Seventy Times Seven Shall You Forgive Your Abuser

Parables of Abuse

Understatement of the week: Christianity has a little bit of a guilt problem.

This week it seemed like the universe had an agenda for me, and forgiveness? At the top of the list. As a Christian, I was obsessed with it. With asking for it… and having to give it. No matter how I felt about it.

Forgive every one their trespasses, as I have forgiven you. Seventy times seven. Forgiveness was an imperative. Our morality depended on it – and our salvation. 

I think, before we continue, an example’s in order. Ever heard of the parable of the unforgiving servant?

Matthew 18:21-35, here we come (I’ve taken the liberty of… rewording it a bit):

  • Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus: “Nah. Seventy-seven.”
  • Jesus: “Also, check this parable. Once there was a king whose servants owed him money. One man owed him 10,000 bags of gold, and there was no way he could pay that shit, so the king decided to sell the man (and his wife and kids and everything he owned) to make up for it.”
  • Jesus: “The servant begged the king, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything.’ The king took pity on the servant, forgave the whole debt, and let him go. Good guy.”
  • Jesus: “Right after that, the servant found a fellow servant who owed him 100 silver coins and demanded that he pay it all back. Now. The fellow servant begged for more time, but instead, the servant had him thrown in prison.”
  • Jesus: “When the master found out, he thought it was some real bullshit. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I forgave your debt. Why didn’t you forgive your fellow servant?’ Then the king sent him away to get tortured until he paid back everything he owed.”
  • Jesus: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. (:”

Now… how about these parables?

  • She sits on top of me, trying to force pills down my throat. She won’t stop shouting. The next morning she comes to me. She says she is sorry.
  • My friend’s big brother wouldn’t stop touching her. She was young. She didn’t understand. It’s been 10 years. She’ll never understand. Her family won’t talk to her because she won’t talk to him. After all, he said he was sorry.
  • They didn’t mean it. They had all the power. They never bothered to think it might hurt. You felt small and afraid and it did hurt. It hurt so much. They say of course their intentions were good, but if you’re still upset, well, sorry.

Forgiveness, forgiveness, everywhere

Maybe we should call the idea of Christian forgiveness the Forgiveness Imperative. Because it wasn’t… really a choice. Because refusing to forgive, it wasn’t just a sin. (Sins never really are just sins, not when committing one once is enough to land you in eternal flames.) Refusing to forgive was a threat to my very salvation.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Ripped straight from Matthew 6:14-15.)

Personally, the idea of mandatory forgiveness was everywhere in my Christian life. Pastors would mention it as asides in their sermons – by the way, if God forgave all the sins you’ve ever committed and will forgive the thousands more you’ve yet to commit, and there’s something you still haven’t forgiven a fellow Christian for – shame on you. Scratch that, pastors would write entire sermons all about it and encourage us to make up with our brothers and sisters directly after service. When I fought with my brother or my parents, my mom would say, God wants you to forgive like he forgives you. How can you be so selfish? 

Being mad was not an option, and if we were? It was a “heart problem.” It was rebelliousness. If we were angry because someone had hurt us, well, that was a sin on their part, but if we didn’t forgive immediately, that was a sin on our part. 

Why? I mean, the Lord of the Universe became a lowly little human just so he could be tortured to death on a dead tree and forgive all 5,000,000 of your petty sins. Compared to what Jesus went through, nothing anyone ever does to you will ever come close. It’s peanuts, and if you don’t try to forgive peanuts, do you really believe that God can change you? Do you even want to be more like God as every true Christian should?

 

EDIT: We had to forgive everyone for everything, always. Even if a person kept hurting us, the same ways, over and over again (read: toxic or, in the worst case, abusing us.) Just check out Luke 17:3-4.

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Kickback, to my fellow survivors:

When we’re survivors, forgiveness gets even trickier. Because not only do we have this enormous, black-and-white message to forgive forgive forgive on us, as far as the east is to the west, blotting out transgressions and remembering them no more, hurling them into the depths of the sea – but society tells us that being bitter is being a bad survivor. You can’t heal if you don’t let that anger go, it says. It’s your fault if you aren’t moving on. You didn’t forgive them.

On top of the Good Survivors Forgive narrative and Good Christians Forgive narrative, we often didn’t have the option to not forgive in abuse and trauma particularly. Sometimes we didn’t even consider forgiveness, because you need to be wronged to forgive, and we couldn’t even accept that we were being abused or traumatized. We’d been conditioned to believe it was our fault, if anyone’s. We’d been conditioned to believe it was normal.

Reclaiming my forgiveness, as an ex-Christian abuse and trauma survivor living in the West, is… tricky at best. I didn’t even realize that forgiveness was so pervasive and silencing in my life, not only as a human being who deserves to feel betrayal and hurt and sadness and anger without feeling guilty, but as an abuse/trauma survivor, until my therapist said something accidentally hurtful this week. I also came across Repentance and the Cycle of Abuse over on Speaking While the World Sleeps, and… boom. 

It’s hard to parse whether I’ve forgiven my therapist because I’ve really come to peace with what he did, or because I’ve got this built-in automatic Forgive Immediately and Never Look Back instinct from my Christianity and trauma. In light of that… withholding forgiveness becomes new power for me. Being bitter is my agency. Catching myself when conflict arises, examining whether I feel unsafe or less powerful because of the situation, and exploring whether I’m falsely (or rightly) assuming that not forgiving will have negative consequences – those are things I can do going forward.

As a survivor or an ex-faith, is it ever hard for you feel angry or bitter or hurt?

In what areas do you feel like you can’t forgive – or must forgive?

Let’s talk it out – and I hope you all are doing well. 🙂 It’s getting warmer over in my state, and I think I’m gonna work on the self-care I mentioned from last post by getting a bag of Munchies and reading a book. Make sure you self-care today too if you need it! ❤

NOTE: I did a little rearranging and clarifying, and added that Luke 18:3-4 bit, after rereading this and realizing a few things didn’t quite make sense. This is why I try not to write on 5 hours of sleep! 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Seventy Times Seven Shall You Forgive Your Abuser

  1. ubi dubium March 14, 2016 / 1:58 pm

    Yes, so much this! You are entitled not to forgive people. You can withhold forgiveness until such time as they have sufficiently apologized for what they did and tried to make it up to you. And even then, you don’t need to forgive until you feel like it, and until you’re good and ready. And maybe not at all. Perhaps not forgiving them will help you avoid it happening again. Or will help you prevent it happening to somebody else.

    As Greta Christina often says, anger can motivate us to make positive change in the world. If you immediately let go of it, what then motivates you to push for change?

    Like

    • maxgoesgodless March 17, 2016 / 5:31 pm

      Yes – it is so freeing to be able to forgive, or not forgive! Would you mind clarifying what you mean by “[Not forgiving] will help you prevent it happening to somebody else?” Did I understand that correctly?

      I looked Greta up – sad to see that she actually concluded her blog the same day you posted your comment… but her last post also led me to her new project, The Orbit, a platform for atheist bloggers who are into social justice. Nice!

      Anger is SUCH a motivator for change. As an activist, much of the work I do is DRIVEN and even initiated by anger, by indignation, by teeth-grinding. I love that quote. Anger doesn’t have to be toxic, it can be healing. Awesome comment. :^)

      Like

      • ubi dubium March 17, 2016 / 6:18 pm

        Greta has written a book “Why are you atheists so angry? 99 things that piss off the godless”. And one of the points she makes in the book is that anger is motivating. People work to change things because they’re angry about something. That doesn’t mean that they go about working for change in an angry way, but the underlying anger is what’s motivating them.

        If you just forgive and forget all the time, then what’s motivating you to fix real problems? Civil rights, gay rights, stopping pedophile priests, stopping spousal abuse, any cause like this needs people who are deeply angry about injustice.

        Here’s an awesome speech from Greta on the subject of anger:

        Like

      • maxgoesgodless March 18, 2016 / 7:19 pm

        What a great video, ubi dubium! I like Greta more and more everything I learn something new about her. I thought I wouldn’t get through it all, but I’m 14 minutes in so far and I’m still hooked.

        There certainly are a LOT of things to be angry about, and reclaiming my angriness in addition to my control over who I do or don’t forgive is so powerful.

        Like

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