I must do. And any Protestant who knows their faith, knows we do not come to our faith through works or acts. It is by faith alone.
So not only am I not responsible for forgiving my abuser; until he is repentant, he is incapable of receiving human forgiveness for any transgressions.
That doesn’t mean we, or rather I, am recused from praying for the faith of this particular person. But at least now I have the honest belief that it’s not my job to forgive him. That’s between God and him. And honestly, I don’t believe someone capable of such things wants redemption. Not when he’s looked me in the eye, cried crocodile tears saying he didn’t do that anymore, only to find out he was molesting at least two boys when he told me that. So he’s a pathological liar, pedophile and God only knows what else.
Ultimately I believe that forgiveness, with regard to the abused, is the most individual of decisions. I believe there is more than one way to skin the “forgiveness” cat. For some, they find it helpful. For me, it’s not necessary. I have no need of it for my healing. And that’s what it’s all about. No matter which way a survivor goes, as long as they find healing and not vengeance or bitterness in it, it’s a positive.
The bottom line, my focus is on my recovery, healing and that of others that have been through what I have. I know now my calling is to do all I can to educate parents on how to better protect their children and help survivors heal. And I don’t need a burning bush or talking mule to figure that out!