Forgiveness When Forgiveness Is Not Sought

Chris Genetti is pastor at Living Waters Tabernacle of Exeter.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” In a perfect world these sentiments are beautiful, but what happens if you’re the victim of abuse? Especially if your abuser has not sought forgiveness? Recently my mother passed away. Sadly, my mother abandoned me as a young teenager after many years of prolonged abuse. As a young adult I began my conversion to Christianity. Much of my trauma began to subside as the Bible offered a plethora of instruction and I began to heal. However, the Scripture found in Matthew 6:15 instructs that if we do not forgive others, our Father in heaven will not forgive our transgressions. After several attempts to reconcile with my mother during my twenties, it was abundantly clear she did not want to know me. Furthermore, she never sought forgiveness for the abuses she perpetrated.

About a month ago, I discovered that my mother was in hospice care. My wife suggested that I pray with her. I struggled with the notion. I began to revisit Scripture looking for answers. Although I felt I had made my peace with the Lord, and forgave her years ago, many emotions began to resurface. Although she refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, was it my responsibility to let her know that I had forgiven her? Was I bound through Christ to pray with her after all the abuse and rejection? Worst yet, I questioned, would God not forgive my sins if I didn’t initiate a final conversation with her?

As Christians we repent of our wrongdoing because our sin has caused a fracture in our relationship with the Lord. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” It’s important that we ascertain the difference between temporal forgiveness and eternal salvation. Our repentance to God is not transactional. We do not earn salvation through works. Ephesians 2:8,9 states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works.” However, Jesus also says, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” If the gift of grace, through the action of faith, is what secures salvation, than will the “work” of not forgiving someone preclude us from an eternity with Christ? As we study the Scripture we understand that Jesus is speaking temporally. He is referring to how God wishes us to live as holy vessels on Earth. Hebrews 12 explains that God will correct our wrong choices just as a father disciplines his son. These are course corrections, not eternal judgments. The scripture explains that as God corrects our poor behavior, it may be unpleasant; however, His correction and instruction is ultimately for our profit. God will allow a certain amount of calamity in order to direct us back to His holy path.

So does the victim of abuse have to forgive their abuser especially if they have never sought forgiveness? Jesus preaches in Luke 17, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” Notice that Jesus does instruct us to forgive. However, He states twice, that the offender must first repent in order to begin the cycle of forgiveness and reconciliation.

So, was I bound to forgive my mother without her first expressing sorrow? Did I have to pray with her? And would my salvation be in jeopardy if I didn’t? The answer to all three of these questions is no. So what in the end did I do? As I prayed for that answer, I was reminded what the Apostle Peter spoke, “But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example.” This scripture and my wife’s suggestion to call and pray with my mother weighed heavily upon me. I began to wonder about her eternal resting place. I decided to give her mercy where no mercy was sought. I had hoped that if I was able to express my honest and genuine forgiveness, although she had not asked for it, that it may stir in her, a desire to seek repentance of the Lord. And although this discussion with my dying mother would be extremely difficult, I knew that Christ would strengthen me. I knew that the Lord would protect me, I knew that Jesus would return peace to my spirit.

Prays Together is a rotating faith-based commentary and advice column among the pastors, and guest laypeople, of area churches. 

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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