Recently I read an article in which a well-known German pastor shared about his father’s life. He, too had been a well-known and much respected man, but unknown to many had abused little girls—even his own granddaughters. Reading the article you sense a bit of the extreme confusion, pain and shame this caused to the family. The writer goes on to describe what sexual abuse does to those who have been abused and that one should be careful not to speak about forgiveness too quickly.
I have thought about this. In my experience forgiveness brings healing and liberation. A lot of change has happened in my personal life by forgiving those who sinned against me – even if this happened many years ago. I learned that “forgiveness” is an act of my will and not a process in the sense that: if I wait long enough then one day forgiveness will have come automatically. Forgiveness has to be specific, too. Here an example:
I remember how one day I was surprised by my strong reaction to a minor thing. In actual fact, no sin was involved. Someone had answered my request with a “no” which was fully acceptable – and yet, I felt hurt and rejected. If a trigger event and emotional response are so disproportionate, or if the emotions just won’t go away, then it is likely that there is a similar hurt from the past that has not been dealt with, something which triggered the strong emotional response. So, I asked Jesus where rejection happened in the past and who I needed to forgive. The response came quickly. A person came to my mind. I thought I had forgiven him already, but apparently I had not dealt with the issue of rejection. So, I forgave this specifically – and the strong emotions were gone!
Forgiveness does not mean that what happened to me was not important. In the deepest sense it means that I pass on the grace that I received from God (he forgiving my sin) to someone who hurt(s) me (Mt 18:21-35). It can also mean going to the police with the issue if a crime was involved. Some people need to be stopped! I believe that forgiving is very much for the benefit of the person who experienced the wrong. Even if you are not yet able to pass on grace, passing the judgment and revenge over to God is in itself liberating (Ro 12:19). It sets you free.