In this article, I would like to demonstrate the following principle to you from Scripture and then help you apply it to this matter of “forgiving the abuser.” Every victim of abuse, especially Christians, know what it is like to be pushed and prodded with “as a Christian, you are required by God to forgive your abuser.” Too often this pressure includes the demand that the victim reconcile with the abuser, and it leads to being deceived by the typical false repentance abusers love to claim for themselves. Here is the principle:
God does not forgive His enemies. He never has, and He never will. As His children in Christ, we are to reflect His character and attributes. Therefore, this has profound implications for how we deal with our enemies, who are also the enemies of the Lord.
First, I can hear someone saying (because this is what popped into my own mind right away too)… “but if God does not forgive His enemies, then none of us can be forgiven, because we were His enemies the moment we entered into this world. And doesn’t Scripture say,
Rom 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Notice that these verses do not speak of God forgiving us while we were still sinners, but that Christ died for us when we were in that condition. He loved us when we did not love Him, and the result of that love was that the Father send Christ to be the propitiation (satisfaction of God’s Law) for our sins. Christ died for us when we were still His enemies. But God does not forgive us as long as we are still His enemies, still in rebellion against Him, still haters of His Law, still…. un-repentant and unbelieving. Do you begin to see it?
God does not forgive His enemies. He never has, and He never will. His enemies end in Hell and they will remain there for all eternity. Consider this summary of God’s character, taken from the London Confession of faith (our church’s doctrinal standard which is quite similar to the Westminster Confession of Faith) –
“The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.”
There it is. Yes, the Lord is abundant in His forgiveness of iniquity and sin. But what kind of people receive that forgiveness? Those who diligently seek Him. For the rest of mankind, He is most just and terrible in His judgments… He will never clear the guilty.” Never. Not for all eternity, and that is a very long time.
So we need to mark this down carefully. It is being widely denied in what professes to be the Christian church today. We are being told that the Lord is all love, all mercy, all grace, and that He forgives His enemies. That He forgives those who refuse to repent, who refuse to bow before Christ, who continue in their wickedness and in their hatred of Him. He does not. He never has, and He never will. I suspect that most all of our readers need to be reminded of this, and that perhaps as you read these words you are thinking…. “Man! That is right! I’ve been pretty fogged up on this whole thing!”
Ok, now, let me put this question before you:
“If God does not forgive His enemies, why would He ask us to forgive our enemies who are also His enemies?” Indeed, does the Bible say anywhere that we are required to forgive unrepentant enemies who persist in their evil against us?”
What we DO find in Scripture is the Lord’s instruction to us that we are to do good to our enemies. And I believe that this is what the Lord means when He tells us to love our enemies:
Matthew 5:43-48 You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Rom 12:20-21 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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
God loves His enemies in the sense of showing them common grace. He does good to them, though they do not deserve it. We are to reflect His character by doing good to our enemies and even praying for them, desiring their salvation. But this is not the same thing as forgiving them. Consider a few more Scriptures in relation to this:
Mat 6:14-15 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Mar 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
Notice that the “others” here, the ones we are to forgive, are often interpreted to be all-inclusive, including un-repentant enemies of the Lord and of us. But in light of other Scriptures that indicate that God Himself does not forgive unrepentant enemies, it would seem that we go too far in applying these words to enemies. Is it not more likely that these “others” whom we are to forgive are our brethren — people who have repented and asked for forgiveness? To refuse to forgive such a person as that would indeed warrant the warning, “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Here is another pertinent Scripture:
Joh 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.
Here, the Apostle John recounts Jesus’ words as He granted the apostles His authority. Of course, the authority was not inherent in them, but in His Word He had given them. They forgive and withhold forgiveness according to Christ’s Word, not because they felt generous one day and mean the next! We do the same thing as Christians today. We measure with the Word of God and if someone is repentant and believing, we know by that standard that they are forgiven. If they are hardened and unrepentant, then we know they are not forgiven. But the point I wanted to emphasize here is that there are people whom God does not forgive. Furthermore, there are people that we withhold forgiveness from as well. ALWAYS because of the standard of Scripture, not because we happen to like one guy better than another!
And then there is this passage:
Col 3:13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Notice once more that this forgiving spoken of here is that which is directed to “one another,” meaning of course brothers and sisters in Christ. Again, the “one another” is not a universal phrase for all human beings, including enemies.
Alright, now to bring this all in for a landing. My theory is this: that much of the conflict and intense anxiety experienced by victims of abuse over this whole matter of forgiveness is unnecessary, and it results from a misunderstanding of biblical forgiveness which is promoted by false teaching in the church. We are required by the Lord to treat the unrepentant enemies of the Lord as He treats them. We are not to seek personal vengeance upon them, but to leave that vengeance to the Lord. We are to do good to our enemy if we find him hungry or in some other condition of need. This is what Christ did, as we read in the Gospels. But pronounce them absolved and no longer in danger of God’s judgment while they remain unrepentant? No way. Therefore, I conclude that it is un-scriptural to teach people that they must forgive their enemy, even though it is evident that the enemy is not repentant and is, in fact, persisting in his evil. God does not do so, and neither should we. In fact, I will state it more strongly — God cannot forgive the unrepentant evil man, and neither can we.