A few years ago, I lived in the inner city in London, my husband was a pastor there, and I had a very good friend who at that time was the same age as me (late twenties). We were very different, from very different socioeconomic backgrounds, she had five kids, lived on quite a high floor in a block of flats. She also had about four dogs. None of the dads of her children were still around, in fact, one of them was in prison (he was a crack dealer, very violent man, she had a restraining order against him). She became a Christian and we became very good friends—we met weekly.
One day, her ex-partner (the father of one of her children) got out of prison and he came to her apartment and broke in and beat her virtually to death. I’ll never forget seeing her. When I saw her—it was just incredibly shocking—she was unrecognizable. Now, in that situation, what did I feel—what did love cause me to feel about the perpetrator of that violence? Love meant that I cried out for justice for her.
Amy Orr-Ewing, The Ring of Truth (12m 53s mark) or my transcript
Love causes us to cry out:
a. for the evil to be acknowledged rather than ignored.
b. for the evil to be stopped rather than for it to continue.
c. for the awful damage done to be healed rather than for it to consume the victim. And,
d. for the perpetrator to fully comprehend the evil, violence, and damage done, and to respond in genuine repentance, to completely turn their life around, dedicating the rest of their life to making amends and seeking to see domestic violence end everywhere.
I would suggest that d) is actually the only way to completely stop evil, because until d) occurs, the evil and hatred continues to fester and grow in the perpetrator. Tragically, unless the victim can reach the point of gracious forgiveness (which doesn’t mean ignoring the evil or allowing it to continue) the evil will continue to cause them harm, potentially consuming them with hatred. (This doesn’t to imply the onus is on the victim to act, nor that the responsibility for reconciliation is on their shoulders).
When d) occurs obviously it’s easier for the victim to forgive but sometimes it’s actually the victim’s forgiveness that causes d) to occur. How many perpetrators have turned around because of Jesus’, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, or because of Gladys Staines’ remarkable forgiveness of her family’s murderers, or Mandela’s forgiveness, or Eric Lomax’s?
But our forgiveness today can’t just be conditional on repentance, which may not occur in this life. It has to be freely given whether or not it’s going to provoke immediate repentance. It is actually for the victim’s own healing and peace that they forgive. Ultimately, it’s the only—albeit extremely difficult—way forward (and this may not be possible until Christ returns).
It is quite easy to put ourselves in the position of someone like Orr-Ewing, witnessing the awful wrong perpetrated against her friend. We recognise that feeling of righteous anger that she refers to. What is more difficult to do is to put ourselves in the position of someone who dearly loves the perpetrator—perhaps his mother or brother? What would the love of the perpetrator’s mother cause her to feel? Surely, she would yearn for a), b), c), & d) to occur? This doesn’t mean she is callous towards the victim in this scenario. She wants the wrongs righted. She is angry and ashamed of her son. At the same time, she longs for him to repent and be changed, and to somehow undo the damage he has caused. This is the position of our heavenly Father. He deeply loves all His children—victims and perpetrators—those who love Him and those who still hate Him. The righteous son and the prodigal son. His love doesn’t discriminate.
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children [imitators] of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. … Be perfect [in your loving], therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:44-45,48, CSB
God instructs us to imitate His love of those who show Him enmity. How does “love your enemies” influence our view of justice? It may well still include punishment but unless it results in d), I can’t see true healing, reconciliation, harmony, and Shalom ever occurring.
Finally, we must remember that we’re all sinners—perhaps not perpetrators of domestic violence but it’s hard to avoid being complicit in some sort of violence in this world—don’t we all nail Jesus to the cross? There’s also some link between the forgiveness we give and the forgiveness we receive:
forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who sin against us. … For if you forgive other their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their offenses, neither will your Father forgive your offenses.
Matthew 6:12,14-15, MOUNCE
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32, NIV
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Colossians 3:13, NIV
I also think there’s some link between our cry for justice and the justice that is brought upon our own sins.
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged
Matthew 7:2a, NIV
So I think we should to cry out for justice but justice that moves us all towards God’s Shalom.
3 thoughts on “Engaging Orr-Ewing’s “What does love cause us to feel about perpetrators?””
I have no idea how to feel anything other than anger towards evil people. I have no desire for them other than for them to be hurt in proportion to the hurt they have caused. I do not know nor understand how to forgive people who do the most grave evils imaginable, and my sense is that eternal fire is perfectly proportional for a dictator who killed 70 million people in agonizing and dreadful ways. What justice is it that people do evil today and walk away with no punishment at all?
Perhaps it comes from the sense I have that every time I have failed, screwed up, or deliberately chosen to do wrong, I have gotten my ass beat to some degree. Forgiveness……pffffffttttt……not in this life and not for me. Therefore, I find it hard to understand the concept of forgiving someone and wishing them well..
Do evil – reap evil.
Maybe you can say something to help me turn my attitude around, but it is deep and pervasive.
It’s good that you’re honest about it. It’s easy to talk about forgiving people “out there” but it’s far harder—I’d suggest truly miraculous—to actually forgive someone who has directly and deliberately harmed you, particularly if it’s someone close betraying you in the process.
I try to wrestle with the role of retribution in bringing about justice in https://reforminghell.com/2017/02/12/engaging-shumack-justice-and-the-death-penalty/ —it’s a difficult topic. Talbott engages with it a bit in https://www.amazon.com/Inescapable-Love-God-Second/dp/1625646909 . Volf might be helpful too as he directly experienced some awful things and yet found a way to move forward https://www.amazon.com/Exclusion-Embrace-Theological-Exploration-Reconciliation/dp/0687002826 or http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-0025.00117/abstract . Another person to google would be https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladys_Staines. Hope that helps.