Rage and Forgiveness

Carl Bloch's
I believe in an omniscient God.

Therefore, I have often been amused at the assertion that forgiveness means that God will blot the “forgiven” portion of human history from His memory.

It is true that D&C 58:42 states “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” But does this mean God literally can’t remember the sins, or is it just that He doesn’t call the forsaken sin to remembrance, that He doesn’t constantly berate us for a thing we have put in our past?

By way of illustration, I have changed numerous dirty diapers. Some individuals whose diapers I changed as infants are now adults. I have not literally forgotten the soiled diapers, but it is not something I bring up in casual conversation (except when I am making this point). While I don’t bring the soiled diapers up to remembrance, it isn’t as though I might conclude that my children somehow never had soiled diapers.

Looking at the Wikipedia article on forgiveness, we see this definition:

“Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted for an acknowledged offense by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).”

As a thought experiment, let us consider a case where a person has sexually abused a child. It is indeed part of the healing process for the violated child and their parent(s) to eventually let go of vengefulness, lest the rage continue to damage the violated child and that child’s family. Yet it would be completely inappropriate for the abuser to be absolved of responsibility and allowed to repeat their actions, whether against the original victim or against a new victim.

If you think I am simply stating the obvious, that’s great.

If you think that the requirement to forgive literally means we must absolve abusers and allow them free rein to continue their abuse, then let’s continue this discussion in the comments.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

16 thoughts on “Rage and Forgiveness

  1. If we remember the origin of the idiom “free rein,” it’s more likely that we’ll remember to write it correctly. And then I’ll cease to remember your error against you

  2. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the correction. As the grammar article I looked at stated, “free reign” almost makes sense. But obviously the idiom doesn’t mean giving oneself freedom to reign over oneself without structure, but to let go of the corrective reins with which one might manage a powerful force such as a horse.

  3. Lies. Lies. Lies.

    You WILL bring up diaper conversations in casual conversation occasionally because you have a few diaper related stories.

    Such as the time you used an ammonia-rich diaper to wipe off your bug-laden windshield.
    Or the time you found out that you didn’t really have to change one child’s diaper’s anymore and decided that it was the perfect time to potty-train and teach about allowance.

  4. LOL – I guess you’re right – a great diaper story is an amazing thing. But you will note that the ammonia story is actually a shame story on the mother who didn’t change that particular diaper, not a story of shame that the diaper was laden with liquid. And the other is more a story of how a mother was working full time and taking a full load of college classes and the small village of people standing ready to change a diaper in case of need never individually realized that no one was being called upon to change the diaper because the delightful young person had learned to change their own diaper…

  5. I was actually only using the sexual abuser as an example.

    In the recent past someone recommended I read “Toxic Parents.” The point of that book is that a parent or parents can be inappropriately neglectful or abusive during the childhood of a person in a manner that continues to damage the child into adulthood. While not explicitly covered, there is also the situation where a child is abused during childhood and the parents fail to protect the child and may even blame the child for the abuse.

    In the later chapters, the author of the book talks about forgiveness, clarifying that to forgive does not mean to pretend nothing ever happened. The author makes the point that the wrong that has occurred needs to be seen as a wrong, that the wronged party needs to feel the rage and anguish they may have directed at themselves as a child.

    An example of inappropriate forgiveness is when a person absolves their parent of any wrong, explaining away the “guilt” of the offender.

    An example of this absolving the abuser of guilt can be seen in cases of elder abuse as well, as in the case of my relative, “Riley.” When the FBI confirmed that the passport of the Ghanaian lover was false, “Riley” came up with lots of explanations for why the Ghanaian lover would have needed to provide a false passport. Time after time “Riley” has absolved the supposed Ghanaian lover of all responsibility. In the case of “Riley,” this desire to absolve the lover of any wrong has caused “Riley” to lash out against those who are legitimate family, modifying their will, using abusive language, and attempting to saddle others in court with excessive fees. In the past, “Riley” would beat people up, but that’s less of an option now that “Riley” has children who are adults and know their rights.

    At any rate, the discussion of the appropriate limits of forgiveness (an internal process to rid one of rage and grief rather than actually forgetting the wrong) strongly resonated with what I have long believed. So I felt it worthwhile to air the matter here. I am actually somewhat surprised that no one has pushed back, asserting that God really does wipe the history from His memory.

    This zeitgeist of “toxic parent” is also convolved with the rage some Mormons and former Mormons feel towards the Church. They see the Church as a parent that has abused them in a spiritual childhood when they didn’t know any better. Any behavior that resembles the “abuse” triggers rage, and in some cases the angry person going through what is termed a faith transition cannot bear any aspect of Mormon culture without suffering anxiety and anger. That becomes difficult because your average well-meaning Mormon will pour on the love and kindness when they perceive someone to be hurting, which may be delivered in a cultural pattern than resonates with behavior the angry person associates with “abuse.”

    Back to the sexual abuse, the “Toxic Parents” book asserts that 1 in 10 children is sexually abused, and the abuse often and even usually comes from an insider rather than a stranger. Apparently Freud is responsible for claiming that such matters were often invented memories, as he couldn’t accept that the many children of “respectable” Viennese parents could actually be reporting true events. On the spectrum of abuse, sexual abuse is on the vile end of the spectrum.

  6. I would be hard pressed to believe that our Heavenly Father actually forgets anything, regardless of source. Without full knowledge to draw from, learning and progress (the whole eternal goal of everything) would be hamstrung; that’s bad for Him just as it’s bad for us. Maybe even worse.

    I have entertained for a long while now a growing metaphor regarding spiritual metabolism. We take lots of different things into our spiritual selves just as we do food into our physical selves. And how we metabolize those things affects how we grow and develop. Just as we can get fat, sluggish, and unhealthy physically, so too can we atrophy spiritually based on our intakes. Some things we just need to avoid. Tobacco isn’t likely to ever do anyone’s physical inner workings any good. The same can be said for anger. It cankers the soul and retards your spiritual heath.

    And grudges? Those are those last stubborn ten pounds. Easy to pick up. Hard to shake. šŸ™‚

  7. I guess it’s a bit like “good works” are like exercise and “being a #$%^&*(” is like eating all the bad stuff beyond a healthy diet.

    Some folks think they only have a last stubborn ten pounds to lose when it’s much more than that. Alas, the spiritual scales that weigh our souls aren’t available for purchase at Costco, so it’s hard to get an objective assessment.

  8. Meg, re childhood sexual abuse.

    various sources I’ve read seem to point to 25% for caucasian females, 66% for African-American females, and 25% for African-American males. I haven’t seen a figure for caucasian males. Though if the same male/female, and black/white ratios hold, one could assume/deduce 9.5%. (25/66 * 25%)

    Though I think those figures may be for up to age 21 or 30, not merely for under 18.

    I had a friend recommend “Toxic Parents”. It triggered me so much I couldn’t finish it.

    I think you are right to get into the technical details of forgiveness. If forgiveness is done incorrectly, the victims/survivors end up turning into abusers themselves. Or, just as bad, “perpetual victims” whose “messaging” of victimhood/submission can continue to attract abusers and trigger them to abuse them.

    My message to victims/survivors is to focus on the Atonement. The Atonement is as much for victims of sin as it is for sinners.

    This is an inelegant way of putting it, but… Those on the receiving end of sin (ie, those who are sinned against) need to “accept” the Atonement as “evening the score”, just as much as the perpetrator needs to accept the Atonement as having paid the price and satisfied the needs of justice.

    But there are catches. The sinnER needs to repent to effectuate (is that the right word? Or actuate?) the forgiveness part of the Atonement towards them. The “sinnEE” needs to forgive to effectuate/actuate the healing part of the Atonement toward them.

    Sinners experience-learn (as opposed to intellectual-only learning) how the Atonement works by repenting. Victims experience-learn how the Atonement works by forgiving.

    Inelegant, but I hope others can put the thought into better words.

  9. It see it in very simple terms. A child or young adult will “sin” against the parents, and yet in later years, the parents will remember it no more — they remember insofar as their brains still work, but they don’t remember insofar as the sin has been forgiven and set aside, and the child has place within the family circle, and the “sin” is never mentioned again. Earthly parents do it all the time, imperfect as they are. I can easily see Heavenly Father doing the same thing in a perfect way.

  10. And recognizing that we’re all imperfect, eventually every child will want to forgive his or her parents for all real and imagined sins. We understand this to be a prerequisite to the Lord forgiving us for our sins.

  11. Last thought — forgiveness need not include continuing to make ourselves vulnerable to continuing sin — but sometimes, a spouse is called to bear with an imperfect spouse, and a parent is called to bear with an imperfect child. Sometimes forgiveness can happen by putting and keeping the offender at a distance — but sometimes, we have to forgive while maintaining closeness.

  12. The point the book was making is that sometimes religious people will “forgive” before they’ve given themselves a chance to internalize that the abuse wasn’t their fault.

    To give another concrete example, I had an acquaintance who learned her toddlers were being sexually abused by their teenaged uncle. It was a horrible time made worse when her husband’s family wanted her to “forgive” and allow the teenaged uncle to be alone with her toddlers. When she refused to allow this, she was accused of not forgiving the teenager, who had apparently “said he was sorry” to his parents.

    But even with all this talk about the need for rage and grief for wrongs, at the end I do believe in a heaven where we have all accepted our appropriate aspects of Christ’s sacrifice, letting go of our sins and letting go of our hurt, embracing one another as beloved eternal fellows. In that day I see every child knowing they were cherished and every parent knowing their worst mistakes have been erased by God’s gracious sacrifice.

    It’s just that we can’t get to the glorious land without passing through our own heroic journey, whether of leaving behind our natural man or finding the precious child encased in an abusive past.

  13. Forgiveness need not be immediate — it is a process, it seems to me — sometimes, forgiveness cannot occur until after the rage is over and after the wound is healed — sometimes, quicker forgiveness can help the wound to heal. It’s all so personal. But you’re right that forgiveness may not always include continued vulnerability — sometimes, but not always. And forgiveness should occur only when the aggrieved is ready to forgive.

    This is an interesting thought proposition: even though I am commanded by my God to forgive everyone, no one can demand my forgiveness. And I cannot demand that anyone else forgive me — I can hope and beg and wait, but I cannot demand. The aggrieved will forgive only when/if he or she is ready, and that forgiveness is a gift, not a matter of right.

  14. Epictetus’ Enchiridion helped me navigate the letting go part. There are at least three translations in the public domain. I think his thesis was to not fret over things not in our control. One of my favorite lines was in relation to losing something via malicious theft versus accident, “What is it to thee by whose hand the Giver demands it back?”


    George Long

    Elizabeth Carter

  15. By the way, Bookslinger, I neglected to mention my sorrow that Toxic Parents triggered you so much. Thank you for the more detailed statistics regarding abuse.

    I shall have to check out Epictetus’s Enchiridion.

    I am finding Toxic Parents to be like a primer in one master’s approach to resolving childhood trauma, with myself as someone who has suffered childhood trauma and has largely resolved issues, but has a few outstanding issues that this book might help me deal with.

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