Extending Forgiveness

Joseph’s story challenged me to consider forgiveness as a means towards healing and wholeness. I was so angry! I was bitter! I hated not only my rapist, but honestly all men. He had not only raped me, but led me to believe sex was a terrible awful experience. I believed it meant a man’s pleasure at a woman’s expense. In passing, I would gaze at married women and feel sorry for them. Had they been duped too? Surely, they were just putting up with their husbands. I was angry that sex was so disappointing. Why was it such a big deal if it was so terrible for women? I thought it would be a beautiful experience, but it was not.

As I continued to process what happened I wanted justice. Well maybe not justice. Honestly, I wanted him to suffer. I wanted him to get a taste of the misery I experienced. Based on how he managed to execute the rape, I had this sickening feeling that I was not the first, and a fear that I would not be the last unless I did something. It had taken me a year and a half to get to this point though. I knew it had been too long to pursue anything legally. Now it would just come down to “He said. She said.”

As I processed my rape I read every Christian book I could find regarding rape, which at that time was all of two books. One of those books was specifically about date rape: Beauty Restored by Me Ra Koh. I couldn’t put the book down. I cried while I read it and it offered hope and encouragement to me. I was not alone in my struggles and we even shared some common emotional reactions to our rapes. I read it multiple times, highlighting what spoke to me most. Me Ra Koh became my best friend, my fellow sojourner on my journey toward hope and healing. If she could find hope and healing, then so could I.

I also read A Door of Hope by Jan Frank. Jan was a victim of incest. This book had been recommended to me by my ex-fiancé’s father who was a Pastor. I considered the book, but initially dismissed it since it was about a different circumstance. However, I eventually decided to read it and I realized that she also had experienced similar emotions and reactions in her life. Her book encouraged me, but it also challenged me to consider forgiveness.

She mentioned that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. Meaning, everyone has messed up and done things wrong. We like to assign varying degrees of “wrong” to different actions, but at the end of the day, sin is sin. Any sin separates us from God. Jesus lived a perfect life and died on the cross to stand in our place and take that sin upon himself. He desires that none should perish, but that all should be saved (2 Peter 3:9). If Jesus desires that none should perish, shouldn’t I too? For the first time the magnitude of that statement hit me. If I am a Christian, then I should be like-minded to Christ, which means I shouldn’t want anyone to perish either.

Not only does Christ desire that none should perish, but the essence of the cross is forgiveness. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 4:32 to forgive “…each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he included this very statement in his prayer:

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us (Luke 11:4 NLV).

Jesus taught us to include forgiving others who have sinned against us as the basis for Him forgiving us. If we aren’t willing to forgive, are we really deserving of forgiveness ourselves? In 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul taught that unforgiveness is a victory for Satan:

We forgive so that Satan will not win. We know how he works (NLV)!

If forgiveness is of God, then unforgiveness is of Satan. Anything contrary to Christ is of Satan. Satan would love nothing more than to render someone useless to God, because they are hung up on unforgiveness. How can you truly love others when you are entrenched in bitterness, anger and unforgiveness?

Jesus also taught that the standard we use to judge others, will be the standard used to judge us:

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged (Matthew 7:1-2 NLT).

If I desire Jesus’ mercy, shouldn’t I too be merciful? In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said:

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7 NIV).

If I am willing to accept Christ’s mercy and forgiveness in my life I need to be willing to extent forgiveness to others, but how could I forgive someone I wanted to suffer? I wanted revenge, not forgiveness!

Ms. Frank also spoke of finding balance in your life after trauma:

…God calls us to a balance in our lives and He will empower us to work out that balance. He desires us to be free, so that instead of reacting to our past, we begin to respond to life in the present. We do not have to be bound by our past. In Isaiah 61:1 we read, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound.’ We can be free in the Lord Jesus as the Holy Spirit breaks our bondage. We must make sure we are in a position to receive what He wants to do in our lives (Frank, 80).

Ms. Franks also wrote that the first step to forgiveness, a vital part of healing is for the victim to “…release her right to hold on to some justified emotions which were evoked by the offender and his actions (Frank, 130).” This release includes the victim’s right to “…hold on to anger, bitterness, and resentment (Frank, 130).” David Seamands in Healing of Memories writes:

The harder we try to keep bad memories out of conscious recall, the more powerful they become. Since they are not allowed to enter through the door of our minds directly, they come in our personalities (body, mind and spirit) in disguised and destructive ways.

Ms. Frank says: “…the first step toward breaking the bondage of our past is acknowledging or owning up to the pain (Frank, 130).” I felt the pain. The pain is what made the idea of forgiveness so difficult.

My next thought was what does the Bible say about revenge? I found that God says in Deuteronomy, Romans and Hebrews that “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” In Deuteronomy, it is followed by: “In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them (32:35 NIV).” In Romans, it is followed by: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (12:21 NASB).” In Hebrews, he follows it up with “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”   I realized forgiveness meant submitting it to God and trusting Him to handle it. God is just – far more just than our justice system. He knows exactly what happened.

I desperately wanted to be free from having my live completely dominated by rape. I was stuck. I couldn’t move forward or move on. I felt trapped. Alone. Isolated. I came across a verse in Psalms: “The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me (101:3).” That is exactly the opposite of how I felt. My rape clung to me. The details haunted me. Fear clung to me. Hatred clung to me. Bitterness clung to me. Being raped defined who I was as a person. It permeated every part of my being. How could I escape its grip on me?

I started to pray for my rapist. I begged God to change his heart. To prevent him from victimizing another woman. The more I prayed for him the more God started to break my heart for him. How broken do you have to be to be capable of such an act against another? I realized he was hurting too, even if he didn’t realize it. His only hope for change was for God to change him. I prayed for his salvation. God gave me a deep sense of compassion for not only him, but a hurting world. Everyone is hurting to different degrees. The more I prayed for him the more God started laying it on my heart to forgive him.

Forgiveness. Not condoning what he had done. Not excusing him. Forgiving him. I also realized I was in bondage. Not only had he raped me, but I was continuing to give him power over me by hanging onto my anger, bitterness, and hatred. I always thought forgiveness was for the benefit of the offender. I realized in my case, forgiveness would be for my benefit. Forgiveness would allow me to let go of these destructive emotions and move on.

I decided to write a letter to my rapist explaining all he had done to me from my perspective and how it had affected me. This letter had been suggested to me by my pastor, but his suggestion was to destroy the letter. However, I felt this was the best option to extend my forgiveness. I had spoken with my counselor about writing the letter and delivering it, as well. She agreed it was a good idea. I wrote him a 10-page letter detailing what he had done to me and everything I had been through because of his rape. I ended it by extending forgiveness to him and explaining to him how I have found hope in Christ amidst my struggles with the rape. I explained my faith in depth and how his rape had deepened my faith and trust in God. I told him I was praying for him to find peace and healing from his brokenness by trusting in Christ. I ended my letter by telling him: “I am learning more and more to rely upon God for my strength. To face each new day with hope.”

The last week of his senior year, I delivered the letter. I found him working in the architecture computer lab. As my heart raced, I handed him the letter and told him I had written him a letter. He was surprised by the gesture and thanked me, oblivious to the letter’s contents. Then I turned and walked away. Hoping that would be the last time I ever saw him. I wasn’t free at that moment, but delivering that letter was a huge victory. Expressing to him the depth to which his actions had affected me needed to be done.

I never spoke with him again. I did see him one more time from a distance. Luckily, he was engaged in a conversation with a college administrator on the other side of a window. As our gaze met, he paused, he stared at me in disgust and he slowly started to shake his head in disapproval. I knew then he had read my letter. He gazed at me as if he wanted to hurt me, but at that moment he was trapped on the other side of the glass and he couldn’t. Never again could he hurt me. I may never know the outcome of my letter, but I feel confident that I did what needed to be done. I have peace that God is in control.

My ultimate hope and prayer is that my rapist comes to salvation. Salvation would bring hope and healing to his life, which we all need. Christ desires that none should perish. In Matthew 18:6 Jesus said:

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

For the unrepentant, there will be a reckoning. That gives me peace. I am trusting God to take care of it.

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