I received this question this weekend from our anonymous Have A Question page:
My wife as had a brother commit incest sexual touching and masturbation on her and other in her family from around 6-9 year old. She has strugle with sex and being touch since we got married 25 years ago.
She has done conselling and praying for this and also together.
She is trying to forget him but just cant and wants to know what does the bible says about forgiving in this case ?
This brother as had incest with his daughters and son also but she doesnt want to expose the truth to all as it will be too hard on my wife (her) but shes afraid for his grand kids and others.
Looking for guidance.
So, we have a few things going on here (as we often do), so let’s take a look at them individually.
Do you expose a family member as a child molester?
Alright, this is just my opinion, but I say yes! Definitely! And here’s why:
It’s not about the past, it’s about the present and the future. Fact is, people who sexually abuse children often continue this pattern for the rest of their lives. And you know he has not only with your wife, but with his kids. Safe bet that any grand kids are next. So, while I understand that it would be hard on your wife, think about all the other kids that are going to grow up having damaged marriages and sex lives because she kept silent.
I get that it’s a really hard thing to do, but in my opinion, this isn’t even an option. In fact, I’m going to be brutally harsh here and say that not exposing him is an accessory to child abuse in my opinion. She’s enabling him to continue abusing children, and that’s not acceptable. If my wife told me something like this, I think I’d ask her to call the police, and if she didn’t, then I would, because I couldn’t live with that knowledge knowing that it was still going on behind the scenes. But, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Guilt and shame from abuse
A lot of people experience guilt and shame from abuse, and I’m really not qualified to discuss that. However, I’d image there’s a ton of additional guilt and shame from keeping this a secret and allowing it to continue all these years. I mean, we’re talking 40+ years of dealing with this, knowing it’s still happening? Yeah, I’d imaging there’s a ton of continuing guilt and shame going on. Usually I’d suggest what you’re already doing: counseling and prayer. But, if she’s feeling guilt about staying silent…all the counseling in the world about the abuse won’t help, because that’s not what she’s feeling guilty about.
Forgiving an abuser
So, there’s a couple issues here. Firstly is that it’s really hard to forgive someone while they’re still actively sinning. If you know your brother is still committing these crimes, then, yeah, it’s going to be really hard to forgive him. But, it can be done. And the only way is to focus on Jesus, not on your brother. We don’t forgive because the person is good, or because they are trying to be better. We don’t forgive so that they will be healed. We forgive because Christ forgave us (Colossians 3:13). Also, we forgive so that we can receive healing.
Holding on to anger, bitterness, resentment, hatred, etc., they don’t hurt the other person. They hurt us. Holding on to all of that can both poison your heart emotionally and psychologically, but also have physiological effects like increased blood acidity, stress, etc..
For me, the key is realizing that we’re all sinners. While we often categorize sins differently (like child molesting vs. having an unforgiving spirit), the fact is that with respect to our relationship with God, they’re equal in the sense that they both separate us from Him. Now, the one has a far more negative social impact on our world (especially to the abused kids), but both need the same forgiveness from Christ.
Now, that doesn’t mean that “oh, all is forgiven, and now we don’t need to tell someone”. No, someone in authority still needs to be told. Child abusers are mentally ill and need to be either reformed or removed from the population. From other people’s perspective, they need to know that their children are not safe with your brother. From your brother’s perspective, he needs not to be put in situations where that’s a temptation. To hold back this information is to harm your brother, as well as all his potential victims.
And when you can look at it that way, when you can see him as a broken person who needs healing and forgiveness as much as all of us….then forgiveness will come. I’m not saying it’s easy. But, it is possible.
So, that’s my opinion, but ultimately the decision is yours and your wife’s. I hope, if your wife tells the authorities about it, that it brings her peace. I hope it can start to bring some healing to your marriage as well. But, I also understand that I’ve never been affected by child abuse, so this is my very “ivory tower” opinion. So, I’d love to hear from people who have experience with this in the comments below. Let me know what you think.
9 thoughts on “How do you forgive an abuser?”
Wow so much here. My opinion for what it’s worth is Yes you call in on him. And from the law sadly but your held responsible if you don’t call in on him. I have had to many child abuse classes and that was beat in my brain. If you don’t report your just as guilty in the laws eyes. Maybe turning him in is the first step to healing and forgiving. Knowing he won’t be a to hurt any longer will help this. Also your wife has to change her thinking to acknowledge when you touch her it’s not her brother. The bible says “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It’s a consistent effort to forgive her brother in her mind probably on a daily basis until she feels she has done so. Only God can help with this.
I was also sexually abused from the age of 4-12. For years I never told a soul. I kept it inside, it was my secret. I told my brother after we moved from the city we had lived in all those years. As for forgiveness, when I was 15 I wrote him a letter. I told him that he was wrong and that I should have him arrested. I got my anger towards him out and then I shared the gospel with him and forgave him. I mailed the letter to the last address I had for him. The key here is I gave it to God and I left it there. However, when I got married and had a man wanting to touch me everyday, the memories and flashbacks came flooding in. Then I became resentful of both my husband and this other man. It took me down a road that nearly killed me. So…once again I had to leave it at the foot of the cross. A dear friend of mine told me, “Stop identifying yourself as a victim of sexual abuse and start identifying yourself as a victor of sexual abuse.” Twenty years later, I occasionally have a memory or flashback during intimacy. During those times, I open my eyes and focus on him. I allow myself to feel pleasure in his touch.
She won’t forget him and shouldn’t expect herself to. But she needs to place the cross between him and her. The cross covers a multitude of sin. He can’t get to her if the cross is in front of him.
My prayers are with you both as you continue down this path.
In my above comment, it should read I open my eyes and focus on my husband….not the abuser. Sorry for being unclear.
My mother was abused my her father. When it was brought to light she was taken away by another family member. Her mother died of grief and she went on to have me. I was brought into the family and also abused by my grandfather and due to that abuse (namely I related love with sex) I was then abused by at least 3 other men (contracting various STD along the way) by the age of 6. Then my mom’s boyfriend’s son, age 12, began having regular intercourse with me. I struggled for years with forgiveness, imagining torture for my grandfather and even my mother for letting it happen. Salvation! Sweet salvation lead me to a place where I admit it in public. I am no longer shamed for what happened to me or, more importantly, what I instigated as a teenager seeking love. By putting it all out in the open I have found that aside from me, my cousins also suffered the same fate, if not worse and we can heal together. I am not saying that all was rainbows and puppies because some members of the family turned their back on us. Really, once the truth was out I felt less dirty. I was so confused as a teen thinking that sex is love. I tried to have sex with my half brother in order to show him that I loved him. I was a rather loose woman before salvation and embarrassment blanketed me. Now, knowing that I am forgiven has given me the ability to forgive. I don’t need to hold onto the hurt because God is judge and jury and he promises to put all wrongs to right. And if by some miracle, the many men who enjoyed my degredation, come to Christ, I know that their sins have been paid for in lashes, insults and eventually death, as mine have been. If not their sins will be an eternal torment. Regardless of what happens I know that the sin is paid for. My God is the God of justice and will always do what is right. Every sin will be paid for. It is now my job to trust in his righteousness. God delights in truth and I fully intend to not hide what was done to me or the sins I committed, myself. Some of my family still have no use for me. I will love them anyways. I don’t have to be mad when they call me names. I know who I am in Christ. I still treat them with respect. I remember their birthdays and anniversaries even when they call me names. My marriage has been rocky and we still struggle with some of the issues I have accumulated but full disclosure is best. I can’t handle kissing (or anyone being close to my face). My husband understands (and yearns for my healing). I can still be sad, understand where it comes from, and walk away with forgiveness. Broken people do broken things. Tell the families related to this man. Tell the man that you will not be quiet. Offer forgiveness but not temptation (leaving young ones around him unattended) He will get what is coming to him or he will accept Jesus who willingly will stand in his place.
First off, yes, this woman’s brother needs to be turned into the authorities. Period. It’s obvious this has been ongoing for years and now there are or may be grandkids involved. And it’s likely he has abused other children outside of his immediate family too.
Second, I want to address the argument for forgiveness being that “we are all sinners”. No, we are not all sinners. If a person is a true believer they are a saint and live within God’s will. A sinner lives outside of God’s will.
When going through a separation from my abusive ex and struggling with forgiveness this was often said to me, “well, you’re both sinners”, and I felt like the abuse was being diminished and I was being lumped together with my abuser, when in fact I was a believer.
Does that mean believers never sin? Of course not! Believers will still sin and fall short of the glory of God, but the difference is a true follower of Jesus Christ does not continue in their sinful ways but chooses to live righteously for God.
Now I don’t know this woman or her family, so I do not know if she is a believer, but if she is then no, she is not a sinner like her brother. She is a saint in Jesus Christ and has been sinned against in a terrible way. Yes, she needs to forgive as Christ has forgiven her, but she does not need to forgive because she is just as sinful as her brother. We are to forgive our brothers and sisters because we are forgiven.
And forgiveness is intended to take the burden of the offender’s sin off of us and give it to God. Forgiveness is about the offended stepping aside to allow God’s work to be done in the offender’s life whatever that may look like. And it does not mean that person will be off the hook for what they have done nor does it mean we must continue in a relationship with that person. In due time, all sinners will reap the consequences for their ongoing sin if they do not repent and change their ways.
It is very difficult to forgive someone who continues to sin, but after all these years, I pray this woman can let go of the hurt and bitterness and give her brother over to God through forgiveness. It’s time for her to speak up and stop the abuse, and no it is never easy, but until someone breaks the cycle that has been ongoing for years it will only continue, causing harm to others and keeping this woman hostage to the abuse inflicted on her years ago.
My parents were physically abusive to me and my mother continued that abuse right until I was in my 20s and I let her because of erroneous teaching about forgiveness and parental honouring in the Church; it took one kind sister in the church to explain that forgiveness didn’t make my mother right and that I could honour by staying away, she also explained that I didn’t have to be abused any more so I stopped visiting my mother because we had a fight because she hit me and I defended myself.
I I struggled to forgive my mother for years as she kept piling on verbal abuse to me and turning family members away from me too and it also affected my relationship with my sisters too until one day God spoke to me. He said the reason you struggle to forgive is because you still feel owed something by the person, that the need to somehow make up for what they did but they don’t! I do!! When My Son died on the cross He took that debt and said He will pay on their behalf so ask Me and I will pay it.
So I started to pray and give God all the feelings of hurt and anger and rejection and bitterness and allowed Him to minister to me, even my desires for revenge and to see ill on my mother and slowly it all went away. Whenever I feel inadequate because of what I never received from my mum I ask God to “pay the debt.” Now I understand forgiveness in that manner I find it easy to forgive now. I hope that helps others. In this lady’s case I think she needs God to pay this brother’s debt and heal the memories of the evil done to her.
He said the reason you struggle to forgive is because you still feel owed something by the person, that the need to somehow make up for what they did but they don’t! I do!! When My Son died on the cross He took that debt and said He will pay on their behalf so ask Me and I will pay it.*
What you said right there was my undoing…
My sister-in-law had her father’s child at 13. The baby died, the father was arrested, and he died in prison. She carried the pain and guilt of that all her life, even though she was a Christian when she met my brother and stayed in church throughout their marriage. ( She died a few years ago.)
I think the abuser should be reported. However, I want to let you know what will happen. He will be arrested, taken from the family, there will be expensive lawyer costs, the wife and children will have to fend for themselves, they could loose their home, income, city, friends, etc.
Abusers of children are not looked kindly on in prison. They themselves will have a rough time in prison, and they themselves could be abused or even killed.
I am not saying that you should not report the brother. All I am saying is that the family needs to be prepared for some very difficult and expensive times ahead. It is not an easy thing to do. Often those reporting the abuse have to go to court themselves and testify before a judge or jury. The pain that happened years ago will have to be dredged up. You will also have to take care of the family left behind by your actions.
I will be praying for your decision. Make the right one, not the expedient one. The Lord will help you through the difficulties of the past and the future.
On paper, the answer is simple report the abuser. In reality, it gets so much more complicated. I didn’t have the courage to even admit it to myself until I was in my late thirties and both abusers have now passed away. This lady needs alot of support if she does report it.