Another common and wicked tactic of the “Christian” abuser is his insistence, on supposed biblical grounds, that his victim continually forgive him and love him. Anyone who knows much at all about the nature of abuse will realize that abuse occurs in a cyclical manner which involves several stages. The stage that comes right after the big blowup stage is commonly called the “honeymoon stage.” During this time, which can be short or long, the abuser can appear to be contrite, remorseful and even very kind. He expresses remorse over what he has done and promises it will never happen again. He makes promises that he’ll change, that this time all will be different. He might buy presents for his victim, fulfill a few past promises made to her or even appear to take an interest in spiritual things. His promises are all nonsense, of course. In fact, because his supposed sorrow and repentance is FALSE (he even has himself deceived about it), the cycle WILL repeat itself. After all, that is the nature of a “cycle,” right?
When the abuser “repents,” he always includes more or less flagrant demands that the victim needs to forgive him. He will often throw in a couple of “false guilt/blaming” missiles about how his abuse was caused at least in part by the victim. None of this is true repentance. In fact, this is abuse itself. The honeymoon period is within the cycle of abuse and is just another aspect of the abuse. It contributes to the confusion of the victim and works to strengthen the abuser’s control over her.
Often the abuser will quote Scriptures that seem to support his demand that his victim forgive and love him. Some of the commonly used ones are these:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (22) Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven…. Matthew 18:21-22
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. Matthew 18:35
The abuser will distort these verses in this way, “Jesus says that even if I sin again and again and again against you, you are required to forgive me whenever I ask you to.”
Of course, as we have just discussed, the abuser is NOT repentant. He may say he is, but he is not. Nevertheless, he insists that because he has said he is sorry, his victim is required by God to forgive him. By saying thus, he is twisting Jesus’ words. WE CAN PROVE THAT JESUS’ WORDS ASSUME THAT THE OFFENDER IS REPENTANT, when He tells us to forgive even seventy times seven. Here is the proof –
- Jesus intentionally calls the offender our “brother.” So He is speaking about a scenario in which one Christian sins against another Christian. Genuine Christians repent. Abusers do not. Yes, we can forgive our enemies even if they do not repent but only in respect to not taking personal vengeance upon them. We cannot forgive unrepentant people judicially (pronounce their sin forgiven) because not even God will or can do that. Nor does forgiveness require reconciliation of relationship in every single case.
- An even clearer proof that we are NOT required to forgive the abuser even if he persists in his abuse time after time, comes from the context of Matthew 18. If we go back to verse 15, here is what we find –
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (16) But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (17) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (18) Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (19) Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (20) For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Matthew 18:15-20
If he refuses to listen, tell the church. (That’s not gossip or slander, by the way). And if he won’t listen to the church, he is to be put out of the church. That is what we call ex-communication. Does that sound like forgiving “seventy times seven” in the way that the abuser insists we forgive him just because he says he is sorry? No way. Abusers “refuse to listen” and the evidence of their unrepentance is that they keep on sinning seventy times seven! But their repentance is false. They do not “listen” when they are confronted.
The abuse victim is NOT required to forgive and reconcile with her abuser just because he says he is sorry. His continued pattern of evil demonstrates that his “root” is evil. In other words, he may be a man who says he loves God, but because he hates his victim, he is a liar. He is not a Christian. He is, in reality, the victim’s ENEMY.
How then, do we deal with an enemy? Abusers might do some Scripture quoting in this regard as well. Jesus said we are to love even our enemies – so surely victims must love their abuser, right? Once more, the abuser shows he is of his father the devil in that he perverts the Word of God to his own evil ends. Here is what the New Testament says (and the Old Testament as well) –
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ (44) But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (45) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (46) For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (47) And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (48) You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. (18) If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (19) Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (20) To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 [See Proverbs 25:21-22]
Let’s see if we can summarize what these verses are teaching us.
- Enemy, neighbor, brother – these are not interchangeable terms. Love for our enemy is NOT going to look quite the same as love for our brother in Christ. We are not going to be reconciled and have an ongoing relationship with our enemy! If we could, he would not be our enemy! Our neighbor, as Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is anyone – especially if they are in need – but that isn’t calling us to an on-going, intimate, relationship with those who abuse us.
- Loving our enemy means, a) not taking vengeance upon him, and b) doing good to him such as feeding him if he is hungry. We don’t render evil to him as he has done to us. We do good to him. We can greet him and not curse him. But this does not mean reconciliation has occurred! He is still our enemy, unless he repents. Therefore our relationship with him will be quite different than our relationship with our brother in Christ.
We must be very wise then when it comes to speaking of loving and forgiving the abuser. The abuse victim is being the most loving toward her abuser (and her children) when she refuses to tolerate his evil any longer. While Christ does require us to forgive, that forgiveness in its essence means not hating nor seeking vengeance, but leaving vengeance to the Lord. It does not necessarily include the maintaining of a relationship or marriage to the abuser.