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Friday, May 22, 2015

On Forgiveness


I'm having a difficult time with this concept. I know in my world, it meant "you nicely forget everything bad that was done to you and never bring it up again or treat the other person different because, they're forgiven. As far as the east is from the west." It was like the magic eraser of all wrong-doing. And you didn't have a choice in the matter. If you didn't forgive someone, God wouldn't forgive you. You'd allow a "root of bitterness" to spring up in your heart, "give the Devil a foothold" and suddenly Satan had a stronghold in your soul from which he could reign terror over your life. Didn't matter what the offense was, they were all equal in the sight of God and all needed to be forgiven and you certainly aren't perfect so who are you to withhold forgiveness and cast stones. That one time I lied pretty much negated any right I had to be angry at my sister for stealing from me or angry at my mom for manipulating me. Being angry at someone who sinned against you wasn't allowed because that meant you hadn't truly forgiven them. Remembering what they'd done and avoiding them or treating them differently because of it wasn't true forgiveness either.

No matter how much I try, I cannot help but see the concept of forgiveness as a means by which you enable people to hurt you. A means that abusers and toxic people use to control you and be sure you never talk about what they did to you. All wrapped up in a neat package with the label of "For The Bible Tells Me So".

Since becoming an adult, I have only seen forgiveness used to hide serious evil against other human beings. Abuse of every kind is covered up by the world "you must forgive them". And victims are silenced and suffer alone, feeling like they are the ones who failed when they cannot help but be angry or sad at how someone has treated them. They are not allowed to be angry at someone who abused them because "no one is perfect".

As far as I can tell though, forgiveness from a Judeo-Christian perspective, as far back as the Old Law, was not anything like what the church preaches today. It was really more of a legal definition. That whole eye for an eye thing? It's talking about natural retribution. Payment for a debt owed. If someone hurt you or stole from you, they owed you and you had the right to retribution, to make them pay. Forgiveness was about debt. Not about saying "it's OK, I'll forget this ever happened and we'll all feel loving again". No, it was more like, "I will not enact retribution for this action. I will not take what is owed me." Now that I can get behind. ('Course Christians claim that Jesus came along and changed all that and that's where it gets a little murky in the area of definitions and practicality.)

And yet....some actions demand retribution. They demand a debt be paid. This is how our legal system works. You kill or steal or destroy, you pay. It's how all human institutions have functioned throughout all history. Wrong-doing demands retribution. Whether or not a person chooses to forgive that debt that is owed, and how they choose to do so, is completely up to them. No one can demand that from them. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with forgetting what was done or demanding that someone not feel a certain emotion for it or treat the evil-doer as they would someone who had not enacted evil against them. This is not only unhealthy, it is dangerous.

I am so sick and tired of people playing the forgiveness card. The manipulation is disgusting. And the control that it has over so many people thanks to religion is abhorant. "Forgive" a child molester? Um, no. That's a debt that legally must be paid so others are protected. Whether the child demands retribution for that evil against them or not is up to the child and does not affect how the rest of the world treats a person who commits such atrocity.

People need to stop hiding behind the modern Christian view of forgiveness, stop trying to coerce people into shutting up for Jesus. Stop telling children that if they feel revulsion and hatred for a person who molested them then God won't forgive them and their lives will be ruined. That kind of forgiveness can never be a choice. It will always be coercion. Those kids who were abused deserve to enact retribution. They deserve to feel whatever they want to feel. They deserve to say "No, I don't forgive you for this pain". And they deserve the choice of when or if any amount of release of that debt happens in their own hearts, regardless of what justice must be enacted on their behalf.

We deserve to be angry. To be filled with rage. To not let abusers off the hook because they pulled the forgiveness card. We deserve the choice to determine how we handle wrong-doing against us....without coercion or guilt-trips or religious platitudes. We should not be told that we cannot judge an atrocity because "he apologized"and "you're not perfect either". (One nice thing about not being a christian anymore is that I don't have to believe that the one time I stole five dollars from my dad is just as bad as Josh Duggar molesting his sisters. Judge him I certainly will.)

And the next person who tells me "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" is going to get some rocks chucked at them.


  1. "People need to stop hiding behind the modern Christian view of forgiveness, stop trying to coerce people into shutting up for Jesus. Stop telling children that if they feel revulsion and hatred for a person who molested them then God won't forgive them and their lives will be ruined." Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for putting into words what I'm feeling tonight. I think I'll be able to sleep now. XO

  2. The way I see it and have always is this: Forgiveness is more for you, then it is for the one who has hurt you. Learning to forgive someone releases you (the victim) from carrying that burden any longer. It helps YOU move on regardless of whether or not they are sorry for what they have done to you. If I don't forgive someone, sometimes that anger can eat away at me and steal my joy and happiness. I choose to forgive and not let them rent space in my head or in my heart anymore. Forgiveness can be SO freeing!

    1. "Forgiveness is more for you, then it is for the one who has hurt you."

      Interesting you should bring that up, because it's another aspect of forgiveness I've been thinking about. And it doesn't make any sense at all.

      What does that even MEAN? What kind of practical application does that concept have? I was taught that too but looking at it objectively, it has no real meaning. It's a feel-good thing people say that means nothing to me and has no real-world application.

    2. Well, for me, choosing to forgive at a particular moment means that I no longer choose to dwell on how I've been wronged by someone. I "let it go" and choose to instead let myself heal by not letting anger take control any longer. If I chose to STAY angry, it affects me negatively for the rest of my life or potentially could anyway.
      I want to be a happy, joyful person and embrace life to its fullest. Letting people take up negative space in my head is not healthy. So I forgive them and move on.
      I guess it's an emotional choice as well as a mental choice.

    3. I agree with Shawn - Forgiveness does and has freed me from dwelling on and living in the pain of the past. Darcy - whether you are a Christian or not, Forgiveness is a universal principal in many religions and in psychology that is understood to bring freedom, release, and healing on the part of the victim. It does not mean we minimize what the offender did - in fact, calling a spade a spade is very important in the healing process. The moment we cease to act as judge over what happens to the offender, we cease to be a victim. I must ask - Darcy, are there people in your life who you are harboring anger towards, or who you are allowing to have a level of control because of your posture towards them?

    4. Are there people I'm angry at? Of course. They did some awful things and haven't cared to apologize. Do they have some sort of control over me? Absolutely not. I fail to see how one has anything to do with the other. If you cut through the psycho-babble and religious nonsense surrounding the idea that to be angry at someone means they have control over you....you can't objectively prove such a strange notion.

      As for forgiveness, I forgive the debt toward me. I do not seek revenge or payment for others' actions toward me. That definition, I can get behind.

    5. I cannot prove to you that being angry with someone means they have control over me. However, from my experience, I have seen the connection. When I get angry with someone who has offended me personally or spoken something to me that dug right into my soul - it is because I let it. I have given that person the ability to speak into my life and tell me who I am. In my view, I have to be careful who I let do that. If I let what they say go to heart, and let anger and bitterness fester, I have given them a measure of control rather than taking responsibility for my part in the deal.

    6. I tend to not classify emotions as "good" or "bad". Anger isn't a bad emotion. It just exists as a reaction to so many things. I think that a lot of people are afraid of anger and don't know what to do with it. I think it's easy to do unhealthy things with anger, like it is any emotion. Like obsess or hold a grudge. But I've found that letting anger just *be* as a reaction to wrong-doing is healthy and sometimes necessary. Yes, I am angry at certain people who hurt me and don't care that they did. But they have no control over my mind or life because I don't let them. I fail to see how one thing has anything to do with the other. It seems like another cliche people say that has no meaning.

      I know the feeling of obsessing over wrong-doing. Of rage so strong you cannot see through it, you feel lost in it, like there is nothing else in your life except that all-consuming, justified rage. But even that, I couldn't just tell myself to snap out of it. I let it be for a little while. I cried it all out. I spent several days being unable to function past basic necessities. If i had stayed in that place, it would've been crippling. But I didn't. I let it be because it was justified, I worked through it, and I got past it. It's been a year and I haven't felt that rage in a few months. I feel nothing more than passing anger, acceptance over people and events that I cannot change. It had nothing to do with forgiveness. It had everything to do with accepting the wrong-doing and the strong emotions, and letting them be.

    7. I agree - anger is neither good or bad. I also agree that we cannot just snap out of anger, or tell someone else to just snap out of anger. I guess the measure of control we let anger have has some to do with how much time do we spend thinking about the situation, dwelling on it, or playing out in our mind various responses/reactions. It will also come out in how we respond in similar situations. We might not think that an event in our past has control over us because it lies under the surface, hidden beneath a calm exterior and lies we tell ourselves. When others wound us, there is definitely a process toward healing. Being honest about our anger is one of those steps toward healing. I also still feel that forgiveness is also a step toward healing.

    8. "Darcy, are there people in your life who you are harboring anger towards, or who you are allowing to have a level of control because of your posture towards them?"

      I'm literally impressed Darcy answered you so kindly. If you wrote this on my blog I'd have a hard time not cussing you out. Do you know see how condescending your comment is? Like she's never heard about forgiveness or any of this bullsh** cliche sayings. I mean really, you're the kind of Christian that drives me insane. Do you not see how self righteous you sound? Darcy, let ME tell YOU something, blah blah blah. So you think forgiveness is a step toward healing, good for you. I hope you pay attention to the way you engage ppl bc you sound so high and mighty.

    9. Chelsea, I know. I surprise myself sometimes. ;) Usually these times are when I'm too shocked at someone else's ridiculousness or arrogance to be angry. LOL

    10. That's a re-definition of forgiveness. If someone can adapt it to fit their therapy, great. It works for them. It doesn't for me. It's a complete violation of everything I believe in. Please stop punishing people who disagree with this concept of "forgiveness as healing." If someone got sick and the medication that worked for you didn't help them, would you punish them and insist they were "wallowing" in their illness and liked being sick? I bet you wouldn't, so quit attacking people for whom "forgiveness as a remedy" is not appropriate.

  3. I'm a Christian but I don't think all sin is "equal". Obviously your taking your father's $5 didn't have a lasting impact on you or your dad. However, Josh's actions DO have a far-reaching lasting impact on his sisters, his family and his life. One thing I do want to mention is that some of the blame falls on his parents. Another thing is that while I would never defend Josh, I do think it says something that he chose not to hide his past sins from his future wife and her family. I'm sure it wasn't easy to be completely upfront about his past sins and his horrible choices. He had more guts then his parents did at that point because they chose to hide those sins and not report them right away or do anything about it (i.e. send him to counseling/a program/rehabilitation etc...) and also chose not to even disclose it to anyone.
    I think the fact that he was 14 at the time rather than say 10 or 12 is a big issue. A 14 year old should know right from wrong at that point and not even THINK about touching his sisters. However, I've heard of stories where siblings who were 8 or 10 were "experimenting" and touching each other and really had no idea they were committing crimes until later on in life.... So age is a big factor in this case. Some kids really are quite clueless about what is right/wrong until they are 12 years old. I know that as a child of the 80's, I felt pretty naïve about things until I was about 11 or 12 and hit puberty. However, now when I see kids that are 11 or 12 these days, they seem far less naïve and more aware of what sexuality is. Kids mature sooner these days too so maybe that is part of it ?
    I also know what it's like to be super hormonal as a young teenager and needing an outlet for that or a distraction. Josh needed help when he was that age, obviously.
    I wouldn't go so far as to see he needs to be on the predator list. At 14, I don't think it's too late to turn a kid around. Had he been 16 or 18 or even older, it becomes harder to rehabilitate an offender.

  4. Hi ~I'm a different Anonymous than above (but don't know how to change my name). I’ve never commented here before but would like to agree with Shawn on forgiveness. I am a Christian so I’m coming at it from that perspective. When I had to deal with past hurt/traumas, I never had to minimize what was done to me but recognized it for what it was and judged the behavior as evil. I would never equate stealing money to sexual molestation. For those of us who have dealt with childhood trauma and recognize the damage and hurt, sometimes it’s a long process to forgive those that have truly harmed us. I don’t expect anyone to “forgive on demand”. You probably won’t ever hear an apology from your perpetrator and in lots of instances you need to keep boundaries and minimize contact. But when I was able to choose to forgive individuals that induced trauma, it was liberating. I could remember events and be in the presence of an individual and they didn’t evoke the fear. I’m not trying to make it sound easy, but for me personally, it was worth the prayer and counsel I received to come to that place of choosing to forgive. So I guess the practical takeaway is that that person (or event) loses the power to inflict anymore trauma/hurt like they had before. There’s a healing that takes place and it’s hard to describe, except that it is so freeing.

    Re: the Duggars, how could those girls really understand what was stolen from them and expect them to just forgive without coming to terms with that truth (especially the youngest). I hope they receive counsel that can work them through that process, but I’m not holding my breath.

  5. We need to leave the Duggars alone; it IS more damaging to the victims to keep on speculating just exactly what happened and how it was dealt with. Yes, obviously Josh made decisions that were extremely sinful and very very wrong. There is nothing that can be done about that except he can ask for forgiveness (already has), turn his life around and never do that again (it seems he has?) and move on. If the victims have forgiven him and moved on, not much more can be done at this point. And if needs to be punished, that should be left up to the victims on what needs to be done- they are all adults now right?


    1. Joy, the thing is the Duggar's held themselves up as the example and now they are. My prayer would be that the girls would read this and get help if they need to.

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  7. Darcy, and I just discovered your blog and have been reading it non-stop like a manic all day. Everything you say about your family, past, and journey out of that community resonates so much with me. Change the names, same family, same community, same injury. I didn't know where to post this question, but if you have any insight, or links to posts where you talk about this kind of thing, I would really appreciate it.

    It's just this: how did you get free? I don't mean out, I mean free in your heart and mind? Thank heavens my parents kicked me out at 17 for "having a rebellious heart" or I might never have made it out. But it's been over ten years, and I still feel the guilt, censorship and control. A decade! A college degree, a tattoo, a vote for Obama. I have the career I choose and love, my facebook profile has a rainbow flag on it, I live in another country, for pete's sake, and I still feel that black cloud, second guessing every decision. What did you do? What is your secret?

    My email address is sira@juno.com, didn't want to link to my google account...

    1. I went to therapy. lol Seriously, though, have you thought about seeing a good counselor, someone who specializes in cult exiting, perhaps?

      It's not that I never struggle with old thought patterns and fears and second-guessing. It's that I've learned how to not let those thing control and consume me. I've learned how to speak against them, to change my thinking habits, when those old ways pop up and threaten to confuse me. My husband has been very supportive and helpful for me in this journey, as have countless friends. I've been in some amazing support groups on Facebook and beyond. You can't purge the toxic from your veins and neurons by yourself nearly so well as you can with others who are walking with you.

  8. I am torn by the feelings your posts evoke. On the one hand, I love the way you value and emphasize honesty, openness, and thinking. On the other hand, it saddens me to think that the so-called 'church' has created another 'victim. I look back at some of the things I was taught and passed on to my own children, and I do regret those things which appear now to be thoughtless or manipulative. I am not the person I was years ago, or even a few months ago. I think the dogmatism and insistence on only one right answer that we christians often practice is a learned and unhealthy approach to living. Much of it is the result of fear. Our own fears were preyed upon by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons; I don't pretend to understand them all. What I am finding, however, is that I don't need to insist on having all of the answers to feel 'safe'. I do believe in God, and that He is good, and all-knowing; the institutional church that claims to be His spokesman, not so much. I don't know where you are in your faith, but I just wanted to say that maybe rejecting the dogmatism and the manipulation is not the same as rejecting God. I am still working my way out of the kind of church you appear to have been a part of, and, after comparing notes with many others, I honestly don't know if there is another church that is going to work for me. I hope there is. But it is going to have to be one that allows my journey with God to take place at our own pace and in our own style, just like I hope we allow our children to grow. I refuse to allow fear to control me anymore, and to stand by and watch it being used to control others. But I also refuse to allow the abusers to win, to be the face of God and love to a world that desperately needs to see the real thing. Thanks for sharing, and I hope that you are discovering that God is good, and loving and and not afraid of our questions, doubts, anger, or any other thing we might throw at Him. He can take it the hard questions, and He has all the time in the world to reveal the not so simple answers.

    1. truthseeker, I tried many flavors over the years until I realized that I did not believe at all, that I needed to be honest with myself and not find or invent the right church.... but this blog entry is about forgiveness and Christians are some of the worst examples of capital D Denial that I have ever come across in my plus sixty years. (I am the son of a Baptist preacher from a long line of preachers and missionaries so please don't try to teach me your Gospel, k?) Forgiveness is a phenomenon that might happen in human terms as long as the individual is alive and not suffering denial regarding the issue at hand. Molestation, for instance, never requires or benefits necessarily from any forgiveness. If in time, after somebody has gone through whatever emotion they require (all emotion is human, not good or bad) they discover that they do not feel a need to be angry or hurt or depressed or whatever, then that is the only forgiveness that means anything. The church teaching on forgiveness, very ably explained in the original post, is completely sick and harmful to us. As time has gone on in my life, I have found that so-called 'faith' is mostly rubbish too at the point where it departs from the human and goes skyward in woo-woo.
      truthseeker, my best wishes in your human search...

  9. Thank you. I can't buy into the concept of forgiveness as "it doesn't mean you absolve the person, it means you let go." If a person is able to let go of their anger and pain, then why must they forgive in order to let go? I can't accept that redefinition. To me, forgiveness is a gift that you give - or not - after a person expresses remorse.

    I can't make forgiveness mean something it doesn't to me. I can't make myself feel something I don't. Trying to make myself do this was yet another burden my abusive family laid on me.

    What does society - and most religions - say about people who can't or won't forgive? THEY ARE BAD PEOPLE. So thanks a lot, for making me, not them, the villain. Maybe they should have my abusers over for dinner!

    Forgiveness can become pernicious. My family just loves forgiveness, because they view it as "putting it behind you" and "leaving it in the past." This means that if you forgive, you can never raise the subject again....including to a therapist ("You forgave, so it's over. Why do you 'need' therapy? Unless you did not REALLY forgive...."). This silences the victim, protects the abusers, the rest of the family doesn't have to be embarrassed in front of society, and everyone is spared the discomfort of hearing they gory details of the abuse. Does this sound like a healing remedy for an abuse victim?

    I've heard all the assurances....I will be healed! Life will be great once I "put it behind me" and "leave it in the past." I won't become "bitter." If only they had been this concerned for my welfare while the abuse was happening!

    Forgiveness should be used as a method to heal victims, not hush them up. It isn't a blanket remedy for everyone, either - nor should it be. If a medication doesn't work, we try another remedy. Why should forgiveness be enforced onto every abuse victim if it doesn't fit?


  10. The concept of forgiveness is often hijacked by abusers to cover and perpetuate their abuse. There are, sadly, individuals who are repeat, toxic abusers, either emotionally or physically.

    'Forgiveness' is not kindly overlooking seriously harmful behavior; or allowing it to continue. Abuse sometimes requires walking away from a relationship altogether.

    Yet, for my own personal 'healing' I do need to find something of a reason for the toxic behavior, other than the possibility that 'I deserved it'. Thus, I choose to believe, even if it is not true, that my abusers do not intentionally mean to cause harm. I choose to believe that they were themselves seriously damaged, and they cannot see how much they are hurting others.

    I have no way of knowing if that is true, but it helps to stop the poison from spreading. Maybe there really are people out there who wake up in the morning thinking, 'How can I hurt and abuse someone today?' Personally, I prefer to believe such people are rare to nonexistent, that those who hurt me are merely striking out in their own unresolved pain.

    Since I desire to not become one of those abusive people, I refuse to use the 'forgiveness' tactic. I am genuinely sorry about hurting those I love, and hope that they believe it. However, if I do not actually 'repent' (turn from) my abusive behavior, I do not qualify for 'forgiveness'. Just as a court would reinstate formerly pardoned fines on a re-abuser, so too must individuals, in order to protect themselves and others.

    Real forgiveness cannot be safely granted to those who do not acknowledge and fully repent of their crimes. The Church has misused the concept of 'forgive others, as you have been forgiven'. Even God does not forgive those who do not genuinely seek to turn from former wickedness.

    Scriptural pardon requires more than mouthing magic words. There is no 'I'm sorry, now let's get on with the abuse'. Love and forgiveness are never unconditional; they require reciprocity. The Calvinistically corrupted Church gets this terribly wrong.

    Yes, God loves us when we don't deserve it; but he will not forgive us until and unless we genuinely admit our sin and turn from it. He does not demand unattainable perfection, but he does demand a pure heart.

    Those who continue to abuse others and claim 'You can't bring it up because I said 'Sorry'' will someday find that this tactic will not hold up before their all-knowing Creator. God doesn't play games. He will rightly judge between unintentional sins and sins of selfish, manipulative motives.

    You are definitely on to something when you point out how the unbiblical concept of 'unconditional forgiveness' has been used by abusers within the so-called Christian community to cover ongoing abuse. This must be called out, and I appreciate your efforts to do so.

    Do abusers more deserve pity or condemnation for being deceived into believing in an utterly unbiblical and reprehensible concept of forgiveness, with God and man? I acknowledge that God must be the ultimate judge, and I can only, in the meantime, demand the fruit of true repentance to believe.

    For my own sake, I prefer to believe that, whatever is behind ugly, selfish, demeaning behavior, it is 'their problem' and I truly hope that 'they' someday, somehow deal with and overcome it.

    Some may show such evidence of change, and win back our trust, and re-entrance into our lives. Others, for the sake of our own and our family's protection, will no longer be allowed into our lives, painful as that is. It is a decision that only the victims of abuse can make.

    As with love, true forgiveness is an uncoerced, undeserved gift. We can give it to others whenever we so choose, but no one can demand it of us.