Luke 23:34–Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. Forgiveness is closure on childhood abuse and it is the end of the healing process, not the beginning. Often childhood abuse survivors can’t find that forgiveness in themselves because of their pain and fear but they can do as, Jesus did and ask God to forgive them, as they continue to heal.
When I started this blog, I never intended to write extensively about childhood abuse. I didn’t want to write about the abuse I survived or about anyone elses, except in the defense of children. However, the few articles I wrote in the beginning has shown me what a great need there is within the Christian community for literature that rightly applies scriptural teachings for those who have been or are being abused. Too many spiritual advisors have little knowledge of the extent of damage caused by a childhood colored by abuse. Often victims are first advised to forgive their abusers and forgiveness will give them closure on the horrors of their childhood but an abused person must undergo some healing before they are capable of giving the kind of forgiveness that will give them full closure. As a childhood abuse survivor and a Christian, I spent decades asking God to forgive me for things that were done to me. Abuse survivors carry guilt that doesn’t belong to them and their natural self-defense mechanisms have been stolen from them. Before a survivor can forgive fully, they must understand what was done to them and who is responsible. They have to learn how to defend and protect themselves from further abuse, rather than invite and submit to it. Before that happens, abuse survivors remain victims and are still enduring the effects of the abuse. Jesus, in the midst of the abuse He endured, did not say He forgave those who were killing Him. Instead, He asked His Heavenly Father to forgive them and this is the pattern and the Biblical example for Christian child abuse survivors to follow.
I often hear child abuse survivors criticized for being stuck in the past with their inability to forgive their abusers cited as the cause. What such judgemental persons fail to realize is that for childhood abuse survivors, abuse is life. To grow up in an abusive household isn’t life in a normal household with isolated incidents of abuse. It is to grow up in an atmosphere of abuse. It is to eat and breathe abuse. Survivors are formed by the abuse they endured in childhood and they grow up to define themselves and others by what they experienced as normal. The trauma of the past is always present and abuse from others becomes a normal part of life. In order to be free of the abuse in the past and the abuse that continues to follow them into adulthood, survivors have to face their past and themselves and find understanding of what happened to them. It is imperative to understand just how abnormal their upbringing was before they can begin to gain a healthy view of themselves and others. Survivors must rewire their thinking and understand themselves as who God created them to be and not as the victim and scape-goat their abusers made of them.
Most Christians view anger as a sin and wrathful, mindless, destructive, human anger is a sin. However, God created human beings with anger and anger is important for self-defense and for the defense of those we love. Righteous anger is anger directed at that which makes God angry. Jesus utilized this type of anger when He cleared the temple of those who were using religion as a way to become wealthy and thereby, perverting the use of the Temple. This is the same type of anger that abuse survivors must utilize to clear themselves of the guilt and shame they carry that rightfully belongs to others. Human beings are temples built for the Holy Spirit to indwell and not meant for the desecration of abuse. Blame has to be placed on the doorsteps of those who committed the abusive actions and taken off the victim of the abuse. Righteous anger gives abuse survivors the power to endure this painful process. This isn’t unforgiving behavior. It is the proper accounting that must take place before forgiveness can be applied, appropriately. It is true that Jesus died to provide forgiveness from God for all of our sins but in dealing with the problem of sin, God first gave mankind His Law so that sin could be counted. This is the appropriate process for abuse survivors to follow. We don’t want to become stuck in the process of counting the sins against us and doing so may never cause the abuser to acknowledge their sin. Survivors aren’t dependent upon the repentance of their abusers to heal but they must remove the weight of inappropriate guilt and shame from themselves. I don’t think there is anything that a child abuse survivor wants more than for an abusive parent to be sorry for what they’ve done and ask for their forgiveness but this seldom happens. Abusers are likely to demand forgiveness for unnamed offenses in an attempt to paint the abused person as the one to blame for their inability to forgive. This is a sham. One that survivors often grab at in hopes of real repentance but it is the same deception their abuser has used against them for a lifetime. Forgiveness supplies what is needed to restore a relationship and true repentance is the application of forgiveness to the relationship which requires two to sustain it. The abuse survivor isn’t dependent upon the repentance of the abuser to forgive them but they should never re-enter a relationship with an unrepentant abusers. God forgives but He doesn’t have a personal relationship with those who grieve His Holy Spirit and hard heartedly, refuse to repent. This is the example and the boundary appropriate for abuse survivors to set for their personal protection and well-being.
Abusers seldom confess to their abuse but survivors of their abuse can heal and find closure on childhood abuse. Healing doesn’t mean that the relationship with a parent or any other abuser will be restored and forgiving them isn’t the place for that healing to begin. During the usually, long process of healing, when the pain and damage of abuse is still active, believers must do as Jesus did and ask God to forgive their abusers. They don’t know what they are doing and it isn’t safe to be around them. They also, can’t find healing through forgiveness that they continue to deny by refusing to admit to their evil actions. Just as God refuses a relationship with unrepentant sinners who deny even His existence, so too, must survivors deny relationship with those who have harmed them and will continue to harm them. No one was born to be abused and none of us can fix an abuser. They have to look to, Jesus for themselves and seek their healing. Once a survivor has completed their process of healing, forgiveness for the abuser will come of its own accord. Even then, it isn’t required for the abused person to re-enter a relationship with a person who refuses to acknowledge the damage they’ve done and treat the survivor with respect. Forgiveness and God’s love can be expressed through prayer for that person, who is lost in their sin.
When Jesus was in the midst of suffering the abuse heaped upon Him, He asked His Father to forgive those so lost in their sin that they were insane, with no understanding of right and wrong. One must be insane to kill the Son of God. Child abusers are insane, also. May God forgive them. Jesus died from His abuse and then He rose from death to live again. Now He offers forgiveness to all and those who believe in Him, recognize their sin and need for Him, apply that forgiveness and find healing. Jesus now offers forgiveness from a position of power that came after He healed from the abuse He suffered and even died from. Child abuse survivors are often dead inside but Jesus can and will heal them and raise them to live a new life, when they follow the pattern He set down for them for healing. It isn’t easy. It is a narrow path to tread and there may be few who understand. Jesus will walk that narrow path with you and lead you to the place of power where you can offer forgiveness and find closure on a past of childhood abuse.
www.emergingfrombroken.com is a place where I’ve found the human support I needed to face my childhood, how it formed me, and what I needed to break the cycle of abuse in my life. I recommend it to anyone who is struggling as a childhood abuse survivor.