Dear Monica Busch,
First and foremost I must start this letter by saying that I’m terribly, terribly sorry that you grew up with such horrific experiences with your father. I read the entire blog post and felt compelled to respond. To introduce myself, I am a 26 year old Christian who has asked many of the same questions that you’ve asked in this blog post. Can I relate to what it’s like to have a sexually abusive parent? No, I can’t say that I can. However, that doesn’t mean that my life has been void of trauma. Probably the biggest trauma of my life is that a few years ago I had a fiance who on a dime seemed to have turned into a different person over night. She lied to me, cheated on me, stole from me, caused me to lose my home, and did a lot of things that left me powerless, and forced me to just endure it without being able to do anything about it. I was angry at her and everyone involved. If it wasn’t for laws in this country, I probably would have plotted my revenge, because I was forced to sit idly by while so many things in my life that I cherished were stolen from me to be enjoyed by other people who I felt were the scum of the earth. In the end I decided it wasn’t worth my time, trouble or worth risking going to prison for so I moved on. For a long time I carried resentment for the people involved. So as a Christian, I struggled to figure out how forgiveness could possibly fit into this equation. Much like how your blog asked similar questions, I was left asking how do you forgive when all you feel towards some people is a desire for revenge?
Please understand it is not my intent in this letter to judge you, or offer blurry flawed dismissive answers or elusive explanations. I would just like offer to clear up misconceptions, and I would like to understand the purpose of this blog post. Is the purpose to search for answers to your objections? Do you just wanna be heard? Is it your intent to scoff at Christianity and its principles? Do you want someone to dialog with you reasonably? Are you willing to interact reasonably with anything someone else has to say? Or are you just closed off and venting? I don’t know the answer to the purpose of this blog post, but I can say I would like to offer to be your friend and maybe help clear some things up. Please know, I’m not interested in winning an argument, because that accomplishes nothing at the end of the day, I just would like to be your friend, and let you know that as someone who’s been through the ringer too, there are reasonable answers to these things, so long as you’re open to hearing them. If you’re close minded, I’m afraid there’s not much this letter will offer you.
I’d say, besides the obvious, where we would differ is that in your story you began to question the teachings of Christianity, where conversely I began searching for answers within Christianity. For a while after I was betrayed by my fiance, my favorite verse in the Bible was Romans 12:19 which says, “ 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.” ” Every time I allowed myself to get lost in thoughts of what happened and thoughts of what I’d like to do about it, I repeated, Vengeance is mine saith the Lord, Vengeance is mine saith the Lord. Surely the God of the Universe will do right. If not today, then one day.
Meditation on that verse led me to write this. “When someone does evil to you it’s natural to not only want to see justice done, but it’s also natural to want to be the one serving the justice. However I’ve learned that God is capable of perfect vengeance. We so badly want to be the ones to give the evil doer the knife or what have you, but somewhere in there I think that’s, because somehow we think we can do vengeance better than God can. Or that we don’t trust God to handle it like we want Him to. However God sees all and He will repay evil deeds. And if God decides to not do vengeance, well then who are we to question God. When someone does evil to you, it is best to just let God do justice perfectly and continue to love the evil doer. Believe it or not God is capable of doing vengeance much better than you are.”
Does this mean that we condone evil or allow it to continue and just look the other way? No, absolutely not. You can forgive someone without becoming buddy buddy with them. If someone’s in an abusive relationship, forgiving the abuser doesn’t mean that the abused person should just take it. They should get out of that relationship and do what they can to stop the abuse to themselves and others. Maybe even have them thrown in jail for the abuse. Everyone should be held accountable for their actions. In some cases you can forgive and yet know that you should keep your distance. In the end we don’t forgive for the other person’s sake, we do so, because we’re commanded to. Secondly we forgive for our sake. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying unforgiveness is like eating poison hoping the other person dies.
Of forgiveness, John Calvin said, “What is forgiveness, but a gift of mere liberality. A creditor is not said to forgive when he declares, by granting a discharge that the money has been paid to him. But when without any payment through voluntary kindness he espounges the debt.”
Forgiveness is not earned nor is it deserved. Otherwise it wouldn’t be forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift. If I have a credit card debt. It can’t be said I was forgiven the debt after I paid it off. No, now we’re just even. I had to pay to be even. I’m only forgiven if the debt is made even without my paying.
So if forgiveness cannot be earned, then how can God justly command that we give it to others? Well I know you’ve heard the short answer and that is, we forgive, because we have been forgiven. To fully understand this concept, we must first understand the purpose of Jesus dieing on the cross. This is something that you didn’t seem to understand in your blog post so let me attempt to lay it out for you. God is Holy, Loving, Patient, Forgiving, All Powerful and Just. He is the perfect embodiment of all of these attributes. Of man however, the Bible says that all have sinned against God, our works are as filthy rags. I can use many verses to paint a picture that man is evil, wicked and in complete rebellion against the Holy King of the universe. Man is evil, because man has an evil heart. It’s man’s nature to sin. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. God’s wrath abides over sinners. So we all deserve death in hell, because of our rebellion. This is man’s greatest problem. God cannot simply forgive us, because justice demands that we be dealt with. If the judge just dismissed the case saying that he believes your father is generally a good guy and that he’ll stop doing what he was doing, and that the judge forgives your father; you would have been outraged. It would have been unjust. You would be right to say that was a terrible judge. Well God isn’t a terrible judge. Justice demanded that a debt be paid, and in our case, that debt was that we deserved the wrath of God. However, the message of the gospel is that when justice demanded the death sentence for us; our judge stepped down and took the punishment we deserved and imputed his righteousness onto us so that we had no further dealings with the law. Like the foreshadowings of the old testament and the prophecies therein, he became a perfect sacrifice so that He could forgive. The transaction was our sin was imputed on to Him in exchange for His righteousness. Jesus took the all of our wrath that we deserved in full so that we would have no further dealings with the law (It was not about what man’s leaders did to Him; John 10:18). So that it’s nothing we deserve; it is a free gift to those who repent of their sins, and trust in Jesus as their defense. Without trusting in Jesus, all men will be left to be judged by their works alone, and again, all have sinned against a holy God. When you put saving faith in Jesus, God regenerates your heart and comes to dwell within you so that the things you loved you hate, and the things you hated you love. Now that I’ve explained this; I recommend an honest reading of Romans 8.
So now that we hopefully understand the point of the cross let’s understand why God says we should forgive. The number One reason is probably, because He’s God, and He commands it. For who has an army that can stand up to God and won’t be wiped out? So basically, humble yourself to the will of God. I understand that answer is kinda harsh so let me offer another answer.
Matthew 18:23–35, paints a perfect picture of the boat that we’re in.
“ 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” ”
Bottom line, you deserve to be in hell, but God is willing to forgive you. As someone who desperately needs forgiveness, what right do you have to ask to be forgiven by God and not forgive someone who has sinned against you? Was what was done to you evil? In the highest order of evilness, I emphatically answer yes. However, for this reason unforgiveness is evil too.
It’s tempting to want to say, well his evil was worse than mine; or he’s more evil than me and I’m a better person; but again I say, all men are lieing, thieving adulters at heart, and God doesn’t grade us on a curve. We’ve all sinned. We all deserve hell. So we either repent of our sins and follow Jesus, or we go to hell. Jesus says forgive, so make up your mind. You cannot be forgiven if you will not forgive. No one has a right to hold a grudge towards anyone more than Jesus does towards us, yet He laid down His life for people who rebelled against Him; He set the example, it’s up to us to follow it by His grace.
You might object, how can God forgive his acts and not my unforgiveness? Well the first answer is he might have repented, and you haven’t. The real answer though is that a King can choose who and what to forgive freely. He can demand payment for debts He wants payments for and forgive any debt He wants to forgive; and He doesn’t need you to agree with Him. He earned that right when He took the wrath of God on the cross.
Operating on this understanding of forgiveness allow me to bring this back to this blog post. You’re basically saying, “I will not allow my father to have a part in my life, because he’s lost that right and he needs to pay for what he did to me.” I understand that you don’t claim to have forgiven him, and you question why you should. However might I suggest that unforgiveness is hypocritical? Number One, you’re rebelling against God, because you’re commanded to forgive. Which is ironic, because like a child saying he hit me first, you’re sinning against God, because someone has sinned against you. Secondly, you’re saying that what Jesus did on the cross was enough to satisfy God, but it’s not enough to satisfy you. People who aren’t justified before God will spend an eternity in hell, but you’re effectively saying that those who do evil to you need hell, plus my penalization. So God’s wrath isn’t enough.
So in conclusion I’d like to say that I understand it sometimes takes time to be willing to forgive, but at some point you have to stop defending your unwillingness to forgive, and just forgive, because it’s when fully examined, it’s not rational to not forgive, and truly, when you hold onto it, you’re no better than the person you’re not forgiving in the big scheme of things. Life is too short for grudges. Maybe this speaks to the heart of why you went atheist too. If God doesn’t exist, you can enjoy not forgiving and other evils freely. The problem is, if God doesn’t exist, you have no basis for calling evil evil other than your opinion sense there is no solid moral objective standard. Seems like you’re borrowing from God to justify your unforgiveness while claiming to be an atheist. I guess what I’m getting at, it seems your reason for atheism seems more emotional than it does reasonable. You see, disagreeing with God doesn’t make God not real. That’s irrational not intellectual.
Why do I choose to believe the Bible?
“I choose to believe the Bible because it is a reliable collection of historical documents written down by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report of supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies and claimed that their writing are divine rather than human in origin.” -Voddie Baucham
In order to claim atheism you’d have to choose emotions or desires or both over tons of overwhelming evidence. Which if you want to do that, that’s your right, but it’s not rational.
So if God is all powerful why is there evil?
Because God has a purpose for it that is known to Him, because He is patient. If God dealt with all evil in the world right now, everyone would be placed in hell. So be thankful for God’s patience instead of using it to argue against Him. Moreover the Bible specifically says that the evil in the world will get worse and worse, so the existence of evil should be a proof of the Bible’s reliability.
For more on a defense of why I believe the Bible, I’ll link you to other writings of mine.
I just wanted to show that the Bible has answers and is capable of being consistent if you read it in full and in context.
Part 2: I wanted to respond directly to some parts of the blog.
“I grew up watching VeggieTales on VHS any chance I got.”
This in no way is a dig at you, but I was never a fan of VeggieTales, because if the Bible is true events that have major implications for our lives; I don’t think it should be dumbed down into fairy tales. And let’s be honest, it’s not intellectually honest to judge a theology off of an animated cartoon about veggies and it’s probably not the best place to get your theology. Vegetable theology just doesn’t sound concrete.
“ The same scenario played out in my religious teachings for years. After all, my family and my preachers told me, Christianity itself exists because Jesus forgave our sin-riddled selves, so much that he died for us. ”
I’m sorry this was the case. It seems you weren’t brought up in an environment that was a great representation of Christianity. Unfortunately, most churches in America play at Christianity and follow traditions rather than what the Bible teaches. I would ask that you no more hold Christianity responsible for hypocrites than you would want me to hold all atheist in the same view as an atheist who would blow up a building. Just, cuz there’s bad representatives doesn’t mean the faith is flawed. I just means people aren’t following it correctly.
“ The sacrificial lamb metaphor was never one I completely grasped growing up, though. It never quite made sense to me that some oppressive leaders slaughtered the human embodiment of my religion’s deity because I was going to someday be born, bully my little brother, and go to hell for it. And every time I asked how that sacrifice worked logistically, I was given dismissive answers or elusive explanations with too many contemporary Christian buzzwords like “covenant” and “unconditional.” An English degree later, and I still don’t quite get it. ”
Hopefully I cleared this up above.
“ does that still apply when forgiveness could cause more harm than good? ”
To be frank, I don’t think that you get to make that judgement. And as an atheist, you have no basis to even make such a judgement other than opinion. God commands us to forgive. Follow God and let God deal with the consequences. Above I explained why God has the right to command us to forgive. We don’t get to judge God. (See Job 37–38 and Romans 9)
“ Before the sentencing, my grandmother hugged me, crying outside the courtroom, and asked me to see if the lawyers would go easy on him in their recommendations for penalties. ”
I can understand where your grandmother was coming from, but forgiveness doesn’t mean justice shouldn’t be served. God is a forgiving and just God. People who break the law should be punished. It’s the only proper way to have a society. However, you can still forgive while justice is being served.
“ It’s a record that plays on repeat between the two of us now, and a major reason for my gradual recession from a relationship I once counted as paramount to my emotional health. ”
I understand, it can be annoying, and it’s probably not the best way to go about it, but understand that it’s coming from a place of love, and they don’t want you to go to hell. Unfortunately, no one can change your heart, only God can; and while your heart is hardened; you’ll never understand that. You can say you have a reason to be hardened, and I would agree. But at the end of the day, you’re making excuses for yourself that will lead to destruction if you don’t reconsider. People get dealt bad hands, however we need to trust that God has a purpose in everything and trust Him. So you can choose to make excuses, even justified excuses, but they’re still excuses that are leading you away from a life with God and ultimately leading you to hell. Your choice to hold on to those excuses though, I just hope they’re worth it and hold weight in the end. Otherwise, it might be wise to stop playing the victim and get on with your life. I know you are the victim, but it’s a tough world out there and no one’s going to have pity on you. You need to get over it. That’s just real talk. If you lost your legs are you going to cease moving or learn to walk with your hands? Catch my drift?
“ But to contend that it is required in order to get right with God seems at best absurd, and at worse, intensely damaging. ”
Above I explained the reasoning, but God said it clearly. Matthew 6:15. 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. We didn’t write the mail… However, again, you’re judging God. By judging what He commands. Like you know better somehow… If you believe you know better than God you’re foolish and you’ll never be a Christian.
“ This is particularly true within the fundamentalist Christian ”
I would suggest get away from the fundamentalist community and just search the Bible for the truths it intends to present. Fundamentalist have fallen prey to traditions in my opinion.
“ As a victim, to be told that I should focus on healing or forgiveness, effective synonyms in the fundamentalist community, instead of having a family that rallies around me in a show of support, is invalidating. ”
I understand what you’re saying, I really do, but on the other hand. What do you want? A hug, a cookie? I’m so sorry for the things you’ve had to endure I really am. But are you going to go through your whole life broken or are you going to stop allowing yourself to be defined by your hardships? I’m not trying to insensitive, and I’ll be the first to be there if you need someone to help get you through this, but you need to realize you’re making excuses for yourself. I understand it takes time.
“ It’s saying that I can never be whole, never be totally free of my abuse, until I forgive my dad for what he did to me, or more specifically, unless I let go of my anger and resentment. It’s assuming that what he did will latch on to me and hold me back and says that this will be the case until I recompense his actions. ”
There’s a saying, forgive and forget. It’s so common people link forgetting to forgiveness. I don’t think that’s biblical. You will never forget unless you get hit upside the head with a shovel. However until you forgive you will always have a grudge that will do more to eat at you than anyone else. It will be debilitating when you need to be overcoming.
“ I’ve been told he would accept me back into the family, reminded that he still loves me, and asked to speak to him on the phone. All the while, he maintains that he didn’t sexually exploit me and that I fabricated abuse charges in some deranged attempt at revenge for strict parenting. ”
Sorry to say, your dad sounds a little hypocritical. Again, all I can say is he doesn’t really represent Christianity as a whole. The Bible talks about forgiveness, but it also talks about confessing your sins and making right with people you have wronged.
“ But in a fundamentalist community like the one my family subscribes to, my unwillingness to engage my abuser in this sort of forgiveness horserace actually manages to make me look worse than my assailant in the grand scheme of eternity. ”
I mean, what he did was absolutely wrong, I can’t say that enough; however Two wrongs only make a right in Kindergarten. Again, above I’ve given you reasons why forgiveness is necessary. I understand if it takes time, but you have to get there. If nothing else out of submission to God. Ultimately, it’s not the unforgiveness people don’t like, it’s the unwillingness to submit to God. The only sinner the church can’t help is the one who won’t repent. God doesn’t compare you to others, so you shouldn’t compare your sins to others either.
“ Frequently I am told in some variation on a theme that he’s better — “fixed” — because he’s going to church more often and that it’s time to let bygones be bygones ”
I agree, going to church alone really means nothing.
Just an aside, maybe God knows something about forgiveness that you don’t; and if you can’t forgive for your father’s sake, forgive, because God told you to. Because you’re not in hell right now like you deserve according to the Bible, is a reason to forgive anyone for anything. It’s about submitting to God’s will above your own. If you’re unwilling to do that; I don’t know what will help you and I guess you’ll just be damaged goods all the days of your life. I don’t mean to be mean, I’m just professing that there’s power in forgiveness. In my story, I’ll never recover what I lost; I still have bad dreams about what happened. However, I choose to submit that God wants me to forgive and that He had a purpose in it all that brought Him glory; which God glorifying Himself, is the best thing He can do for creation, because He’s perfection personified. Through prayer, if you give it to God, He can begin to heal you. That is unless you don’t want to be healed and you just want to be a victim. In which case that’s on you.
“ I haven’t the faintest desire to forgive my dad, or to ever have anything to do with him again. ”
Because you haven’t the faintest desire to follow God, because you’re still in rebellion against Him as His creation.
“ She goes so far as to express shame over her initial unwillingness to do so. ”
The world is a much better place with forgiveness. Everyone needs to be forgiven from time to time. No one’s perfect. If you want to be forgiven, you should forgive.
“ They’re asking me to forgive his irreparable debts — the sleepless nights, the panic attacks, the sexual dysfunction. They’re asking me to make him clean as snow because, after all, if Jesus can forgive me, who am I to judge? They neglect the fact that I am better suited to judge than anyone else because I am the one who was dehumanized. ”
That’s the beauty of forgiveness. No one can earn it. However, you’ve been given the gift of forgiveness before. Therefore you need to return the favor. The beauty of forgiveness is to have a judgment and still forgive. This is a very arrogant attitude. Are you prepared to say that you’ve endured worse than Jesus who has dealt with Thousands of years of people sinning against Him, endured what He endured on Earth? Again, was what Jesus paid not enough? Is the prospect of eternity in hell not enough? Will not the creator of the universe do right? He saw what happened and He will deal with it in His own perfect timing in His own perfect way. Vengeance is His. It’s not your job to make him pay anymore. Justice will be served; unless you don’t believe that, but that would mean you don’t trust God to do it in which case I can’t help you. I wouldn’t say who are you to judge, I would say who are you to not forgive. Jesus is the spotless King and creator of the universe, and He forgave much more sin than you can imagine. Who are you not to forgive? I know this; you say what He did was worse, but the Bible says the greatest commandment is to love the lord thy god with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength. You break that commandment daily. Yet Jesus forgives you for it. You’re breaking that commandment when you don’t forgive. So it can be argued that in God’s eyes, what you’re doing is worse than what your father did. Which when he did that he was also breaking that command by God. Fact is you’ve offended God much more than you’ve ever been offended. And not just you, I have too. We all have. Therefore, because we want forgiveness, we forgive.
Again, disagreeing with God, or having gone through a bad situation and thus turning your back on God, doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. You’ll need a better reason to defend your atheism.
I’ve been there, the small things are much easier to forgive than the big things. Trust me, like I’ve said, I’m still damaged by what’s happened to me. I truly am. I understand it can be a process, but to say you don’t ever have to get there is just rebellion. We must learn to forgive the big things too. It’s apart of growing up and maturing.
“ I don’t feel guilty about this. And that’s the best healing I’ve experienced so far. ”
I don’t buy this, I think deep down you know you need to forgive. It just feels good to hold onto your hate. It’s in your nature. It’s human nature. Usually people who don’t feel guilty about something don’t have to say it. You would say it to reassure yourself and calm your conscience.
I do buy that you’re happier without Christianity. But I contend that’s for the same reason a thief is happy no cops are around. However, just cuz a thief doesn’t see any cops around, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Without God you have no one to answer to; so you can live as you like. However I urge you to reexamine the evidence outside of the realm of emotion. What’s sad is, I have a feeling that you’re going to get hooked on one thing I said, and miss the entire message; and I’m sorry for that.