Is Forgiveness Necessary?

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David Pittman, a survivor of abuse, examines the role of forgiveness in healing.

Forgiveness. What an amazing word. What an honorable act. What an indescribable sensation when once we receive it and also too, when we dispense it.

Our good friend Webster defines “Forgive” as – To pardon an offense or offender. To grant pardon for or remission of an offense; To cease to feel resentment against. Synonyms include, absolve; excuse; exonerate; exculpate.

Also mixed in with the word “forgive” is “forgiveness”. Words associated with it are: Mercy; Charity; Compassion.

I’ve struggled a long time with these words. You see, when the very organization that is supposed to teach you the meanings behind these words refuses to protect you—even goes so far as to take aim and target you as being a bad person, when, in fact, you are the victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a minister—it becomes increasingly difficult to find any forgiveness for those who allowed it to happen, for those that covered it up, for those that protected the abuser instead of the innocent child, and especially the one who raped, molested and sexually assaulted you.

I give lectures and presentations to civic and religious groups, to parent organizations, even to small groups of couples wanting to know how to better protect their children from sexual predators. And you want to know the single most asked question I get? I don’t mean it’s asked a little more often than not, I’m telling you I get this question more than all other questions combined. I’m asked, “have you forgiven your abuser?”

At first, I have to admit, I didn’t really know how to respond. I was taken aback. Shocked actually. Of all the questions I expected, this was not one of them. Initially I deflected. Because in truth, I had not even given it consideration. I was so focused on keeping my abuser away from more children, so intent on preventing more children from going through what I did, and so preoccupied with helping support other survivors of CSA that it never entered my thought process. Until now.

Now I was forced to face a daunting challenge. You see, my dilemma is this. My spiritual background is Protestant. And within that Protestant faith was a teaching that we were to forgive as we are forgiven. So it says right in The Lords Prayer. On the flip side was my heart. Having been torn apart by a man who has molested, raped and sexually abused an untold number of little boys. How do I forgive that?

So I did something it took me a long time to do after having felt betrayed by the very God that my abuser claimed to represent. I spent an awful lot of time in prayer and study. I went to every doctrine of various faiths and religious texts I could find having to do with forgiveness. And time and time again I saw, forgive as you are forgiven. Jesus, Gandhi, no matter the reference, If you don’t forgive, how can you expect to be forgiven? We’re these folks right? Was I supposed to forgive this most heinous of crimes perpetrated against myself and all those other little boys?

In all the passages, texts, quotes from people of faith, when they spoke of forgiveness, they did so when addressing those who had faith, who held in their hearts a belief in repentance for transgressions. Even those that had done them wrong.

But is was while having a Bible study with my fiancé Linda that we came across the scripture that opened my eyes. My spiritual eyes, and my heart.

In Matthew 6:14-15 it talks about forgiveness. And most of this chapter has to do with Jesus explaining to his followers how to do certain things. How to pray, fast, etc. And as we read and prayed we began to understand. Jesus was talking about Christians forgiving other Christians, not about forgiving the unrepentant.

So this led me to a question. Is it within my ability to forgive someone who does not have faith or who has no regret or repentance? This led me to an even deeper question from a trusted friend and man who has spent his entire adult life in study and prayer. He posed the following query, “Is a person without faith or repentance even capable of receiving my forgiveness?”

I was blown away.

Rather than paraphrasing, I will simply let him explain in his own scholarly, yet layman terms.

“Until someone has been first forgiven by God unto salvation through Christ we do not have the ability to forgive them. I will take it a step further, until a person has become forgiven by God unto salvation they are incapable of recieving human forgiveness. Only God can forgive a non Christian. That is not to say that we should not pray for their forgivness. By praying that the non Christian be forgiven by God helps us deal with the wrong done to us by that person and help’s God understand our need to forgive…Hope that is not too confusing, for most Christians do not understand that part of forgivness. Certainly, you may offer forgivness by a non Christian, but still until that person is forgiven by God for his orginal sin forgiveness can’t be recieved by the non christian.”

And this led me to an even greater insight. To those who said, you must forgive to be forgiven, if that were the case, it would mean there are stipulations to my faith. A “work or act” I must do. And any Protestant who knows their faith, knows we do not come to our faith through works or acts. It is by faith alone.

So not only am I not responsible for forgiving my abuser; until he is repentant, he is incapable of receiving human forgiveness for any transgressions.

That doesn’t mean we, or rather I, am recused from praying for the faith of this particular person. But at least now I have the honest belief that it’s not my job to forgive him. That’s between God and him. And honestly, I don’t believe someone capable of such things wants redemption. Not when he’s looked me in the eye, cried crocodile tears saying he didn’t do that anymore, only to find out he was molesting at least two boys when he told me that. So he’s a pathological liar, pedophile and God only knows what else.

Ultimately I believe that forgiveness, with regard to the abused, is the most individual of decisions. I believe there is more than one way to skin the “forgiveness” cat. For some, they find it helpful. For me, it’s not necessary. I have no need of it for my healing. And that’s what it’s all about. No matter which way a survivor goes, as long as they find healing and not vengeance or bitterness in it, it’s a positive.

The bottom line, my focus is on my recovery, healing and that of others that have been through what I have. I know now my calling is to do all I can to educate parents on how to better protect their children and help survivors heal. And I don’t need a burning bush or talking mule to figure that out!


Originally appeared at Together We Heal


Photo: Flickr/ganesha.isis

About David Pittman

As the Executive Director of Together We Heal, David Pittman works to educate the public through speaking and collaborating with other groups to raise awareness and expose the sexual predator's methods. TWH now works with therapists, counselors and groups aiding both men and women in their efforts to heal, grow and thrive. He is also the South Florida Area Support Group Leader for SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.


  1. W.R.R.,

    Like yourself, the abuse I was made to ensure came at the hands of a minister and have been bombarded with well-meaning albeit sorely misled individuals wanting to help me, so I understand COMPLETELY what u mean. That’s the reason why I finally sat down and wrote this article for two reasons. First, and most importantly, for others who have been through what you and I have. And second, for those “good intentioned” folk who think they know all the answers. We all know the saying about good intentions so I won’t bore you or anyone reading with it, but needless to say, some education of what those of us who have suffered this trauma was in order, and telling us who we should and shouldn’t forgive is not their business. I am so glad to hear you found comfort in the words. It’s for my fellow survivors I write, not for those who have no clue. Peace be with u my friend.

  2. David, thank you for this article. I read it with my guts clenched, afraid you would claim survivors of CSA “must forgive abusers in order to heal”, or that if you refuse to forgive abusers, “God won’t forgive you.” Both are bits of malarkey that I am told far too often. Your article didn’t do that, and it even gives me a place to send those misguided people, next time. I eschew religion of any stripe due to one of my abusers being a preacher, a client of my father’s pedophile ring. The preacher called me a “vessel for his sin” so that he could purge himself of it before church on Sundays. He rented my body most Saturdays for this, to “make himself clean”. He hated my father and called me “the Devil’s son”, told me I was damned; yet insisted I pray for my soul with him after each weekly rape. To have some mindless Christian tell me I “must” forgive these abusers is disgusting, and I never will. Thank you for giving me a place to send them, because you use language and logic they might accept, and I hope they learn not to revictimize other survivors, after reading your words. My essays are findable by clicking my name here on GMP. I wrote about this preacher in a GMP article called “Now I Lay Me Down”. My blog is here:

  3. Forgiveness doesn’t mean welcoming them back into the community. You can forgive while locking them up for life to protect the rest of the community.

  4. Hi Leia,

    I recently responded to someone else who commented on this issue and I believe many of the things I said to her speak to what you have and are going through. First let me say how encouraged I am to hear where you seem to be on your healing path. God knows its a challenge but please know we are here for you.

    What I told the other person was this…I truly believe for each person it’s the most individual of choices. And whichever brings you peace is what you should do. As I also mentioned, for myself, it was not then or is it now necessary for my healing to forgive the man that raped/molested me as a little boy.

    I hold no resentments or anger…any longer…but when it comes to forgiveness, that’s up to someone MUCH greater than I to do. If the God I believe in decides to forgive Frankie, then so be it, but I have decided to direct my energies at keeping him away from little boys as best I can, helping educate parents on how to better protect their kids from sexual predators like him and help my fellow survivors and thrivers get to a better place of healing.

    I hope in some small way this article helps you and if there’s anything else we can do, please don’t hesitate to ask. One of the things we do is provide counseling, at no charge, to anyone in need. as I said, we are here to help and may you continue to find an ever better place of healing and peace. My email is


  5. It’s taught that “forgiveness is really for your peace of mind and not the offender” I think when people asked you if you have forgiven your attacker they were really asking: Are you (emotionally) healed? Have you found peace?

    If forgiveness is taught as the most efficient way to heal/find peace in a situation and you haven’t forgiven him, how DID you heal?

    • Hi SC,

      Thanks for reading our article and asking a good question.

      You bring up an important point and one I think is overlooked. You said, “if forgiveness is taught as the most efficient way…”. I believe that is part of the problem. It infers that one must integrate the abuser into your healing process. While,as I said, for some this is important, maybe even essential, I do not believe it is necessary for all. I say this not only because of my own experience, but also because many, many people have written saying thank you to us for articulating their own path to healing. One that had nothing to do with forgiving their abuser. So it’s my hope that all those in the “professional” and “religious” worlds of therapy would reexamine this notion.

      As to how I came to begin, and still continue, my own healing path without forgiving my abuser. As I also mentioned, it’s my belief that one first must be repentant in order to even receive forgiveness. I know, due to others coming forward, that my abuser is neither repentant, nor did he stop as using little boys.

      And rather than restate the how I will simply paste and have you read again how it is… read it a little more closely…Ultimately I believe that forgiveness, with regard to the abused, is the most individual of decisions. For me, it’s not necessary. I have no need of it for my healing. And that’s what it’s all about. No matter which way a survivor goes, as long as they find healing and NOT vengeance or bitterness in it, it’s a positive.

      By doing all I can to keep my abuser away from other little boys, by educating the public on how to better protect their children from sexual predators like him and by assisting my fellow survivors on their healing path, I heal a little more each day.

      I hope this more clearly explains how I, and others, are able to find healing witouth forgiving the one who as used them. Peace be with you.

  6. “To cease to feel resentment against…”

    “It’s not my job to forgive him…I don’t believe someone capable of such things wants redemption…”

    Wow– very profound essay….I think I need to read this over and over to put my mind more at peace….I struggle with this issue every day….and I know my ex-abuser is still out there (he just moved to another state because I caused trouble at his previous place of employment when he started stalking me a while ago)….

    To move on past the resentment is an incredibly difficult task….to deal with my overall wariness of people is something I have to negotiate daily (and I have been burned badly in the past)….but on the good side, i have cast off people who have been confusing and abusive to me…I have kept a healthy distance from people who try to cross boundaries and I am less afraid to call them on it….and I have finally built up trust with some new and old people just in time to help me deal with my surgical procedures….

    I have finally forgiven myself…I try not to blame myself for the trap he set me up in….and I try to console myself that I received some kind of education in all this ordeal….that there are a lot of potential abusers out there but you just have to stay away far enough so that they can’t trample on you….that my ex-abuser’s puzzling and awful behavior had to do with some kind of re-enactment of some past violence or blame inflicted on him (and really had nothing to do with me….I was just some rag doll or punching bag he needed to rage on)….and that I realize he will never change his attitude or his need to continue to abuse and that it is not my job to contain him or feel responsible for him in any way….

    Thanks for writing this….very brave stuff…

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