"To forgive all is as inhuman as to forgive none." ~ Seneca
Forgiveness should always be a topic at the forefront of the Christian mind. I know that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, especially over the course of the last six months. I have wrestled with the concept of forgiveness the way Jacob wrestled with his Angel. The reason for this struggle is that I recently exited an abusive relationship. As a Christian, my first thoughts were about how I could forgive my abuser. I was angry over what he had done to me, as I imagine anyone would be. Worse than the anger was the hurt I felt -- I had given my love openly and freely; I had worked hard to treat him the way I myself wanted to be treated, but instead of responding in kind, he chose to tear me down both physically and emotionally. I felt so damaged by his abuses that I was uncertain whether I’d ever be able to trust myself enough to love anyone again. Forgiveness was something I felt I needed to offer, but I wondered if I would ever achieve it.
I spent a lot of time praying about it, as you might imagine. Each time I thought about my abuser, I’d repeat aloud or in my head (as appropriate), “I forgive you.” Sometimes, I did this dozens of times a day. What I wanted was to be able to stop thinking about my abuser, to stop feeling so hurt and so angry at him for what he had done. I wanted to move on and forget all about it; I wanted things to go back to the way they were before. But as time passed and my walk with God progressed, my anger diminished, which had the function of allowing me to see the situation more clearly. As the weeks went by, I began to see a flaw in my thinking. I had been counting on forgiveness as the means by which I would forget about the abuse and reclaim my life. I had intended never to address the abuses in any legal or even moral way; my intention had been to set aside what he had done and to pretend that nothing had ever happened. God had other plans.
As I prayed daily to forgive my abuser, God began quietly opening up channels of communication with other people. At first, I had been unable to really talk with anyone about what had happened; the pain and shame that I felt were too great. But God brought person after person into my life, and each of these people brought healing to me in one way or another. Some of them showed me by their actions that they loved me. Some of them were able to understand my heart without even knowing what had happened and they offered their support in subtle ways that reaffirmed my damaged sense of self-worth. Others offered their shoulders and listening ears with kindness and caring so strong it was palpable. As the story began to unfold to these treasured few, the Spirit went to work, showing me vital pieces of the puzzle that I had ignored or had been unable to see or understand. Yes, I had to forgive; it was required of me because God had forgiven me for my many sins and wrongs. I could not ask for forgiveness without first forgiving those who had wronged me. I accepted this and understood it. The harder part to learn was that forgiving does not always mean what we think it does.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines forgiving this way:
To give up resentment of or claim to requital for, or to cease to feel resentment against an offender.
I began examining my conscience to see if I had been able to achieve true forgiveness, and I found that my anger and my hurt were gone; my resentment had vanished. I wished my abuser well. I hoped that he got the treatment he needed and that he was able to build a life with someone else, and that he would never hurt anyone else. I was confident that I had forgiven. But as the Holy Spirit worked in my life, my conscience began to speak to me, nudging me toward deeper understanding.
Forgiveness is good. It is what Jesus would have done. But would Jesus have left the situation as it was? Would he have refused to speak out or tell the truth about someone, knowing that that person was capable of extreme violence and of harming others? Would he simply have forgiven and walked away, leaving others to suffer in the future? No, my conscience clearly told me that Jesus would not have done so. He would have found a way to heal the entire problem. That might have entailed the casting out of demons, or it might have consisted of curing a disease, or of driving money-changers out of the temple before they preyed upon the poor. I did not want to face the idea that through my forgiveness and lack of response, I might be enabling my abuser to go on and abuse again. After all, his ex-wives had experienced violence at his hands but had done nothing. He was in a position of power when he met me, and he had abused that also, crossing boundaries that should not have been crossed. If someone had reported his abuses in the past, he would not have been in a position of power when he and I met. And if I did not report his abuses, then he would continue in that position, able to easily harm others in the future.
The Free Online Dictionary defines enabling as: to supply with the means, knowledge, or opportunity…to give sanction to. My silence had become a means of enabling this man to hurt others, and to believe that he could do so with impunity. How could I live with that?
Still, I didn’t want to deal with it. I had forgiven. I wanted to forget. I wanted to let the past be past, and I wanted to believe that he had learned his lesson and would never abuse anyone again. Then he began turning up near where I live and work; a pattern of behavior that he had admitted repeating in the past when relationships and friendships were terminated. God was speaking through my friends, through strangers, and even through my abuser’s actions; He was showing me my responsibility.
It has been difficult to take action, and the situation is unresolved at this point. I don’t know what will happen. However, I do know that I have a responsibility not only to forgive, but also to protect others, to keep them from harm. I can still think of my abuser and wish him well. I regret that I am compelled to report his abuses – I did not want to do this. But God often calls on Christians to do things that we do not want to do, and it is the hardest tasks that are the most necessary. I have forgiven – but I will not enable. My silence will not be the vehicle by which another person is harmed. Jesus wouldn’t do that! He would tell the truth in love, no matter how hard it might be, and that’s what I am going to do.