There is much in the Bible about forgiveness, including both God’s offer of forgiveness, and the call for people to forgive each other (see, for example, Psalm 103.2-3, Eph 4.32, or even the words from the Lord’s Prayer, in Matt 6.12). Forgiveness is a spiritual reality at the heart of Christian faith. But it is also a psychological reality that becomes complicated especially in situations like sexual violence, where there is a serious power imbalance between the victim and perpetrator.

Authentic forgiveness only comes when it is voluntary. It can’t be forced, or manipulated, or demanded by someone else (whether that is the person who abused, or a well-meaning “friend”). True forgiveness may come at some point in the victim’s journey of healing; but remember that even Jesus’s work of forgiveness came only “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4.4; see also Jn 17.1) and there were occasions when Jesus said, “my time has not yet come” (Jn 2.4; see also Jn 7.30, 8.20).  Only the person who was violated can determine when that time might be.

And if a person isn’t ready for the hard work of forgiveness, that shouldn’t become a source of guilty feelings. God is gracious, patient (and forgiving!) enough to wait for people who are struggling on their journey of healing.

An excellent article by Gayle Gerber Koontz further explores the relationship between justice, forgiveness, and healing from abuse.

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