‘Cheap grace’ can add to abuse

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Rob Parsons (inset, above) explains how a girl’s question about forgiveness rocked his world about how Christians should deal with it.

I have just returned from Asia, where I had the opportunity to witness the incredible work that Tearfund is doing to help care for children rescued from the sex trade.

I was so moved as I met with the children, some as young as ten, who had been sold into sexual slavery.

I also visited a ministry that works with young people who have been sexually abused within their own families or by close social contacts.

It offers counsel, support and, perhaps most importantly, hope.

It was, of course, both a sad and sobering experience, but all the more so because one of the counsellors said that much of this abuse was occurring within the church.

The story of one small girl touched my heart in a special way. The counsellor told me that she came from a churchgoing family and had been abused by her father. After years of suffering, the dreadful secret came out.

She had expected that others in the church would now come to her aid, and that at last there would be an end to her ongoing trauma.

The church did indeed confront her father and he admitted what he’d been doing.

He asked everyone, including God, to forgive him, and said he was determined never to do it again.

The church believed him – and the abuse went on.

And then the counsellor told me the comment he’d heard this young girl make: “I’d rather have a Buddhist friend than a Christian one, because they believe there are consequences to their actions.”

This girl, brought up in the cradle of the church, was articulating the idea of what some have called ‘cheap grace’.

It is the notion that our theology of forgiveness is not robust enough and that it often leaves the victim feeling utterly let down.

It’s not that those who have been hurt are seeking vengeance, or that they aren’t prepared to try to work through the pain of forgiving those who have hurt them.

And it’s certainly not that they don’t realise how much God has forgiven them personally, or that they fail to acknowledge that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.

FORGIVENESS

No, it is more that they come to believe that at both an individual and corporate level, Christians deal with forgiveness badly. It is used as a reason to handle an issue sloppily, to almost pretend it didn’t happen and that everything can immediately be all right again.

I have preached forgiveness all of my adult life. I have pleaded for it in families, in local churches, in organisations. It matters to me because I know the alternative is devastation.

The old Chinese proverb is right: “The man or woman who will not forgive must dig two graves.”

And yet, as I listened to the story of a young Asian girl who was old before her time, I was challenged as to how often we have made it sound too easy, too instant – too cheap.

I think now of a woman who once said to me: “I am trying to forgive my husband for leaving me for another woman, but what I find so hard is that other Christians just seem to shrug their shoulders.

“He and the new woman in his life are totally accepted, and in some ways I believe that’s right. It’s just that ‘forgiveness’ seems to have turned out to be everybody acting as if nothing has really happened. But he has broken my and our children’s hearts.”

I know there are no easy answers to these issues. All I am saying is that, having talked about forgiveness for so many years, I was suddenly faced with a young girl on the other side of the world who caused me to rock back on my heels.

In essence she said, “Don’t give your forgiveness so cheaply that you join in my abuse.”

And I can’t get her out of my mind.

Extracted from FROM THE HEART – An honest look at life and faith by Rob Parsons published by Hodder and Stoughton ISBN 9781529358155. Used with permission.

From Direction Magazine

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