Not long ago, I came face to face with the perpetrator of a crime against an acquaintance of mine. This man had taken part in a particular type of crime against an underage girl. Because of his actions, her life and ability to trust had been shattered. When I first found out the identity of the perpetrator(s), I was deeply hurt and angered. It comforted me somewhat to know that the offender(s) were duly chastised, and asked to not remain in their patriarchal vicinity (which was the girl’s sphere of protection). In the days that followed learning of their identities, I grieved for her, for the loss of trust she had suffered, the shattering of her innocence, the effect on her future relationships that had ensued, and the failures of authorities to protect her properly. However, I also ached for reconciliation. I cried out to God for the perpetrator(s) to see the catastrophic damage that they had done to a precious life, and that they would humbly repent and communicate that to their victim. I longed for them to help her find resolution, for these men to face up to their actions and seek forgiveness, without making any justification. My heart wept for some redemption to come up out of the ashes.
Fast-forward to the more current moment, which prompted this post. One evening, not too long ago, I came face-to-face with one of the perpetrators of this crime against my friend. I wanted to be angry. I had previously been friends with him and his wife. My emotions surged in a confusing whirlpool. Should I act like there is no change between us? It was not a crime done to ME, and it WAS long ago. Or should I, in loyalty to my friend’s pain, ignore this man? Or, should I speak directly to him, ask the all-encompassing “How could you?”, and find out whether there was repentance or pride ruling him now?
Later on that same evening, I was on the phone with my Dad…I shared a glimpse of what I was feeling. I will never forget his words: “It is not only the victim who needs our compassion. Christ also died for the perpetrator.” Christ also died for the perpetrator?! How can that be? What then are we to feel? Does the wrong they did not matter at all?! And, in that moment, I realized that it is true, the wrong they did CANNOT be allowed to stand between me and my relationship with Christ. If I am judging them, am I not raising myself up in PRIDE? And am I not directly commanded “Do not judge, or YOU will be judged”, in Romans 2:1? And, if Christ died for me, and all my many sins (which thankfully have not been exposed to everyone’s view), then do I have any right at all to refuse forgiveness to another?
This does not mean that their sin was not utterly sinful, horribly damaging, and an irreparable crime against a precious life. It simply means that I, in my frail humanity and limited viewpoint, have NO RIGHT to judge their heart and life before God.
My heart was also encouraged and comforted when I heard this individual speak… He mentioned a great breaking time period in his life, and in his interactions over the period of time that I was with him and his wife, I sensed a deeper humility and seriousness than I had known him to have previously. This comforted my heart, as I felt that that was what my heart had been seeking – to know that he had accepted chastisement and been changed by it. My prayer had been answered. I have no way of knowing whether he ever formally apologized to my friend, but that is not my business, and I must leave it up to God. I have learned, it is not my place to judge, but God’s. And, if I do not forgive, how then can I myself be forgiven? We all are at an even place…we all are in desperate need of grace. I still ache for the pain that was caused in all of their lives, but I now know that my responsibility is not only to lift up the fallen who are victims, but also, to show love and genuine kindness to those (former perpetrators) who have repented. And as I walk on and continue letting it go, I also continue to pray for all parties involved, both victim, AND, perpetrator. Indeed, it is true: “Christ died also for the perpetrator.”