Thread ID: 5 At 4/1/2008 6:15:45 PM Alistair wrote:

If a man rapes a woman and gloats over it in jail and says he would do it again, does the woman have to forgive him.


Mike Augros Answers

Authentic Christian doctrine is in many ways difficult to understand and difficult to live, because it runs contrary to so many of our human inclinations. It is true that Christ said his yoke is sweet and his burden light, but one should not conclude that the Christian life is therefore easy without qualification. The yoke is “sweet” by comparison to the yoke of sin, and the burden is “light” compared to the burden of sin.

The yoke of sin is bitter, since (1) in serving our sinful desires, they delight us less and less as we continue in them, and since (2) the longer we obey our sinful desires, the less able we are to do what is truly good for ourselves and to escape our sin, and since (3) the work we do in sinning we do all by ourselves (without the divine assistance), and since (4) the ultimate reward for our sin is death and damnation: “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) The burden of sin is heavy, too, since it weighs on the conscience, and the longer one continues in sin, the heavier one’s debt for sin becomes.

By contrast, the yoke of Christ is sweet, since (1) we delight more in serving him the more we persevere in serving him , and since (2) we become more and more capable of imitating him the longer we persevere in imitating him, and since (3) we do not serve Christ alone but with the help of Christ himself (Jn 15:5 “Apart from me you can do nothing”), and since (4) the ultimate reward for following Christ is everlasting life, the goodness of which infinitely outweighs any labor we undertake and any sacrifice we make and any suffering we undergo to arrive at it (Cf. Philippians 3:8, 2 Machabees 7:12). And the burden of Christ is light, since the more we carry it the lighter our conscience becomes.

Nevertheless, by comparison to human power, Christ’s doctrine is not only difficult to live and believe, but impossible: “With men, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). And while Christ promised to make it possible for us to follow him, he never promised to make it pleasing to our senses or emotions (or even to make it fully satisfying to our understanding). Hence his burden is still rightly called a “cross.”

Among the Christian commandments, the one which is perhaps most obviously a “cross” is Christ’s commandment to love our enemies. Unlike the celibate life, which Christ himself says is not for everyone, but is a better way (as St. Paul also says), and hence is a counsel and not a precept, “Love your enemies” is a precept. Hence we read:

“Love your enemies.” (Lk 6:35)

“Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute you and calumniate you.” (Mt 5:44)

“If your enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink.” (Ro 12:20)

Christ taught this doctrine not only in word, but also by example. He prayed for the Father to forgive those who were crucifying him and taunting him as he died. He healed the ear of the servant of the high priest. And he came in the flesh to teach and heal those who had offended his Father, and to reconcile them to God and to offer them perfect and everlasting joy with him in his own heavenly home.

And why must we imitate Christ in this particular way in order to please God? Why must we love our enemies?

(1) Because a loving son tries to imitate his father as much as possible. But God loved us even while we were his enemies. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son; much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Ro 5:10 & 5:8). “Love your enemies ... and you shall be sons of the Highest, for he is kind to the unthankful and to the wicked.” (Lk 6:35) Hence, to be sons of God, and be like him, we must also love our enemies.

(2) Because a loving son loves those whom his father loves. But God loves all men, and desires the salvation of all: “Who will have all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), “There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine who do not need to repent” (Lk 15:7), “As I live, saith the Lord God, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live” (Ezechiel 33:11).

(3) Because he who finds sins against God forgivable, but sins against himself unforgivable, loves himself more than God. But anyone who will not forgive his neighbor’s offenses against himself finds those sins against himself unforgivable—and yet, if he wishes to get to heaven, he must also find his own sins against God to be forgivable. Hence he loves himself more than God. And therefore he is not worthy of God. “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors ... For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.” (Mt 6:12-15) “Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt ... shouldst you not then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant?” (Mt 18:32-33)

People often wonder exactly what is required of us when we are told to forgive our enemy and to love him. Does a woman have to forgive her rapist who has no remorse and taunts her? Does a father have to forgive his son’s murderer, who has no remorse and who enjoys the misery he has caused the father and who has escaped the law? Does the victim of a crime have to hope that the criminal never gets caught or punished? Do we have to offer our forgiveness to someone who does not desire it?

The basic requirement is not to desire that one’s enemy die in his sins and go to hell. That is already an act of forgiveness.

But Christ tells us to pray for our enemy, too, that is, for his conversion and salvation. Then we must do this—and doing so is a particularly good way to be certain that we are not wishing for his damnation (and a good rule of thumb is to persevere in that prayer so long as one feels temptations to hatred). We must not wish that our life in heaven will free us from any individual person we meet, whatever that person might do to us. It is right to desire to be free from suffering, from unhappiness, from loss, and from the horror and ugliness of sin and crime. But to say to oneself “If that person goes to heaven, then heaven is a place I don’t want to be,” is to sin. God himself, after all, has populated heaven with all his own former enemies. If we cannot stomach the idea of living forever in happiness with those who have wronged us in this life, however grievously, then we have set up an obstacle to our own entry into everlasting life.

So much for what is required by this commandment to love and forgive our enemy and why. Now a few words about what is not intended in this commandment.

(1) Must we have good feelings toward our neighbor? Must we enjoy praying for him? Must we have good feelings about it? Christ, when he prayed for his enemies on the cross, did not seem to be enjoying himself, and took no immediate pleasure in the company of his persecutors. Then neither are we under any obligation to enjoy the presence of those that continue to injure us and insult us—in fact, that would seem to involve a contradiction—although we may enjoy the thought of their conversion and repentance. Similarly, we are commanded to fast and make sacrifices—but we are not commanded to enjoy them in a way that engages our emotions and our capacity for sense pleasure. We can, however, and should, derive some kind of spiritual satisfaction from knowing that when we love our enemies we are behaving like Christ, and that we are doing something painful to ourselves for his sake. On the other hand, while we do not have full control over our feelings and our natural capacity for anger, to the extent that we do have control, we must not nourish our anger toward our enemy, by choosing to hold a grudge or deliberately bringing our thoughts back again and again to the wrong he has done us. “Be angry and sin not, let not the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). Christ himself was angry on more than one occasion, and certainly without sin (Mk 3:5).

(2) The commandment to love one’s enemy does not require us in all cases to forego seeking restitution. If a burglar steals half my silverware and is caught by the police, I have a right to expect my silverware to be returned. If, on the other hand, I see that the burglar is a thief out of a kind of necessity, and take pity on him, or if I see that an act of kindness will be likely to turn him around (as in the case of the hero of Les Miserables), then I might let him keep what he took, and give him the other half of my silverware besides. That is not a general requirement of Christian charity, however, but is (generally speaking) supererogatory.

(3) The commandment to love one’s enemy does not require us to wish that he escape all earthly punishment. It would mean the end of civilization were we to do away with our justice system, for example. Christ does not command us to be doormats, then. In fact, although he says we must “turn the other cheek,” he means not that we should always open ourselves up to further abuse, but that we must be ready to suffer more at the hands of our enemies when Christian prudence dictates that this is wise and best. Christ himself, when one of his persecutors strikes him, chooses instead to defend himself, saying “For which of my good deeds have you struck me?”

(4) The commandment to love one’s enemy certainly does not require us to trust him, or to confer upon him the same privileges and access to our lives that we give to our friends.

(5) The commandment to love one’s enemy, while it obliges us to forgive his wrongs in the sense of not desiring his damnation, does not generally oblige us to express our forgiveness to him (unless he acknowledges his wrong and asks our forgiveness).

One might wonder whether we are obliged, in Christian charity, to forgive those who have offended us even when they are unrepentant and do not seek our forgiveness. In the gospel of Luke (17:3-4), Christ says “If your brother sin against you, reprove him: and if he do penance, forgive him. And if he sin against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day be converted to you, saying, I repent; forgive him”—all of which makes it sound as though the obligation to forgive is contingent upon the request for forgiveness.

To understand whether this is the case or not, some distinctions are necessary. One might begin by asking what it means to “forgive.” Forgiving is always done by a person who has been the victim of some (real or perceived) injustice, and forgiveness is given to the person or persons who have committed the injustice. But there are two things to consider in the offended person which he might let go or else hold on to: (1) his feelings toward the offender, resulting from the offense, and (2) his demand for justice to be brought down upon the offender. Sometimes by “forgive” we mean letting go of one of these, sometimes we mean the other, and sometimes we mean both.

And one might further distinguish among the feelings caused by an injustice, depending upon the kind of relationship existing between the offender and the offended. For example, anger and resentment are common results of an offense, hatred sometimes ensues, and if the offender and offended had a relationship prior to the offense, then there might also be a loss of affection or a loss of trust or a severing of the friendship or relationship. Hence for a wife to “forgive” her husband for committing adultery can mean that she has stopped feeling anger toward him, although she has not yet been fully restored to her former affection for him; or, more fully, it might mean she feels again her former affection for him, although she does not yet fully trust him; or, more fully still, it might mean that things between them have returned to the way they used to be prior to the adultery. But for a woman to “forgive” a thief for stealing from her may not mean returning to any former feelings for him, or any former trust in him, if (for example) she did not know him prior to the theft. Affective forgiveness, in that case, would mean only ceasing to be angry with the thief. (Presumably, in the passage from Luke quoted above, Christ is speaking about forgiving someone with whom we have some kind of special relationship, since the passage is about forgiving our “brother,” not our “enemy.” In that case, to “forgive” means to go back, to some extent, to the ways things were in one’s affections and interactions with the other person prior to their offense.)

And one might further distinguish among the ways one can let go of the demand for justice. One might never make the demand at all, although one was contemplating it in the beginning. Or one might demand restitution, but not punishment—for instance, if I tell a thief I will not report him to the police if he simply returns to me what he took.

Well, then, are we obliged to “forgive” our brother even when he does not ask our forgiveness, or not?

If “forgive” means “cease to hate” or “refrain from hating,” then we are indeed obliged to forgive every wrong done to us, whether the wrongdoer desires forgiveness or not—that is, whether the wrongdoer acknowledges his wrongdoing or not, and whether he wishes us to stop hating him or not. We must also not deliberately choose to hold onto anger, as said above.

If “forgive” means “to return to former affection,” we are obliged to do this only when forgiveness is sought by our offending brother. In some cases, where there is no repentance, it might indeed be wrong or foolish to attempt to live as though no wrong had been done—for example, for a woman to continue to live with a husband who continues to abuse her and her children. Also, where the nature of the affection is such that it would of itself recall or refresh the offense, there is not always an obligation to return to it even if the offender repents—for example, a wife whose husband has been caught in adultery is under no obligation to resume sexual intercourse with him. To do so may be in many cases advisable and desirable, but it is not simply a matter of general obligation.

If “forgive” means “to return to former trust or privileges,” we are not generally obliged to do this even when forgiveness is sought by our offending brother, although we might (depending on the offense and the circumstances) be obliged to give our brother a chance to earn back our trust. For example, if my friend lies to me once and repents, depending on the nature of the friendship and of the lie, I might be obliged in Christian charity to let it go, and to trust him again, or else to give him the opportunity to prove his trustworthiness. But if an employee of mine molests my child, although I must not desire his damnation, and I should pray for him, I am under no obligation to retain him as my employee. Nor am I obliged to trust him alone with my child ever again; in fact, I am obliged not to.

If “forgive” means “to cease demanding justice” (whether punishment or restitution), then one ought to distinguish between divine justice and earthly justice. We are not generally obliged to refrain from demanding earthly justice, and in many cases we are obliged to pursue it. But if we wish others who sin against us to be made by God to pay for their sins, and yet we do not wish to pay for our own sins but to obtain the mercy of God, we become unfit to receive the divine mercy ourselves. And yet we are all sinners, so we must all desire the mercy of God for ourselves. Similarly, if we were earthly criminals, we would not be right to demand that justice be done to those committing the same crimes against us which we have committed against others unless we willed the same punishment for ourselves.

This last point leads to a further question: what are we to make of the cries of the saints for vengeance? In the book of Revelation, John sees the souls of the martyrs: “And they cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord (holy and true) will you not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given to every one of them; and it was said to them that they should rest for a little time, till their fellow servants, and their brethren, who are to be slain, even as they, should be filled up.” (Rev 6:10-11) Even when we are commanded to treat our enemies well, there sometimes seems to be an underlying note of vindictiveness: “If thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink. For, doing this, you shall heap coals of fire upon his head” (Rom 12:20).

It cannot be that the souls of the martyrs, as soon as they reach heaven, beg God to kill and damn those who martyred them. For they desire the salvation of every soul on earth, even as God does, with whom they are perfectly united. Are we to imagine that St. Stephen, upon entry into heaven, asked God to kill and damn the soon-to-be St. Paul, who had consented to his death? But this itself suggests a way to understand the text quoted from Revelation. St. Paul himself was later converted to Christ and martyred, and hence St. Stephen may be said to have gotten his “revenge” upon St. Paul. And so it is with all the enemies of the saints—either they will in the end repent, and regret what they have done, and fear for their souls, and be converted to God and, in a sense, be converted to the saints whom they persecuted, or else they will die impenitent and be damned. Sometimes forgiveness (and in general good treatment of one’s enemy) itself is called “the vengeance of the saints” because it obliges the offender that much more to the saint.

Besides, this speech is very likely attributed to the souls of the martyrs as a kind of figure, even as the blood of Abel is made to speak: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the earth.” (Gen 4:10) Hence the true sense of the passage from Revelation may be that the very nature of the injustice done to the martyrs demands to be addressed by the divine justice, and much of that injustice is done by those who will never repent of their murder, and yet God permits them to live for a time, before calling them to judgment.

The reason given for the divine patience is that time must continue until the number of martyrs is completed. This suggests that the full justice of God will not be brought down upon the impenitent persecutors of the Church until the end of time, and hence it must be this which the martyrs are asking for. But impenitent persecutors, upon their death, are privately judged and condemned. So what further do the martyrs require? A general and public judgment, so that the whole world might see the injustice that was done to them, so that everyone might see the injustice of the persecutors and how it was redressed by the divine justice. And since it is probable that the blessed see the damned even now (as the rich man in hell could see Abraham and Lazarus), the martyrs may be taken to be asking for the divine justice to be brought to bear, in a public manner, on the damned who have persecuted them. But we, so long as we live, cannot rightly pray that those who persecute us be publicly damned by God, since we do not know whether they might be among the elect.

On the other hand, once it is made known to us that someone is in hell (e.g. Lucifer), we cannot rightly wish or pray for his salvation, but must consent to the damnation and call it just. God offers his forgiveness to sinners and to his enemies and tolerates their wickedness, but this is only for a season. There comes a time when every soul is called to account for itself, whether it is repentant or stubborn in sin, and if it be stubborn in sin, God will cut off that soul from any share in eternal life. When Christ’s kingdom is fully established, God can no longer permit his enemies to run free and to torture his faithful ones. Hence “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:25) “Sit on my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool” (Heb 1:13), “But this man offering one sacrifice for sin, forever sits on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting, until his enemies be made his footstool” (Heb 10:12-13).