Three Kinds of Forgiveness

Renunciation of vengeance, relational reconciliation, divine judicial forgiveness. Those are the three kinds of forgiveness. And Christians chronically conflate the three, which causes much harm and confusion to victims of abuse.

Let us look at the Scriptures about forgiveness. All Scriptures are from the NASB1995 unless otherwise stated. First the one from the Lord’s prayer and the subsequent explanation Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount:

(Matthew 6:12, 14-15)  ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…..For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Jesus reiterated this warning during the last week of His life, when He was instructing His followers about prayer:

(Mark 11:25)  Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.

Now to the passages that speak specifically about forgiving the brethren.

(Matthew 18:21-22)  [I’ll give two versions, because the translations differ a little.] Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  (ESV)

(Matthew 18:21-22)  Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (NASB1995)

(Luke 17:3-4)  Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.

(Ephesians 4:32)  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

(Colossians 3:12-13)  So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

In Matthew 18, the question Peter asks — and thus the answer Jesus gives — is about the brethren; it is speaking of brothers and sisters in Christ, people who have repented unto saving faith and who walk by faith. Likewise the passage in Luke 17 is about the brethren (your brother). And the same goes for the Ephesian and Colossian passages: Paul is writing to the churches and uses the term ‘one another,’ which is a way of referring to the brethren. In all these passages, the guidance is not referring to people who are outside of Christ — i.e., every human being on earth who is still dead in their sins.

Genuine Christians do sometimes sin, err, or offend other believers, due to the fact that all believers still struggle against the flesh and none of us are going to be free from the temptation and presence of sin until Christ returns. The New Testament gives us guidance on how to respond when a fellow Christian offends us. That guidance must be wisely and carefully weighed in balance and held in tension. Why? Because some of it talks about warning, admonishing, and rebuking fellow believers, and some of it talks about extending 70 x 7 mercy and grace and being long-suffering.

Another thing to consider is when Jesus prayed for the soldiers who were crucifying Him:

….Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do….  (Luke 23:34)
[Regarding the textual reliability of this verse, see Ps Sam Powell’s comment in the thread below his comment.]

How are we to apply that? Jesus forgave the repentant man who was being crucified on the hill with Him; but He did not forgive the unrepentant scoffing man on that other cross. If Jesus’ intent in Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” was to indicate a mass forgiveness to all who had put Him to death, then there would be no need for repentance in order to be forgiven, and both men on those crosses would have been ushered into the presence of God upon their deaths. We simply know that not to be true.

Hence, to misuse these words of Christ to suggest that all are forgiven, is to advocate Universalism. It is to say that all go to Heaven, without individual repentance and faith in Christ being required. Those who assert, “Jesus forgave the Roman soldiers who crucified Him, so that means EVERYONE gets divine forgiveness,” are just plain wrong. They are promoting the lie that even those who fail to repent will receive God’s forgiveness. It is a lie. It is deception.

We need to properly understand and apply the Scriptures on forgiveness. So many churches tell us to forgive everyone and just “let it go”. But why does the Bible tell us to not even eat with a person who professes to be in Christ but lives habitually like he is not? 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 tells us to put the self-professed believers who are immoral, revilers, drunkards, idolaters, swindlers or covetous out of the church. And 2 Timothy 3 tells us to avoid people who are lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, and who hold to a form of godliness, but have denied its power.

Would it be an act of unforgiveness to decide not to eat with that hypocrite? That reviler? That person who holds to a form of godliness but denies its power? Would it be a lack of Christian love?

The answer to these questions is an absolute resounding “NO”. The instruction to not even eat with self-professed believers who are in fact hypocritically practicing these heinous sins are commands that we ought to follow. But how many Christians are following them?

When the Scriptures get dissected into lists of “what we do when such and such situation arises”, and when certain Scripture passages are formulaically applied to “this” problem or “that” problem, we end up with piecemeal for theology and doctrine.

(Isaiah 28:12-13)
He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,”
And, “Here is repose,”
but they would not listen.

So the word of the LORD to them [– to the Pharisaic type of teachers] will be,
order on order, order on order,
line on line, line on line,
a little here, a little there,
that they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive.

The Bible requires usage as a whole. So many problems and conflicts could be avoided if the Bible were actually used as it should be.

The forgiveness we are commanded to do as believers

I will differentiate two kinds of forgiveness here, the two kinds that believers are commanded to do. We will look at the third kind, divine judicial forgiveness, below.

There is a time to turn our abuser and all they have done to victimize us, over to the Lord, between ourselves and Him. We put it into God’s hands and leave the outcome of our abuser to our Saviour. In a sense, we forgive them by refusing to retaliate or take vengeance. But we do not do what the unwise church so often tells us to do: re-make relationship with the dangerous person.

One kind of forgiveness: Renouncing retaliation and vengeance. Christians can do this much more confidently than non-Christians, because we know that God will take care of the vengeance side in the end. We know that God has said, Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” (Romans 12:19, quoting Deut 32:35). So it is easier for us as Christians to forswear taking our own vengeance than it is for non-believers, especially those who believe that life ends when our physical bodies die.

Renunciation of vengeance generally also entails letting God take your hurt, and letting Him heal you to mitigate the adverse effects of the abuse. Many of us have found that this is an ongoing process, because the adverse effects are not all apparent at the beginning, and some memories of the abuse had been buried but later get triggered….the pain rises up in waves to the surface….there are lulls and there are surges….but it generally settles down over time, if there is no further abuse. You could call this process ‘psychological forgiveness’. I’m not classing psychological forgiveness as a fourth kind of forgiveness, because I believe it is entailed in the renunciation of vengeance. It may be thought of as a corollary to — or a subset — or the flipside of the coin — of the renunciation of vengeance.

Another kind of forgiveness: Reconciling in relationship with the person who abused us. In domestic abuse this is DANGEROUS because the abuser so seldom truly reforms in a way that lasts the distance. I call this ‘relational forgiveness’.

Why isn’t relational reconciliation the same as renouncing personal vengeance? Because relational reconciliation requires true repentance on the part of anyone, including the abuser. (And for the abuser, true repentance involves a lot of things — see the Checklist for Repentance.)

If the person who was abusive became TRULY repentant, if their reformation went to the core and was demonstrated steadfastly over time to be the real thing, then the abused person might safely choose, if they wished, to re-make the relationship. If that scenario were to eventuate, the first kind of forgiveness (renunciation of vengeance) would be necessary for both parties. But that would not prohibit the one who had suffered abuse from continuing to go through the process of psychological forgiveness described above. And if the repentance of the abuser was genuine, he would accept and have compassion for the waves of triggered remembrance and the processing of emotions which the abused person might still continue to experience as the relationship was being re-formed on healthy lines. In fact, if the person who had been abusive was intolerant of those emotions in the person who had been abused, that would indicate that the abuser’s repentance wasn’t genuine.

Too many Christians are being forced to reconcile with the unrepentant and wicked, which the Bible never commands us to do. We are commanded to do quite the opposite in fact (2 Tim 3:1-5. 1 Cor 5:11-13).

Because the abuser typically fails to truly repent, we do not reconcile relationally. All we can do is forswear taking vengeance — leave vengeance to God — and give God our pain asking Him to heal it. If we do this, we will be certainly able to welcome joyfully the true repentance of our abuser IF THE ABUSER WERE TO TRULY REPENT.

When Jesus was saying Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,He must have, in His human nature, been expressing the kind of forgiveness that is renunciation of personal vengeance. Implicitly, He also must have been asking His Father to bring those Roman soldiers to repentance and faith in Him as Son of God, so they would be forgiven.

Likewise, when Stephen’s last words were Lord, do not hold this sin against them!(Acts 7:60) he was implicitly asking God to bring those people to repentance and faith in Christ, so that they would not suffer eternal punishment for having unjustly stoned him.

And notice something about those two cases: both Jesus and Stephen were unable to escape the persecution. They were about to die. They had no way out. So there was no chance they would be needing to decide whether to reconcile in this temporal world with their abusers! The question of relational reconciliation (relational forgiveness) was not even on the table.

So why do people so glibly apply the example of Jesus and Stephen to victims of abuse who DO have a way of escaping from their abusers — and who, if they do escape, may well have many years ahead in which they can enjoy God and serve His kingdom without being under the thumb of the abuser?

Jesus, like us, would be able to joyfully greet any of those soldiers in Heaven: He would not hold their sin against them because, in order to be in Heaven, those soldiers would have come to repentance and saving faith. Stephen, like us, would be able to joyfully greet any of his stoners in Heaven: he wouldn’t hold their sin against them, because he would know those stoners must have come to repentance and saving faith.

The forgiveness that only God can do

In order to get to heaven you must receive the third kind of forgiveness: the forgiveness which only God can give and which can only be received by repentance unto saving faith in Christ. I call this ‘divine judicial forgiveness’. The scribes and Pharisees were talking about this kind of forgiveness when they said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21). This is the forgiveness which is offered in the Gospel:

(Luke 24:46-47)  ….Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

(Acts 2:38)  Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

(Acts 10:43)  Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.

(Ephesians 1:7)  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace

(1 John 1:9)  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Take home message

We are not being unforgiving by not reconciling with our abusers, because, almost to a man1, people who abuse their spouses do NOT truly repent. Forgiveness in its truest and purest form is only between true, faith-possessing Christians and God. It is not for the false professor or the lost.

1 Generic use of ‘man’.

I want to thank our reader IAmMyBeloved’s, who wrote the initial draft of this post which gave me inspiration to pick it up and develop it. And I want to acknowledge Stephen Tracy, from whose book Mending the Soul [Affiliate link] I first learned about the three kinds of forgiveness.

Note: John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained has been variously interpreted by theologians (link), so I didn’t address that verse in this post.

[January 14, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to January 14, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to January 14, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to January 14, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (January 14, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Further Reading

Is Leaving Room for the Vengeance of the Lord a Get out of Jail Free Card for the Wicked?

65 thoughts on “Three Kinds of Forgiveness”

  1. A wonderful compilation of all Scriptures taken together to explain and to clear up the confusion regarding forgiveness…. A subject that weighs so heavy on the heart of the abused and oppressed, the orphan and the widow. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME and ENERGY TO DEVELOP THIS POST.

  2. How ironic that Christians will tell a wife that unless she goes back and submits to all manner of cruelty and sin from a man calling himself her husband (in the name of “forgiveness”) that they will not fellowship with her (will not “forgive” her) until she does. They reserve the right or duty to “separate from sin” for themselves.

    1. Was just thinking about this! The woman who divorces her abuser is thrown out of the church, while the unrepentant, evil man is embraced.

      It is so sick.

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  3. I have read that Luke 23:34 (“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”) is not in the earliest manuscripts that have been found. It has been suggested that it was added (reason unknown) later by copywriters.

    1. UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


      I have not read that anywhere. I’ll alert Ps Jeff Crippen and Ps Sam Powell to your comment, so they can tell you whether what you have read is true.

    2. Yes, it’s written in the footnotes [Internet Archive link]1 that this portion of verse 34 does not occur in the oldest papyrus manuscript of Luke. So, I wonder who added it and why.

      Thank you, Barbara, for writing this post. It is very helpful.

      1[January 14, 2023: We added the link to the page containing the footnote from the New American Bible to which Abby is referring. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

    3. Anona – Bruce Metzger’s textual commentary [Internet Archive link]1 says that some people have suggested that the early church removed this prayer of Jesus because the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD would make it look like Jesus’ prayer to forgive the Jews had not been answered by the Father. However Metzger says this is not a good enough explanation as to why early and diverse textual witnesses do not have these words in them. He thinks that the prayer was not in the original Gospel of Luke.

      1[January 14, 2023: We added the link to a PDF of Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary On The Greek New Testament which contains the information Jeff Crippen quoted in his comment. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that PDF. Editors.]

    4. Excellent question, Anona. The passage that you mention is indeed omitted from a small minority of manuscripts, but it is far too well-attested in all the rest of them to be dismissed. Every scholar that I know of accepts it as genuine. The same prayer was repeated by Stephen as well. Since Luke wrote the book of Acts as a follow-up to his Gospel, this (Stephen’s dying prayer) could not have been an accident. Luke is showing how the Spirit of Christ abides in His church, bringing the same genuine compassion and love, even to enemies.

      It is far better to properly interpret, rather than seek to dismiss, as Barbara does [properly interpret] above.

      It is interesting to note, though, that Jesus doesn’t actually forgive them. He prays that the Father would forgive them. The distinction is crucial, and must be understood. Remember that God is One, eternally existing in three Persons. There are not three wills in God, but only one will. What this means is this: Those whom the Father forgives are the same ones for whom Christ died, who are the same ones in whom the Holy Spirit works faith and repentance. What Jesus (in His divine / human person) was praying for was for the faith, repentance, and new life of those who were treating Him so cruelly, leading to the Father’s forgiveness. This prayer was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2), when the men were cut to the heart, repented truly and were baptized. These were the same ones, Peter says, who had a part in crying out for His blood. Later, many of the priests and chief rulers were also converted. Jesus was not simply saying empty, meaningless platitudes. He was actually praying for salvation for the multitude who were acting in ignorance and unbelief.

      To apply this by saying, “Jesus forgave His abusers, and so should you” is a horrendous misapplication of Scripture, and flat out wrong. The proper application is this: We should pray that God would forgive those who have treated us horribly. We also should flee from the scorner, have nothing to do with wicked and abusive men, protect ourselves, stand up for victims, speak justice for the oppressed. And we CAN do all of this and at the same time, as Jesus and Stephen did, pray that the Father would forgive them. If the Father forgives, He also truly converts, brings repentance and faith, and gives a new heart — a heart that loves and sacrifices and lives in service to others. [Emphasis added by ACFJ Eds.]

      Stephen’s prayer was answered when Saul was converted and became Paul.

      There is much more to be said about what true repentance looks like, about how sometimes relationships are irretrievably broken, and that’s OK and not contrary to forgiveness, and how we stand up for justice as well as pray that God would be merciful, but all of those topics have been dealt with on this site as well as other [sites].

      Read Luke in conjunction with Acts. Acts is the sequel, showing the fulfillment of what was in Luke.
      Hope this helps.

  4. This is so rich in truth. Thank you, ACFJ, for posting this. I appreciate your dedication to organizing and untwisting Scripture in such a way that we can then defend ourselves more adequately.

  5. Barbara (and IamMyBeloved’s), this post is so helpful. I wish there was more teaching along this line….understanding Scripture in immediate context, and considering the message of the entire Bible.

    Speaking for myself, it is all too easy for me to read one sentence, or a tiny bit of Scripture and be gripped by the feeling that it carries a universal application. Especially what Jesus said on the cross:

    Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)

    they know not what they do

    How perfectly true, in context! The soldiers (volunteers or conscripted into the Roman army), were ignorant Gentiles merely doing their duty, what was required of them. It was their everyday job to execute criminals as ordered by the government. They also mocked and tormented Jesus (scourging), which I’ve read was typical treatment for a crucifixion death penalty.

    The soldiers knew nothing of the real, living God nor of the promised Messiah. They were just doing something they did every day: Executions. They didn’t know that they were killing the Son of God.

    On the other hand, the High Priest, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees etc., ALL KNEW exactly what they were doing and why. And Jesus made no such forgiveness pronouncement for them.

    (Luke 20:13-14 [NASB1995]) The owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance will be ours.’

    1. Song of Joy, thank you for pointing out that nuance! This passage came up in a recent discussion on forgiveness with my husband, and neither of us could quite figure out what Jesus meant when He said that. It makes so much more sense that He would be referring to the pagan Roman soldiers (little better than slaves), not the evil Pharisees who put Him to death!

  6. Perfect timing. I shared this. At least today I feel like tackling the issues without fear.
    It’s such an emotional roller-coaster that I have actually wondered if I’m bi-polar. I hate how this subject twists up your mind and body.

    I found a note saved from 2013. Advice from a pastor not understanding it was abuse. I didn’t understand it was abuse. These are his recommendations. I will be deleting this “helpful note” now.

    (the Pastor said:)

    Church is important, what’s best option. Spread sheet circle of churches, plus and minus. Be anxious for nothing. 1 Peter 3

    (He was telling me to get into a church. I guess he wasn’t listening to me because I was going to church. My h was wanting to home-church again, which was about to send me into a tail-spin.)

    Make sure it has a good Bible study for women. Don’t be as concerned about the label or church, find a mature older woman to pray and read the Scriptures with.

    (I was doing that already. Not sure he was listening. I was in a Women’s Bible Study, had a friend to pray with and another to vent to.)

    Here is his to-do list for me:

    1) First rule nothing negative about husband that is for Christ’s ears nobody else’s.

    (Normally this may be true?)

    2) When children ask why dad is on the computer so much say….”That’s dad’s choice, let’s show him how to prioritize.” Spend the time focused on us not him.

    (Worst ADVICE!!!!! It enabled the addiction.)

    3) Customer is always right

    (even when they are not)

    rejoice when right pray when not.

    (Ugh, reading these are a bit triggering for me….)

    4) Look for the mature woman Bible study to equip self with the tools necessary to become the woman God would have me become.

    (That one hurt.)

    5) When yelled at don’t defend self, say “I will try to do better”. Leave it at that.

    (Tears!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This DOES NOT WORK! It makes it sooo much worse!!!)

    6) Resist the dreaded feelings of unworthy to be loved and spent time with, pray don’t eat!

    (This was my own advice to myself. This didn’t work either.)

    1. 1) First rule nothing negative about husband that is for Christ’s ears nobody else’s.

      (Normally this maybe true?)


      4) Look for the mature woman Bible study to equip self with the tools necessary to become the woman God would have me become.

      (That one hurt.)

      —Of course it did! You told him about your husbands problem and he turned it into yours.

      None of this ‘advice’ looks helpful!! And number 5 is awful too.

  7. I got a little distracted last comment.

    And if the repentance of the abuser was genuine, he would accept and have compassion for the waves of triggered remembrance and the processing of emotions which the abused person might still continue to experience as the relationship was being re-formed on healthy lines. In fact, if the person who had been abusive was intolerant of those emotions in the person who had been abused, that would indicate that the abuser’s repentance wasn’t genuine.

    The IF statements in this paragraph stick out.

    I was told by the abuser that I either would or wouldn’t get over it but that he can’t do anything about that. It’s my choice.

    That just seemed harsh and not really remorseful to me. What do you think?

    1. YES! That is very harsh of your abuser to say that. His words were implying that the trauma you are suffering is not related to him at all….he wasn’t really the cause of it….he can’t do anything about helping you recover from it….he doesn’t have to make any amends to you for how he oppressed you, lied to you, hurt you, belittled you, crushed you, shredded you, repeatedly confused you, blamed you, then acted ‘nice’ again to make you even more confused about who he really is, etc.

      Him saying to you, “Either you will or won’t get over it but that I can’t do anything about that. It’s your choice”, is him washing his hands of all responsibility for how he has abused you.

      This is a typical and very cruel tactic used by abusers.

      1. ARRGH! The advice that pastor gave is Terrible. Atrocious. Horrendous.

        Every bit of it is wrong. Every bit of it is dangerous advice to give to a victim of domestic abuse.

  8. This makes sense to me and I can identify with it.

    Renunciation of vengeance generally also entails letting God take your hurt, and letting Him heal you to mitigate the adverse effects of the abuse. Many of us have found that this is an ongoing process, because the adverse effects are not all apparent at the beginning, and some memories of the abuse had been buried but later get triggered….the pain rises up in waves to the surface….there are lulls and there are surges….but it generally settles down over time, if there is no further abuse. You could call this process ‘psychological forgiveness’.

    It being an ongoing process….because the effects are not apparent….and it going away IF there is no further abuse.

    These ring true for me. And it helps me understand what I am going through and why I would be triggered and have these ups and downs.

    The settling over time sounds luxurious. And because of this post and a couple others it helps me to say with less fear and apprehension that I want to be separated to heal. If he is repenting the separation will help it to continue. And if he is not repentant then it’s already done for the best. This will not be the first time I’ve asked. There is a very real possibility it will happen this time. Counseling either way for me etc.

  9. Great post! It explains so well what people who have not experienced abuse do not understand. And how helpful this post is to victims who understand that relationship with their abusers is impossible, but still feel guilty due to the pressure by others to forgive.

    1. I hear you, Freeing Hope.

      but still feel guilty due to the pressure by others to forgive.

      Exactly. If you don’t forget as others direct you to do, demand of you, and / or expect you to do, then that supposedly shows what a terrible, bitter, vindictive person you are.

  10. This is an exceedingly valuable post. Thank you! It took me a long time to internalize these things that you write about because my abusers were my parents and I was afraid to violate the fifth commandment. I didn’t understand that I was not required to honor or stay in a relationship with unbelieving parents who are abusive and who are not Christians.

    Unfortunately staying in that relationship kept me “yoked” to all kinds of suffering because they never stopped hurting and exploiting me. It was killing me because I had to stuff all the constant and ongoing emotional injuries and manipulations and it was playing out dramatically in my physical health.

    I was 51 years old before I finally ended the relationship for good. I always thought that I would never be free until they both died. But the Lord set me free through coming to these understandings. And once I became free I regained my health. One interesting feature of the relationship that I learned is that my parents did not mellow out with age. They became increasingly demanding and sadistic.

    Thanks for your meaningful insights.

  11. I’m going to share this with my children, who are being told that they “need” to forgive their father, because they can then be a “witness” to him. It is NOT my children’s responsibility to be the Holy Spirit to their father….my STBX has sat in church for over 25 years…. He knows what he needs to do to have a relationship with Jesus….he’s just choosing not to….just like he’s chosen to have multiple affairs and flirtations over the length of our marriage!!

    1. Amen, Lonelywife!! H. and I had one meeting with our pastor, together….this pastor is a godly man who has actually believed what I have said about the marriage. He even has told me that if I need to divorce, he and the church will be there to support me.

      However, during one conversation, he too fell into the typical mindset of, “tell husband, what can he do to improve things?” (If he were really a Christian, the Holy Spirit would have shown him by now!)

      And I said to both of them, “H. is an intelligent person and he does not need me to tell him what is the right thing to do here. I have been asking for literally decades, for him to change particular things. He’s already been told 100 times.”

      So tired of the unrepentant abuser acting like they need help to understand. And I was not going to give him a checklist so he could make the feeblest attempt to check things off and then claim I have to forgive him now. Thanks to things I have learned here, and from Lundy Bancroft’s books, I knew not to fall for the request to give H. a list. Anyway, I am rambling, sorry.

      1. You are not rambling. You have actually articulated that very well. You are right. I have sat down with my H and literally taught him like he was my child and he was still deaf, dumb, and blind. I had to finally leave and go to written contact only. I had to finally realize that not only did I have to turn him over to the Lord or the tormentors (which ever he chooses) but that I did not have to live in it!

      2. BreatheAgain….thank you for your “rambling”….I liked it! 🙂 Yes, I did the “lists thing” once….before I knew he’d use it against me! UGH! Wish I’d have known how they love lists….just to prove how “good” they are being! And yes, isn’t it funny how these men can hold a full time job, follow instructions at work….but “need” their wives to tell them how to love them the right way. I’d laugh it it wasn’t so sad!
        My STBX has a new “lady” in his life now….so he really doesn’t care to pretend anymore….so that is good for me. I’m actually looking forward to being a single lady again!

      3. I have recently begun to realise that the lists I give him just get used against me as manipulation, so that he can put on a face of righteousness without actually changing. So I just refuse to engage now.

        I have been really struck by the story of Zacchaeus as I’ve been reading here. All it took was Jesus saying He was coming to Zacchaeus’ house. And Zacchaeus was repentant. No one did the emotional work for him, no one prompted him about what he should be doing. He already knew and was convicted of the wrong he had done, and off his own back he volunteered to not only go forward honestly, but make amends for all the cheating he had done. He gave half his possession to the poor (making up for the structural injustice he had been complicit with), and he said he would pay back four times the amount he had cheated from anybody. That was deeply personal, and would have taken a lot of effort as well as the actual money — he would have had to track down everyone he had cheated and personally repay 4x what he’d taken. He wasn’t just saying “I did this and I’m sorry”, but then carrying on living as he had been. He was also giving up the life he’d earned dishonestly, and giving himself to making amends.

        That’s real repentance. Not paying lip service to a vaguely acknowledged wrong, and then expecting everyone to pat you on the back and let you get on with life as usual. No. A truly repentant person must accept the depth of pain they have caused and not be defensive about it.

      4. Liz, like the change in Zacchaeus we have the flip side of this coin — Judas Iscariot — who lived with Jesus / God Himself for around 3 years(?) and STILL had a hard heart, stole money and allowed Satan to enter him (do we think he couldn’t have gone to Jesus to ask for help if he felt like he was entertaining these evil thoughts and feelings which allowed an opening for the evil one to come in?) which led to the ULTIMATE betrayal.

        So many perfect examples God shows us in His word that were often used by the church for the opposite (anti-)spirit for which they were intended.

  12. Do you guys know of any resources or anything that if someone just needs to talk or vent or be validated that they are in fact being psychologically abused, that they can go to? I’m just having thoughts where I’m starting to believe that maybe I’m in the wrong, questioning myself….in my mind I’m wondering, is it really me that is causing all of this?

    The glimmer of hope I have is that before I met him I was never this person I am now. No one else in my life treated me like this. Thank you….

    I have no one to talk to. I used to have my family but they gave up on me too. They only listened once and said I should leave, but don’t realize how hard that is when you don’t have enough money to do it. I work full time but it’s not enough to pay daycare for the children. I left the church I was attending because they never backed me up when I asked for help.

    I feel sorry for my husband. I look at him as a person and it’s hard for me to set the boundaries I need to in order to stop his psychological abuse from going further. I have made progress, but I get hoovered back in by him sometimes (I’ve started realizing that he has hoovered me and I am to the point now where I know what he’s up to).

    If I don’t give him what he wants he will tell me something he thinks I don’t want to hear, to see my reaction. He’ll tell me he’s going to church so that I will get upset because he knows the hell I’ve gone through but never says he understands. He says quite the opposite. My mind is fuzzy, I can’t think straight. He goes back and forth all the time, it’s just a whirlwind of confusion….

    [Section redacted because it contained identifying details.]

    I am always compassionate and understanding when he talks about what he goes through at work. I find myself not able to be mean to him….I just simply can’t.

    I really want validation on the sex issue though. I don’t want to have sex with him anymore because of how he uses it against me in our relationship. I just want to quit altogether. He always says it’s because I don’t want it that he can’t treat me kindly. But even when there was more sex he did not treat me kindly.

    I have picked up on more things though, the more I read about narcissism and psychopaths. He has an absence of the ability to empathize at all. [Several detailed examples redacted.]

    It’s been a struggle to separate including him in my thoughts and plans. I’ve found I can more easily do things when he is not around. I can get things done when he isn’t interfering. He constantly disrespects and steps over boundaries I’ve set.

    I just don’t know how to say I won’t be having sex anymore. [Recent incident redacted.]

    I find myself wanting to be a ray of sunshine to my children. I want to stop scowling or frowning. I see my kids look at me a lot trying to figure out my face. I used to smile a lot more. I want to be self-sufficient financially but I [don’t think I can….details redacted].

    1. Broken Not Shattered, we fully understand your desire to have someone to talk to vent and be validated. This site does this to some extent. I encourage you to contact your local Domestic Abuse Support Service (in the USA they may be called “Women’s Centres”). Hopefully their workers will have the time to hear you vent and they will certainly validate you.

      But whether or not you take up that option, I strongly urge you to read Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He Do That? [Affiliate link] I cannot emphasise this strongly enough — Lundy’s book will validate you! It will help you see through the fog and be less confused and thrown off balance by your abuser.

      I suggest that when your abuser makes a snide or false accusation about you, do not respond by asking him questions like, “Why do you say that to me?” Asking that kind of question of an abuser will only give him an opportunity to respond back with a yet more hurtful comment.

      We have a gift book offer for Lundy’s book and our books — we are happy to send you those books as gifts. Click here to find out about it.

      Venting can help, if you can find people to vent to safely who will believe you and help you come out of the fog. But my suggestion to you is that venting, while helpful in letting off steam, it is not by itself enough to develop internal strength and clarity of mind about the abuser’s tactics so as to be able to work out what you want to do to build a safer life for yourself and your kids.

      Reading Bancroft, and reading the posts on our FAQs page, I think will help you get stronger and clearer.

      Remember: Almost everything an abuser does in the family is calculated to help him maintain power and control over his targets. Abusers lie. They chronically lie. You do not have to believe what he says to you.

      1. Thank you, Barbara. I checked out the link. If there’s a Kindle version, I can download it to my phone. He has seen me reading other books about abuse, so I will leave the gift books for other women who really extremely need it. I also work so I have my own money.

      2. Thank you for the reminder about the lies. He’s very good at maintaining a face of innocence, to the point where I feel bad even writing that. As if I’m implying he’s guilty. After all the good things he does, like make breakfast in the morning or help with the kids. But then I’m reminded of the mean unnecessary things he says. [Anecdotes illustrating this redacted, to protect commenter from being identified. Eds.]

        I read a quote recently that said, “[Malignant] Narcissists don’t understand words. They understand consequences”. I’ve been learning how to separate myself from him as in, how I allow him to affect my feelings, my behavior, and my words. I’m learning that he doesn’t have a say-so over my life. If he doesn’t respect me, I don’t have to allow it to go any further.

      3. I’ve been learning how to separate myself from him as in, how I allow him to affect my feelings, my behavior, and my words. I’m learning that he doesn’t have a say-so over my life. If he doesn’t respect me, I don’t have to allow it to go any further.


        And btw, in your comment I added the word ‘malignant’ before ‘narcissist’ because that’s just my little peccadillo – I think it’s helpful to call them malignant narcissists, rather than simply narcissists. The word malignant points to how wicked, how nefarious, their mindset and behaviour is.

      4. Barbara, what do you think of this? Are these things typical? Last time we (h and I) had a talk (kind of recently) and I “explained” to him (now I know that “explaining” is something I shouldn’t do), he kept repeating that [details had to be redacted by Eds as it was too identifying]. No matter how I begged for him to be different, no matter how much I said that it wasn’t too late for us and for him to take the chance to change, he wouldn’t say yes [to changing]. [More details redacted.]

        When I asked him why he treats me the way he does, it always comes up that I’ve done something to hurt him, and every time it is something different. He said he just can’t get the negative things I’ve said out of his mind, (even if I’ve apologized, which I have for wrong things I’ve said). There’s been several times this has happened….I asked why he can’t let go of the things I’ve said I’m sorry for, and really meant I’m sorry….I truly was, because I didn’t realize it was so hurtful to him….or maybe he’s just milking these things….so he seems to bring up new things every so often as the reason.

        It seems so natural for him to be this way that it doesn’t seem he knows that he is doing it, but other times it is so blatant, that I know he knows. I feel so sorry for him….for the past couple years I just had so much hope that he wasn’t this person….that somehow there would be a way to get to the end of it….that there was hope or help. But even when I have stopped including others to help, even when I’ve gone to him myself, it just doesn’t help.

        How can this be that this person can’t grasp a simple concept? Why is it so hard. [….] I have done so many things for him….I’ve cared about him….but when the narcissistic treatment started and got worse, I just stopped being able to give my all….he doesn’t make me a better person….he inhibits me from growing as a person. Yet….he has caused me to grow at the same time because I’ve had to learn how to “be” in this situation.

      5. Broken Not Shattered, those things are typical of abusers. Abusers quite often say the kind of thing your abuser is saying to you.

        But please be aware that to edit your comment, put in paragraph breaks, and redact identifying material takes a lot of time for me and it’s time I don’t really have given the rest of my workload. I would ask you to try not to describe instances of abuse and exact conversations between you and your abuser. As the moderator here who does most of the tricky moderation, I ask you to take responsibility for not giving identifying details in your comments. And please use paragraph breaks — it makes a comment so much more easy to read!

        It seems so natural for him to be this way that it doesn’t seem he knows that he is doing it, but other times it is so blatant, that I know he knows….How can this be that this person can’t grasp a simple concept?

        It is so natural to him because he has this mindset deeply entrenched. In his mind, the relationship has to go his way about 90 to 95% of the time. That is what he deeply believes and that is what he CHOOSES to continue believing. And that fundamental belief is what he FIGHTS against having to give up.

        So please, I encourage you to cease thinking “How can this be that this person can’t grasp a simple concept?” and replace that thought with “He grasps that he needs to change, and he refuses to change.”

    2. I find myself not able to be mean to him

      You don’t have to be mean to someone to set a boundary. I’m not good at being vicious, and I think that’s probably ok. I don’t know that ‘mean’ is a quality I want to cultivate. But I can withdraw from someone entirely (even if the emotions take longer).

      There is nothing ‘mean’ about withdrawing, demanding better treatment or leaving. (Maybe you can’t leave yet (other people can probably give you better counsel on that) but you can start making plans).

      1. Yes, Barbara, I am sorry for giving personal details. I didn’t think of the time it takes you to edit. I don’t mean to….I try to keep it as general as possible. Thanks for replying.

        Lea, thanks also for your input. Yes, I know I don’t have to be mean, it just feels that way, probably because of his response, making me feel guilty. I am a person that has a hard time just giving up, but I am almost entirely emotionally exhausted. I’m doing a lot better now setting boundaries. I have faced some resistance, but when you’re tired, you’re tired….I have no energy to explain or defend myself. I just say “no” now. When he makes a comment, I just walk away, or do a quick eyebrow raise, and walk away.

    3. Broken but not Shattered,
      Your concern resonated with me. I also loved the times that my abuser was not around. Going back to the time I was still married to my abuser and confused about the physical connection (regarding sex — should I or shouldn’t I?).

      He was very good about amping up the abuse and drama towards me and the children especially WHEN he wanted sex.

      Of course I never wanted to comply because he was so cruel and invalidating towards me that I avoided taking showers and making myself look good and spent most of my time working hard to exhaust myself so at the end of the day he would hopefully leave me alone.

      Unfortunate for me, he had this chess game all figured out in his head….

      He KNEW that I was able to take alot of his threats and overt and covert abuse and still turn down his requests for sex.

      But he quickly figured out that he could target our children with verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, and I would soon crumble to his demands out of compassion for them. Abuse takes no prisioners….to get its way.

      Somehow back then I was able to disconnect myself enough to throw my body (like a fish to a seal) to him as a temporary stop to the abuse. But this only ADDED to the continuation of the problem. The abuse was rewarded — him getting his way through using these tactics..

      So for me it had to all end by me finally standing up and confronting his abuse towards me and the children and stopping the reward.

      Sometime after that my mind became clearer just by not allowing him to have anymore access to my body, until it ended in divorce quite some time later.

      I also had to put a dead [deadbolt] lock on my bedroom door so that I could get uninterrupted sleep. (Interupting sleep is another abuser’s tactic to wear down their target’s resolve.)

  13. My h is also intelligent. He keeps saying “I don’t know what to do” or “I don’t see it like you do”. So! I say “but you get it now that I’ve said it?” “Yes.” “Then you get it. You just don’t like it.”

    Constantly wanting the “to do” list from me.

    Read about abuse, Scriptures about abuse. Pray and pray. Go to another man that has raised his family and seek out prayer time and study and learn. My advice.

    I fall for the “give the list” all the time.

    1. Here is a post which talks about that: He Wants a List and He’s Checking it Twice: But it Won’t do Any Good!

      I encourage you not to fall into the ‘explaining trap’. That is the trap in which we think that if we just explain to the abuser what he is doing wrong and what he needs to change, he will GET IT. And when he doesn’t GET IT, we explain it again. And we keep trying to find more ways, better ways, to explain it. “If only I can find a way to explain it to him so that he understands….!” is the heart cry of the victim.

      But it is a trap — a trap set by the abuser. Abusers pretend that they just don’t understand. So the victim keeps trying to explain to him what he’s doing wrong, how she is feeling, why she feels that way, etc. etc. But the abuser DOES understand. He simply chooses to keep doing everything he is doing. He understands he is doing wrong and he likes doing wrong and he wants to keep doing it!

      So we encourage victims: Do not try to explain to you abuser what he needs to change. And I bet the victim has already explained it to the abuser many many times before….so why should the victim waste breath and energy explaining it again? That’s what the abuser wants the victim to keep doing, because all that explaining will make the victim even more exhausted….so it will make the victim easier to control. Therefore, don’t fall into the explaining trap!

  14. My pastor said I should always always forgive before God. Then it is up to God after that. But as we are before God we should always forgive.

    I was a disaster case before the Lord’s Supper a while back. I didn’t want to forgive and was struggling with the whole examination of self and realized I didn’t forgive him because when I told him I was offended my husband responded “I am not sorry. I meant it and you deserved it!”

    Ouchie ouch ouch. So….I was perplexed with the situation and called a week or so after the fact in tears as to whether or not I should take communion because of all of it.

      1. Thank you. I am going to go back and re-read all of it. I think my pastor, but because it’s been there longer in my mind.
        Re-reading, re-thinking it and trying to apply it to my situation.

        Thank you. 😊

  15. It’s like when I was chided by a church lady that I should have sat down with the pastor and explained my side as to why I needed to help a lady get to a domestic violence shelter, and then listen as he tells me why she needs to stay believing he would change. Why should I waste the precious minutes I had to get her to freedom explaining truths that he should already know but refuses to take to heart?

    He has been in seminars about abuse. He has received training from a licensed counselor in his church yet he still forces women into bondage saying they must stay with their abusers or they don’t have faith.

    He and the church lady will both pay for the bondage they inflict on innocent victims of domestic violence. Isaiah 58-59. It is just like you say about explaining. The pastor and the church lady are abusers too. They self-righteously glory in keeping people enslaved.

    1. Yes, they all want explanations….explanations that they want to explain away, so they can keep people enslaved, like you said. I am only just now finding out what Christian liberty is. Although they taught Christian liberty, they did not live it. Sure, they honored Him with their lips. Their actions, no. I really thought I was on the good team before….but things people said always set me on edge. Like the time I mentioned to one of the Elders that we should invite the people who worked next to our church, to come to church. His response, “Those kind of people won’t want to come”. I was floored….like, WHAT kind of people? People who can’t be brainwashed easily? Even the pastor said he knew God would bring people to the church, so they didn’t have to go looking. They let people come on their own accord, because they knew that if they stayed, they would be easily controlled, but trying to convince “THOSE kind of people” to come wouldn’t be as easy.

  16. I can’t believe that God loves me. I can’t believe He wants justice for me. All throughout history it’s the same story. Men raping, men killing, men conquering, worthless men high on pride and their own lust over and over and over again doing the exact same thing and women being told to be strong and trust God and have faith.

    But where does it say God cares about women? There is so much about men, it’s obvious God cares about men because He gave them the church, He said they could lead it, even though the first thing they did was put themselves above women.

    You want to talk about love, forgiveness and mercy, well women have this naturally, and all God can do is spit on us and sit by as once again these monster animals known as men create hell on earth.

    And all you can say is have faith but God made it perfectly clear over all of history that He thinks these disgusting monsters should be His representative fatigues [figures?] on earth. When women are the ones who can truly act and live the faith, God chooses them. He can’t love me if He can give men visions and grace but couldn’t once be bothered to tell them that women should be leading them because we are the ones forgiving men who sin against us while men can’t even be decent human beings.

    I know not all men are bad but it’s just so plain and obvious that the violence comes from them, almost every single time, they are the ones hurting other people and God gives them the power.

    God truly cannot be bothered to save women and I can’t have faith that He ever will care when over and over and over He just puts men first. And I don’t think God should blame me for just realizing that He truly is a God for men and that everything His churches have done confirms it.

    I really want to have faith but I just can’t.

    1. Dear Hurting,

      I invite you to watch this YouTube presentation of mine – The Levite’s Concubine. I believe that the story in the Bible of the Levite’s Concubine is the best ever case study of domestic abuse and how abusers enlist allies.

      I also believe that God and His Bible does honour and value women and does hold men who mistreat women accountable. The problem is that most people, particularly many male religious leaders, have misinterpreted the Bible and are seeing it in a biased way. I believe that the problem is not in the Bible or in God’s view of women. I believe the problem is in how the Bible has been interpreted.

      On this site we are doing our best to expose and refute all the false and biased interpretations which have enabled abuse.

      I was glad to read that you know not all men are bad. At this site, we are not anti-men, we are anti-injustice. Our site is not a “Women’s Rights Movement” — it is a “Victims’ Rights Movement” (see this post). We are against all abuse, and our mission is to call out the ways churches are mistreating and misjudging victims of abuse, particularly intimate-partner abuse.

      I hope you find my Levite’s Concubine video a breath of fresh air. And I hope you keep coming back to this blog. 🙂

      We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog. It looks like you are well aware of safety issues in cyberspace, but there are other things on that page which may be useful to you.

      Btw, I didn’t edit your comment much because I respect the anger that you were expressing, but in future if you use words like ‘monsters’ to describe men, we may edit out those words or modify them a bit. We moderate all comments on this blog and we sometimes remove or change the wording of a comment to protect our readers, to prevent myths being recycled, or to help us all communicate respectfully together. I hope you understand. Some of our readers here are men who have been abused by their wives. We don’t want them to feel they are being denigrated.

    2. Dear Hurting, I have thought many times also that a great percentage of men are abusive. My husband certainly has been. But then I think of my dad. He was a good man and a good father. I am thankful to God every time I think of my dad.

      I encourage you to read John chapter 14. Especially verse 9 where Jesus says —

      ….He who has seen Me has seen the Father….

      John 1:14 says —

      And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. [NASB1977]

      Please read the Gospels and note the way Jesus treated His mother, Martha and her sister Mary, and other women. He always had compassion and met them in their needs. And remember their love for Him. They were the first ones to come to Jesus’ tomb and find that He had been raised from the dead.

      So you see Jesus, who is Immanuel, God with us, loves all who come to Him seeking the salvation that only He can provide — both men and women.

      I don’t have an answer to why so many men are abusive except to say that there is a lot of sin in the world, but I am confident that God loves me as His precious child because I have trusted in His Son Jesus Christ as my Savior. This is a love that you can know also if you seek Him with all your heart.

      And remember, someday the Lord Jesus will judge those who are not saved and cast them into hell forever. He will make all things just and right. Every knee will bow before Him.

      1. Dear Hurting, I can point to two good men here at this blog. Pastor Crippen and Pastor Powell. Both are trying to figure out the truth and follow it. Both believe in justice as the Bible speaks of justice. Both are trying to teach about the devastating effects of abuse and how the church is wrong to pressure victims to accept it. I know here at this blog they mainly speak of women in abusive marriages but personally, my abusers are women. I guess that my point is that there are good men out there. I’ll pray that you find one in your life.

  17. A relative of mine just posted on his FB page a message about “forgiveness”, “70 x 7”, “if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins”, etc.

    I believe it to be directed at me as he believes I have done the wrong thing in leaving my abusive husband.

    He so just doesn’t get it.

    1. Hi, dear sister. I edited your comment a bit to make it less identifying. If your relative or your abuser were to read your comment, we wouldn’t want them to be able to identify you.

      Welcome to the blog, and I love your screen name! We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

  18. I know this blog post is a couple years old, but I would like to add this:

    I was reading my Bible a couple days ago and thought about something. With all the “interpretations” surrounding forgiveness, something came to mind. When a person accepts Christ, they have to be truly sorry for their sin and must be truly repentant or else God won’t forgive their sin. They cannot be nonchalant about it. So concerning abusers, God does not forgive the abuse. And too often an abuser will give just enough of an “apology” to reel you back in (a tactic I believe is called “hoovering”) if they can sense that they are losing their power and control over you. God does not forgive the sin of abuse. There were plenty of people in the Bible that God did not forgive because either they never repented and asked forgiveness or if they did, they were not truly sorry and therefore, did not truly repent.

    Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. (Luke 17:3 KJV)

    Abusers want to BE God. They are very hard to please and don’t like to be inconvenienced AT ALL. God not only does not mind inconvenience, it’s also not hard to please Him. So if God can be inconvenienced and it [does] not tick Him off, and He can be pleased very readily, what does that say about an abuser?

    1 John 1:9 says:

    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

    And I know this refers to saved people, but it would apply here as well, 2 Chronicles 7:14:

    If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

    Considering that abusers want to be above God and that God does not forgive because they aren’t truly sorry and do not truly repent, then we are not required to forgive them either.

    Usually abusers are only sorry they got caught, they are not sorry for what they did. And if they say they repented, do not take their word for it. If they say they have changed, don’t believe them. If they INSIST that you forgive them, God does not require you to, so don’t require it of yourself.

    Every human that dies without having accepted Christ was not forgiven of their sin by God. God does not require a victim to forgive someone that He Himself has not forgiven.

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