You Don’t Have to Forgive

In my last years of ministry, I quit preaching about forgiveness because it did more harm than good. 

When I did speak on the subject, I was aiming at the grudge-holding, petty sniping that went on where people used their resentment to keep others trapped in shame.  However those people never heard me except to use my words to inflict more wounds on their victims.   

Enough of that. 

With whatever remnants of pastoral authority I still have, I want to say this to the victims of violence and sexual assault:

You don’t have to forgive your abuser

I know, I know… the Bible says don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  But frankly, I think it would be better to go to bed mad rather than scared or hopeless.  Get out of harm’s way if you can. You’ve turned the cheek plenty of times.  It’s time to rescue yourself. By the way, asking for help is part of the rescue operation.   

I hope that there will be a day when the sun goes down and you can finally go to bed feeling… safe.

My friend, Dr. Christy Sim, is an expert on surviving and healing.  You can see her website at you’d like to support her work, go to


4 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Forgive

  1. David – you mentioned something about preaching about forgiveness giving license to abusers. Were there several abusive relationships going on in your congregation for that result to have happened?


  2. There is a common misunderstanding of what is meant by “forgiveness”.

    It doesn’t simply mean “let bygones be bygones”. It does not mean acting as though abuse didn’t occur. It doesn’t mean allowing someone who has caused harm to have a fresh start and new opportunities to create more harm. It doesn’t mean writing off a debt – whether money or property or life or health or mind or emotion – and then opening a “new line of credit” for the debtor to take advantage of.

    Forgiveness means recognizing, first, that a debt IS owed. It recognizes that something of value was taken or used or damaged or destroyed and repayment or restoration – perhaps with interest – is due.

    It also means recognizing that the balance due cannot or will not be repaid. A loan – perhaps of good will and trust – was defaulted on, or something of value – perhaps emotional or physical well-being – was damaged or stolen and the debtor is unable or unwilling to restore what was taken.

    It means that the one who forgives acknowledges the futility of trying to collect a debt which is uncollectable and, rather than pursuing a repayment which will never happen, no longer expends additional valuable resources seeking that repayment. It is not something done easily and does not erase the fact that a debt was incurred. It writes it off, on the books, as uncollectable bad debt. Forgiveness does not erase the harm that was done, but can allow the one who is owed to focus on making themselves whole, as much as is possible.

    It absolutely does NOT mean that the forgiven debtor is owed a new line of credit, now or in the future. It does NOT mean that the debtor – or thief, if the thing of value was stolen and not loaned – is now owed anything, whether a second chance or a new entrée into the forgiver’s life, home, wallet, bed, circle of friends, or anything else. It simply means that repayment, no matter how justified, is acknowledged as unattainable and repayment or revenge are no longer sought. It doesn’t mean that the one who forgives is no longer angry or hurt or does not need to be made whole. It doesn’t mean that something bad didn’t happen. It means that the reality of the situation is understood and the forgiver is choosing to put their resources – their valuable and already overtaxed resources – elsewhere. If the one who forgives chooses to give the debtor another “line of credit”, that is the forgiver’s choice, and the choice should be made wisely,.

    Forgiveness cannot be demanded. To demand forgiveness negates any benefit that accrues from it. It is an unreasonable requirement that an injured party make whole the one who caused the injury. Such nonsense is neither reasonable nor Christ-like. Unfortunately, that is what is too often expected in religious circles, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamics and principles of this personal transaction exacerbates abuse and bad behavior of many kinds.


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