Editor’s note: The following article refers to spiritual concepts. Please read Lovefraud’s statement on Spiritual Recovery.
By Joanie Bentz, B.S., M.Ed., CCBT, BC
As a Christian, I am required to forgive someone if they repent from their misdeeds. Genuine repentance means that a person completely refuses to engage in former abusive behaviors, especially when it comes to how that person behaves with you.
Humility is required of all human beings in determining that we many have hurt someone by something we have said or done.
Are we required to keep forgiving abusers?
In the Bible, God is clear about the requirements for forgiveness.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him. — Isaiah 55:7
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. — Luke 17:3 NKJV
In the first scripture passage, God is stating He will have mercy upon those who leave behind their evil ways and have remorse for what they have done. He does not state that He will have mercy if they continue their abusive behavior.
In the second passage, we are told to rebuke those who sin against us. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to tolerate abuse and endure such treatment in silence. We are required to stand up and speak out against someone treating us poorly.
If any person refuses to be accountable for their actions and cannot have remorse for what they have done, then their trespasses are not forgivable. If a person has no remorse, it means they are not truly sorry. Which, in turn, means the person will abuse again.
Abusers use your faith and the Bible against you
Abusers refuse to self-examine and will not admit that they are truly disordered individuals. Instead, they may even quote scripture about forgiveness to you with their own take on it to incite guilt — but most importantly to keep those windows to your heart open. They may cite scripture like:
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. — Luke 23:34
Abusers like to use this scripture passage to ensure that you will be a good Christian like you said you are — and allow them to continue with their mistreatment. Jesus stated that his enemies were not able to acknowledge their error. Abusers can acknowledge their error, but refuse to do so. In addition, Jesus never said to his enemies, “I forgive you.” He gave His mercy over to His Father, so that He would do with it as he willed.
Do not judge, lest ye be judged. — Matthew 7:1
Christian judgment takes into account the welfare of another person, and how their misdeeds can cause that person misery. When we identify abuse and expose it, we are not just merely taking ourselves into consideration. We are concerned for the good of the other person. Ultimately, God judges us, but we can judge behavior.
By their fruits you will know them. — Matthew 7:16
Abusers produce bad fruit. They cultivate confusion and discord. We can make this judgment by their consistent disrespect of your rights as an individual and by their lack of empathy.
Mary Magdalene’s example
And Jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn thee: Go, and sin no more. — John 8:11
In the Bible, the story of Mary Magdalene is a story of true repentance. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute during the time of Jesus. One day, the Pharisees surrounded her after dragging her out of her home while she was in the midst of doing business with another man. The Pharisees hurled insults at her and were intending to stone her to death. Jesus appeared on the scene and saw what was about to happen. Jesus told Mary that her sins were forgiven her, and for her to “go and sin no more.” Jesus did not state that she was forgiven, and could continue being a prostitute. From that moment Mary completely transformed. She had remorse for her way of life, repented and continue to live in a state of grace for the rest of her earthly life, as a disciple of Jesus. Mary was given a second chance.
We learn from our mistakes
Many of us have been given second chances because our hearts were in the right place. We are fallible souls, and our existence in this world requires us to learn from all life experiences and progress toward doing better, so that we grow in our interpersonal relationships.
We do not know the reasons why Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, but Jesus knew her heart. He already knew she was very sorry for the life she was leading at that time. She had a healthy shame for what she was doing, and she embraced the fact that it was wrong. She did not give Jesus lip service, as many abusers do, or attempt to minimize her sin. She accepted the fact that she was wrong without protest. She was genuinely sorry for her prostitution. How does Jesus know to forgive her? Because of her actions. She amended her life by rising up and following Jesus. She did not engage in prostitution again.
Action vs. words
If abusers apologize to you for their behavior, then change must follow their words—immediately and consistently! If we are making excuses for the abusers, we are giving them permission to treat us however they wish and enabling their abuse. We are also failing to provide them with the opportunity to understand their error and learn from it. Forgiveness requires:
- Sincere repentance—Apologizing for wrongdoing is not enough, a complete amendment of ways must be present.
- Restoration—When someone is abused, their rights are discounted by the abuser and reparation is necessary so that the victim’s rights are returned to them.
- Accountability—The abuser must take responsibility for causing pain in another person and promptly repair the damage inflicted upon the victim.
Abusers will not change their behavior
Abusers never turn from their ways. They are abusers for life. They rarely change. They enjoy the chaos and control when mistreating others. This is their addiction.
Most human beings make mistakes and learn from them, and make efforts to improve. Abusers never do such things. They may appear to be sorry, or even say they are sorry, but it is short-lived. It is only to get you back in their sights again.
As a child of God, I am not to put myself in the position to be abused. God has repeatedly stated this in the Bible.
As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. — 1 Timothy 5:20
God wants us to have nothing further to do with them, and not contaminate ourselves by associating with those who do evil.
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. — Titus 3:10
Abusers do evil things to us. Please remember that it is okay to love someone from a safe distance, and there are no boundaries placed on you to pray for your abuser.
For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. — 2 Timothy 1:7
Would love to hear from Lovefraud readers how you have handled the sociopaths in your life regarding forgiveness!
Travis Vining in his book Transforming Darkness to Light talks about this.
Sunnygal, I never heard of him, but i will look up his work, thanks for the info! 😃
SG, wanted to thank you for the suggestion to read Transforming Darkness to Light…I am in the midst of reading it now on my Kindle. So glad I decided to read snipets during the day. Taking it slowly but I would like to report it is most surely triggering. He goes into detail his overwhelming cognitive dissonance living with his horribly disordered father. This book is is a great tool to learn about the ambivalence a person can feel when faced since birth with a sociopath that you were meant to love unconditionally and honor as a parent.
Joanie- I think it is a very powerful story of a truly increible man. It is hard to find words to describe his experience..
SG… what is so striking about the book is the nature of the pathological charm he described concerning his dad…it is one of their tickets to get what they want, and that awful future faking….always making promises and using money to hook you in.
This poor man loved his father so much, and equated financial help and monetary gifts as love.
😪 Narcs just want everyone to see how much they helped you, so they look like the savior! And when you are on to them, now you owe them! And that you are the one who is irresponsible and ungrateful….no wonder why so many targets of narc abuse are psychologically and physically damaged, like this poor guy in the book. He was a punching bag as well as a doormat every day of his life.
Please, don’t do like I did, and swallow the books/tapes/sermons on ‘submissive wife’..I HAD to escape these, and find other books/tapes/messages that affirmed, supported ME.. Yes, I had to forgive him..but AFTER I got away from his abuse!..Conservative Christian teaching insists you love him, support him, pray for him, and in many cases..stay with him..Im sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Sociopaths take full advantage of teaching like this; they play the victim when confronted by others in the church, or by the pastor. And if you find yourself being ostracized or even shunned by a church family, when you do leave your abuser; find another church family who will love and support you. There ARE churches out there, with pastors who WILL support you, and care for you spiritually.
regretfullymine, I have not had the experience of church leaders advising anyone to stay with an abusive person.
Interesting last statement.
HI SG…what last statement? In the article or my comment before this one?
no. in the article.
Yes you can honor disordered parents and love those who persecute you by not keeping in contact with them. This ensures that you will not dishonor them by anything you say to them, and does not give them a chance to mistreat you any further.
UNSAFE PEOPLE WILL APOLOGIZE WITHOUT CHANGING THEIR BEHAVIOR. https://www.boundaries.me/blog/unsafe-people-will-apologize-without-changing-their-behavior
To author Joanie Bentz, I wanted to show you how meaningful your article is for me and what I shared about it. I posted the following with a link to your article on my Facebook feed tonight and on an abuse awareness group I admin.Thank you for your work, for helping us find our voice.
-Misty Livingston, El Mirage, AZ
“I kept thinking about tonight as I read what a writer friend of mine posted today about forgiveness and trauma. I kept remembering how my sister Lina told me just a few weeks ago before she died that there was not one person that she felt angry with anymore, not one person she would say no to if they wanted to see her or talk to her. NOT ONE. I asked her about the uncle who sexually abused us, the female cousin who sexually abused her, the aunt who crushed our spirit and made us believe we were worth nothing, the several men who beat her severely, the woman who ran her over with a car, the people who kept her from her own daughter for a decade, and others. She said that if she had one more day or one more year, she was tired and didn’t have one drop of energy left to waste on anger or ugly. That she was at peace with it. That if talking to her helped someone forgive themself she would not deny them that. That she hopes I could find that kind of release one day.
I didn’t know how to respond. I certainly was not going to contradict her. She had never really even spoken much with me about her trauma, in fact had done so more in her last couple of months alive than she had our entire lives. Forgiveness has always been a source of confrontation in our family … forgive AND forget was the expectation. Forgive AND condone is how I always saw it. Speaking up about it made someone the black sheep, the troublemaker, the person to avoid. I was that person most of my life. I just told Lina, well… then I’ll be angry for the both of us then because none of those bastards are stepping foot in this house or getting access back into my life.
What I didn’t say is that I know that forgiveness is about releasing an abuser’s grip over you … but that finding peace and release from the abuser does not have to come from forgiveness. That for some forgiveness can bring comfort and be a way of coping and survival. That for some it fulfills an idea of religious obligation. BUT… Forgiveness is NOT about acting as if the trauma has been erased. It is NOT keeping silent about the abuse. It is NOT allowing the abuser to continue with abusing and turning a blind eye to it. That there IS a place for righteous anger and calling a spade a spade. That sometimes forgiveness is just a bandaid over the cancer of intergenerational trauma and abuse.
“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; AND IF HE REPENTS, forgive him.” — Luke 17:3 NKJV
People who lie, hide their crimes, repeat their abuse, continue to harm others… they have NOT repented and the Christian God does not require us to forgive them. I myself was manipulated through the use of the bible and Christian morals by the man who raped me for years to believe that I was damned to hell because of the things done to me. That it was my fault. And that led to years of harmful behaviors I did to myself because I believed my soul to be lost already, irreparable, garbage. What did it matter what I did, God could see every horrible thing that I “allowed” to happen to me, or that I “deserved” to have happen to me. Like so many in my family, for many years I took on the role of the abuser by self-harming behaviors and sabotaging opportunities and relationships. It was those things I did that I had to forgive myself for. And I wasn’t able to do that until I became ANGRY about the things I never needed to forgive myself for in the first place. The “bad seed” or “bad girl” that I was told I was…. that was never true. And putting the blame and accountability on the shoulders of those who had NOT repented, asked for forgiveness, or even stopped abusing is what helped me start to heal.
The article I am attaching talks about how religious ideas about forgiveness including bible passages are used by abusers to gaslight and twist the meaning into something that allows them to continue perpetuating their abuse and crimes.
I am not telling anyone reading this that forgiveness is a bad thing. That you should not forgive someone who has hurt or wronged you. But I do believe wholeheartedly that the trauma of all that pain, abuse, abandonment, betrayal, violence and hate is the source of cancer and chronic illness in my sister, in so many of our family, and in myself. We call ourselves survivors, but trauma is killing us, picking us off one by one like ducks in a barrel. The hospice nurse who announced Lina’s time of death asked me as we were putting a dress on her body, how far back do you think cancer started? I told her before Lina was born.”
Emlivingston – I am sorry for your loss, and for the abuse that both you and your sister endured. But I am glad you found this article meaningful.
The confusion over “forgiveness,” I think, comes from what people think the word means. As Joanie explained in the beginning, it does not mean forgiving and then allowing the perpetrator to keep abusing. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. It means releasing the pain of the perpetrator’s actions so it no longer crushes our hearts. We don’t have to let the perp back into our lives to do this.
Thank you for sharing your comments.
HI Misty, I am glad this article validated some things for you. First, I am so sorry for what you and your sister endured. You really said a mouthful in your post (and i mean that as a compliment) and a few things stand out. You said: That sometimes forgiveness is just a bandaid over the cancer of intergenerational trauma and abuse. and forgive AND forget was the expectation. Forgive AND condone is how I always saw it. Speaking up about it made someone the black sheep, the troublemaker, the person to avoid.
I would like to mention this example: I knew of someone who performed self- inflicted abuse, abuse of others and engaged in predatory ways without his family being aware (or choosing to ignore–not sure), until it could not be kept under wraps–however only specific family members were informed–Others were expected to socialize with him on occasion, etc. with their own young children around. Not only that, but when the police got involved, some family members never found out the truth until years later. My question is: which is worse? The abuser– or those that don’t inform loved ones that someone is a danger to others–especially children? Do you know what this means? It means those who cover up the abuse don’t love, don’t care and are as equally culpable as the perpetrator of abuse. They allow others to be scandalized, especially young children. All of this to save face and to look good to outsiders.
I relate to you this account because generational family lines of abuse do the most damage, in my estimation. Because they do not just involve one abuser. There are many. And the trauma inflicted by more than one person creates emotional and even physical injuries that can take years to heal. It is unfathomable to me that a whole family line can have these deep-seated pathologies and continue onward as if it’s just standard behavior. There is a book I know about called Healing the Family Tree, by Fr. John Hampsch, who is deceased now.https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Your-Family-Tree-Hampsch/dp/087973437X I highly recommend it, even if you are not a spiritual person or Christian but you sound like you are. Thank you for featuring my article on your page, so glad I can be a help to others! I will pray for deep healing and peace in your life always❤️