Among those who have been abused there is a constant friction between the belief that God calls us to forgive our enemies and God’s desire for justice to reign.
How are these two seemingly contradictory and mutually exclusive attitudes to be reconciled?
In a recent interview of a pastoral leadership abuse survivor, my interviewee said he realized that forgiveness was not an option but necessary in his walk with the Lord. But understanding how it can take place in the midst of such hurt was difficult for him.
When we returned from the mission field, having been beaten up by the leadership of our mission, we struggled with this question. We desired to follow the Lord in his leading; to not be like the master’s servant who had been forgiven much and yet sent his own servant packing to jail [Matthew 18:21-35].
But it was difficult to make theological or emotional sense of justice and forgiveness.
A Cry for Justice
Shelley Hundley, the author of “A Cry for Justice: Overcome Anger, Reject Bitterness, and Trust in Jesus Who Will Fight For You,” does a marvelous job explaining how we can move from anger and bitterness to forgiveness without forgetting justice.
How is it possible to seek justice for these horrible wrongs committed and forgive?
This blog is in part dedicated to holding abusive leaders accountable [justice] for their actions, a mark of the true church. Biblically, justice is clearly an important attribute of God’s character and a legitimate desire of man having been made in his image.
Yet, the grace found in forgiveness is also characteristic of our Creator who sent his Son to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and who commands that we go and do likewise.
Finding Forgiveness in Justice
Hundley, who suffered sexual mollestation as a child of missionary parents in Columbia by a pastor, explains that she found forgiveness in God’s justice.
The work of Dr. Robert Burns has been helpful to me for several years in understanding a two-fold approach to forgiveness [see this blog]. Hundley adds some helpful perspective.
Often we think forgiveness is sweeping the wrongs we have suffered under the rug. Forgive and forget, just as Psalm 103 seems to say:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Psalm 103:11-12 (ESV)
However, Hundley points out that it is in the justice of God that forgiveness can truly be offered to our offenders. She explains,
“As believers, we are no longer objects of God’s wrath, but we are objects of His jealous love.” [page 110]
That “jealous love” of Jesus Christ works out in protecting His “bride,” the church. As His bride, I am taken under his care and he will go to the end of the heavens to protect me from evil…in fact, ultimately he died for my protection.
Hundley notes that others tried to encourage her by saying things like there would be “light at the end of the tunnel because ‘things would get better.'” She added, “In the darkest moments of my journey, pats on the back and teary-eyed sympathy brought little consolation.”
God is Judge
What did bring healing for her was the recognition that Jesus was Judge! And as her “groom,” He would stand by her in the injustice of her suffering.
She points to Romans 12:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Romans 12:18-19 (ESV)
She says that knowing God as Judge gives us a totally different perspective.
It enables us to leave room for God to right the wrongs and to trust that our heavenly Judge will make sure we have what we need. [page 153]
But as Christians we are not sitting there, licking our lips, waiting for the gavel to fall on the heads of our tormentors. Rather, we can know and trust that there are three possible judgements God brings on our oppressors and he knows which is best:
- ultimate judgment,
- forgiveness through his judgment of the oppressor’s sin on Jesus’ cross,
- or temporal judgment.
Ultimate judgment is hell. And as Hundley notes, when you recognize the wrath of God on those who reject him, it may be difficult to pray for this kind of judgment even on your worse enemies.
On the other hand, God may forgive him, choosing to save the oppressor from his sin and radically change him. It is for sinners that Jesus died that they may be forgiven.
And finally, temporal judgment may be that the oppressor actually knows the Lord and God determines to take him out of this life so that he will no longer oppress others.
Unlocking the Chains
Dr. Edith Eva Eger, the writer of “The Choice: Embrace the Possible,” was a teenager when her family was imprisoned at Auschwitz. She now speaks on PTSD for “military resiliency training.” 
In her book, she discusses her own struggle with forgiveness. She said,
“It is easy to make a prison out of our pain, out of the past. At best revenge is useless…at worst, revenge perpetuates the cycle of hate.” [page 176]
She goes on to say that she forgave Hitler not for him, but for herself. Eger says that the chains she had kept him in encircled her own life. It kept her locked in her grief. She needed to forgive.
She defines forgiveness:
“To forgive is to grieve for what happened, for what didn’t happen, and to give up the need for a different past. To accept life as it was and as it is.” [page 176]
Though not a Christian, Eger recognizes the power and importance of forgiveness. As Christians we can read her words and recognize a call to give up living to meet out justice on our oppressors. Rather, as Christians, we have a loving Groom who is powerful enough and wise enough to wrap his everlasting arms around us and provide justice in his time and way.
Rest in those arms.