100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Would You Even Forgive a Pedophile?

There is a certain man I often visit who likes to discuss matters of faith with me. I visited him recently and he asked me whether we should always forgive others, even when they've done something terrible, and if they're not even sorry for it. I told him that forgiveness has no limits. He then asked me more specifically... "Would you forgive a pedophile who had abused your son?" This is a tough question; pedophilia has got to be the worst offense possible! I hear that pedophiles are even hated by all the other prisoners in jail. Could I even forgive such a person?

Christ commanded us to forgive, and there should be no limit to our forgiveness. Jesus illustrated this in a parable (Matthew 18); a man who owed some enormous amount of money (in the millions, say) was forgiven his debt, but then refused to forgive one who owed him a small debt. The man who forgave the large debt was furious; how dare this man withhold forgiveness of such a small debt when he had just been forgiven millions? So it is with us; since Christ has forgiven us of all our sins against Him, how can we withhold forgiveness from anyone? Consider it this way... God forgives every sin, even pedophilia. And if Christ can forgive a pedophile, who am I to withhold forgiveness? "A servant is not greater than his master". Jesus clarifies this parable in saying that unless we are forgiving of others, God won't be forgiving of us. This is because it demonstrates that we are not "born of the Spirit", for the fruit of the Spirit is love, and forgiveness follows love. (See #51: What is the unforgivable sin?)

Forgiveness aims to restore the relationship between the offender and the offended. In the case of God and Man, God forgives but we must repent, which is the natural result of accepting forgiveness. The relationship is not repaired if God forgives only but we remain unrepentant toward Him. Now imagine the pedophile who thinks he can take advantage of my forgiving nature - he wants to sexually abuse my son expecting that I'll just forgive him and our relationship will be as though it never happened. But if a man intended to abuse my son, what good is it whether I forgive him or not; he doesn't care for our relationship at all. The expectation of future forgiveness of sins should keep us from committing those sins in the first place. And if I forgive him it is because I, at least, do intend to maintain a relationship between us. But what kind of a relationship do I want from a man who has sexually abused my son? ...

Earlier in Matthew 18, before the parable on forgiveness is told, Jesus tells His disciples:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

When Peter hears this, he understands that it has to do with forgiveness. He asks "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 times seven." Again, seventy times seven is a way of saying "there is no limit". As 1 Corinthians 13:5 says in the NIV translation "love keeps no record of wrongs." By contrast, unforgiveness and hatred are inseparably linked. In as much as love should abound in us, so should forgiveness. In the passage above, it's saying that when your brother sins against you, you should seek to bring him to repentance (ie to "gain your brother"). Forgiveness should have already taken place on your part. This is in the context of the Church where the offender professes to be a Christian. But if you've sought repentance diligently and they still won't repent, we "let him be as a Gentile and a tax collector". That is to say, we come to the conclusion that they're not genuine Christians. (You have to consider the Jewish audience Jesus is speaking to here, where "Gentile" stands for anyone outside the faith.) But how do we treat people outside the faith? We seek to lead them to Christ! This is not where we find the limit to our forgiveness, as it may sound to some readers. This is as I explained to my friend; through forgiveness I am able to carry on loving that person, and seeking to bring them to Christ. "If someone abused my child," I explained, "I would feel so much compassion toward them... they are so lost and in need of Christ!" This is the kind of relationship I would still want with the man who abused my son. Forgiveness emerges out of the character of love, and especially Christ-like love which even loves one's enemies. And if I did forgive a pedophile, it would not be inconsistent for me to turn him over to the police in the interests of protecting my son or other children from further abuse. It would also be out of love in an attempt to help the man himself.

Now in thinking about all this, I feel that there's something clearly lacking... it's all hypothetical. I can say I'd forgive a man who sexually abused my son as much as I like, but even I have to wonder; How would I really feel? What would I really do? And so I tried to think of a time in my life when I really did forgive in spite of a grievous offense. And after some time of self-reflection, I discovered something wonderful. I realized that I couldn't really track down any feelings of being horribly offended by anyone, precisely because I had forgiven them! Forgiveness repairs relationships, after all. But I came up with this... Trying to step outside of my own mind, I think that by rights I probably should be resentful of my mother. My mother used to ridicule and mock me all the time. It was, one might argue, a form of abuse. I do remember hating her as a teenager, and even into my twenties, before I gave my life to Christ. But God has given me a forgiving heart. We can forgive whether the offender is repentant or not; my mother wouldn't even know she'd done anything wrong, let alone repent of it! Yet because I forgave her in my heart there is no hatred or resentment. Some will probably say, "Well, maybe you've just grown up and matured?" And maybe my mother's offense wasn't as serious as sexual abuse... but at least consider how many adults are still resentful of their parents and hold grudges against them for a similar childhood experience. As this friend of mine and I were discussing forgiveness, he shared that one person in his life that he could never forgive was his father. For what offense, I don't know. But it's all too common for children to become estranged from their parents through unforgiveness. Yet Christ gives us the power to forgive because He has forgiven us, and is ready to forgive still.

"pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:28)


  1. If anyone did something like that to my kids I'd do what I feel just, which I don't think could be typed here, suffice to say they wouldn't molest any kids after I'm done with them.

    I'm acting that way out of intent and for me, whilst I realise it could mean that I wouldn't get into heaven, I'd make sure that on Earth that I'd be doing what God isn't, and that's by taken these child molestors out one at a time; God may forgive them, but I will not.

    1. If a child molester is caught they generally do time in jail, whereas your sense of justice demands... well, you didn't say, but mutilation, perhaps? Or death? Interestingly, I think that your sense of justice is actually more in line with God's than the jail system. We know from the Law of Moses that the death penalty was applied to various sins, including sexual sins like incest. According to God's perfect justice, however, child molesters suffer far worse than death... an eternity in hell. But on Earth, the Bible would teach us not to take justice into our own hands but delegate that to the state; and we certainly ought to turn paedophiles over to the authorities. And if the state won't execute justice, we can at least be assured that God will have His day.

      However, even the sin of paedophilia, like any other, can be forgiven by God. If a former paedophile repents as a result of faith in Christ, we ought to forgive them because Christ has also. And of course that's hard to do... when the disciples heard Jesus telling them essentially this same thing, their immediate response was "Lord, increase our faith!" (Luke 17:1-5)

  2. Kind and compassionate words are so rare that living for many p. is daily torment. People with this sexuality, even if they have never acted on their romantic feelings and physical attractions, are completely voiceless and get these kinds of messages more often:
    “Kill all those dam freaks by setting them on fire and then watch them writhe in utter AGONY”
    “Someone who hurts a child does not derserve to continue living. We should limit the life span of the pedophile to a non existance. After snuffing out the million or so of deviates, the market should dry up.”

    And this kind of treatment – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZmuXKNFIkM

    now even concentration camps – see http://www.counterpunch.org/2006/03/04/scapegoats-and-shunning/

    So no wonder some categories of pedophiles are up to 183 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population –

    Many such people (exclusive and non-exclusive pedophiles and hebephiles) have done good things and have contributed to society through art, literature, philosophy, social activism. They were not monsters. People like Socrates, Plato, Sappho, Phidias, Donatello, Sa’di, Omar Khayam, Abu Nuwas, Lope de Vega, Novalis, Goethe, Lord Byron, Walt Whitman, John Ruskin, Ernest Dowson, Andre Gide, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, Paul Verlaine, Stephane Mallarme, Paul Gauguin, W.H. Auden, Wilfred Owen, T.E. Lawrence, T.H. White, Paul Eluard, Paul Goodman, William Carlos Williams, Odysseus Elytis, Benjamin Britten, Tschaikovsky, Proust, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Gandhi, Allen Ginsberg…..

    If that surprises you, these studies about the prevalence of pedophilic attractions among men (most of whom maybe manage to deny and repress them) are interesting:

    Hall, G.C.N., Hirschman, R., & Oliver, L.L., “Sexual Arousal and Arousability to Pedophilic Stimuli in a Community Sample of Normal Men,” Behavior Therapy, vol. 26, 1995, pp. 681-694.
    Hall and colleagues describe their finding that according to both self-reports and physiological measurements, over 25% of the men in their sample of volunteers were sexually aroused by pre-pubescent girls at a level equal to or greater than their arousal to adult women.

    Smiljanich, K. & Briere, J., “Self-reported sexual interest in children: Sex differences and psychosocial correlates in a university sample,” Violence & Victims, vol. 11, no. 1, 1996, pp. 39-50.
    Kathy Smiljanich and John Briere report that 22% of their sample of male college students admitted some attraction to children (although the word child was not defined). Four percent admitted having a sexual fantasy involving a child in the past year, and 3% admitted they might have sex with a child if they were assured it would not be detected or punished.
    So, we are talking about many millions of people. And they may be your brothers, sisters, your father, your mother, your son or your daughter. People usually discover their sexuality in early puberty. Compassion and nonviolence are better than hatred.

    P.S. – Please read the entire very powerful article The Political Use and Abuse of the “Pedophile” on the bottom of this website – http://uryourstory.org/index.php/articles

    1. Let me be clear, just for the record, that I in no way condone pedophilia, nor excuse it, nor sympathise with it. In my view, which I believe to be in line with Scripture, is that pedophilia is a sickness; a corruption of the way we are supposed to be. We ought to hate such sin in every way. But there is a call for compassion in so far as it is a sickness. We must not excuse it as something natural or something that a person cannot help. The sinful thoughts and feelings that we have are indeed something we cannot help; they stem from, and are a reflection of our sinful nature. But we can capture such thoughts and reject them, identifying them as something that ought not to belong in us. We must turn away from them immediately. Thus there is no excuse for the pedophile. Nevertheless, should we fall victim to such a crime, I believe that the Bible would teach us forgiveness even toward such an evil as this. "Vengence is mine" declares the Lord, and justice will ultimately come according to what we deserve. But who's to say that thr pedophile may not, in time to come, repent and find faith in Christ? This is what we hope for, and show to be true by our forgiveness, for this is a better outcome for them than if we destroy them by taking vengence into our own hands. But if they will not repent, then they are in God's hands, and the justice they receive from Him will be far more perfect than we could ever deliver ourselves.