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Childhood Sexual Abuse: How can we forgive those who abuse us?

One of the most challenging things for a husband whose wife is the survivor of childhood sexual abuse is to forgive his wife’s perpetrator(s). It seems scandalous and ludicrous. How can the husband of a childhood sexual abuse survivor possibly follow the biblical command to, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32 – NIV)?

In my previous blog (See What do you do when you are so angry that you could …..?), I wrote about the consequences of remaining in our anger and rage towards our wife’s perpetrator(s). We are the ones who get swallowed up by our own anger. In this blog, I am digging further into how forgiveness of her perpetrator(s) might actually occur.

I have asked numerous husbands of survivors of childhood sexual abuse regarding their journey in forgiving their wife’s perpetrator. Quincy’s response was “I’d certainly want him brought to some kind of justice.” Clay said that he didn’t even respect the memory of his wife’s perpetrator. He wondered, “Am I supposed to forgive this guy for what he did to my wife when she was a young girl? I’m still struggling with that point.” Nigel, on the other hand, said, “You’ve got to forgive because of biblical instruction.”

If we agree with Nigel, we’re still left with the question of “How?” According to the biblical mandate, we are to forgive “just as in Christ God forgave” us. That explanation of how we are to forgive certainly does not make it any easier to forgive. But let’s consider it before we dismiss it.

In one of Dr. Greg Boyd’s sermons, he noted that unless we are forgiving as God, in Christ, has forgiven us, we are inclined toward quid pro quo forgiveness. Quid pro quo forgiveness is getting something for something; a favor for a favor. Quid pro quo is when my forgiveness is conditional on someone being brought to justice, or paying some kind of retribution. It is contractual.

Although the Scripture contains legal concepts such as justification, interpreting scripture using a courtroom template is not accurate. God does not seek a contractual quid pro quo relationship with us. If God dealt with us as we have so often dealt with Him, we would be among the most desperate of all men.

God offers us a covenantal relationship rather than a contractual arrangement. Scripture depicts covenantal life as receiving God’s life and expressing it. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Forgiveness, therefore, is about receiving God’s forgiveness and then expressing it to others (Matthew 6:14-15).

As we express forgiveness, we grow more in our understanding of what it was for God to forgive, which then opens our hearts to increased gratitude and receptivity of His redemptive forgiveness. It is a cyclical flow.

God pours His perfect forgiveness into us, and we receive it freely. As we genuinely receive forgiveness, we express forgiveness. The more we receive it, the more we can express it. The more we express it, the more we receive it.

Genuine forgiveness is grounded in the forgiving work of God through Jesus Christ. Without His work, we are more inclined towards a quid pro quo form of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not without cost. Forgiving “just as in Christ God forgave” us means that we take the hit for the offense just as Christ did for us (Ephesians 4:32 NIV). In other words, forgiveness includes accepting the cost of the effects of childhood sexual abuse without holding it against the perpetrator.

Clarifications about Forgiveness

  • Forgiveness of the perpetrator does not nullify legal consequences established by law. It is not the same as granting a pardon for the offense. Outgoing governors and presidents often pardon selected criminals from prison. But their pardon does not mean forgiveness, just as forgiveness does not mean pardon from the consequences.
  • Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It is actually a demonstration of greater grace when we are fully aware of what occurred and we still choose to forgive.
  • Neither does forgiveness mean that the action being forgiven is condoned or tolerated. When Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, he instructed her, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).
  • Finally, forgiveness does not require reconciliation. Forgiveness of the perpetrator does not even require encounter with the perpetrator because it is a transaction within the soul of the husband.

How to Forgive

  1. Agree that by forgiving, you will take the hit

Jesus agreed to “take the hit” on our behalf when he went to the cross. As Michael W. Smith’s song expresses, “He took the fall, and thought of me, above all.”

It is arrogant on our part to accept that Christ took the hit so that we can be forgiven, but then refuse to take the hit in order to be forgiving. This is why Jesus linked His forgiveness with ours when he prayed, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” To receive the forgiveness of Christ is to understand the magnitude of His grace. As a recipient of that grace, I can then express grace and forgiveness towards others regardless the magnitude of their offense.

  1. Agree that I will no longer keep score

Scoreboards can hang from the walls of our mind upon which we tabulate all that someone did or failed to do that brought us harm. God therefore instructed the Apostle Paul to write, “It [love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5 – NIV).

Forgiveness, in love, takes down the scoreboard. We acknowledge the wrong that was done, but we don’t hang on to it as something to be pointed to later. If the scoreboard is allowed to remain, it will be a constant draw to our eyes and will fuel bitterness in our hearts.

Forgiveness of a perpetrator who inflicted childhood sexual abuse on a child may seem scandalous and ludicrous. But for us to be forgiven by the Creator of this universe is also scandalous.

Forgiveness is scandalous.

Forgiveness is painful.

Forgiveness is Christ-like.

 

Reference Cited:

Boyd, G. Woodland Hills Church, St. Paul, MN. Concepts were extracted from personal notes taken on a sermon preached by Dr. Greg Boyd and used by permission.

2 Responses on “Childhood Sexual Abuse: How can we forgive those who abuse us?

  1. sonny says:

    Thank you for putting up the website. I have talked to numerous pastors who just don’t know how to counsel us. I’ve watched my wife suffer while I felt almost helpless. I had no idea abuse could have such far reaching consequences for her, me, children, extended family, and even friends. I have struggled with anger at my wife’s relative who we would have to see at family functions. My blood would boil at times wondering how there could be no legal remedy for this “Mormon”. I’ve struggled with “forgiveness”, but I know I have to. God will have to empower me as part of me doesn’t want to forgive.

    1. Thank you for your comment and your honest acknowledgement regarding how difficult it is to forgive a perpetrator of childhood sexual abuse. I certainly struggled to forgive. You can read about my experience in my article “Rage at My Wife’s Abuser.” Click on Resources in the menu bar above and then on Articles. You’ll see it listed.

      And yes, the effects of childhood sexual abuse are far reaching. I highly recommend Dawn Scott Jones’s book, When a Women You Love was Abused. It will give you a good introduction to the effects so that you can better understand what it is for your wife to be in her shoes.

      Bill Ronzheimer, Marriage Reconstruction Ministries, Inc.

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