The situation described in the following letters continues to be entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.
Thanks for the letter, and you raise an important point.
It is very easy for talk about forgiveness to be heard as exhortations to just “let it go.” And because letting it go seems like such an obvious impossibility, the only alternative seems to be hanging on to it. And that seems destructive in a different way.
Think of it this way. Because of the sin your father committed against you, your arms are extended wide and you are holding an armload of gunk. If you simply “let it go,” as some well-intentioned friends have encouraged you to do, that armload will fall. And now you are standing in it. But keeping all the gunk in your arms is not what you want either. In both instances, you are still stuck with all of it.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to holding it or standing in it. We are not capable of being our own saviors, and this is why it is necessary that you give absolutely all of your burdens to God. A generic exhortation to “let it go” doesn’t help you find out where to put it. Without Christ, whenever you let it go—my metaphor is shifting now—it always finds its way back to you again. You have a burden that always knows its way home.
If you give it to God, He will take it—“casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). In other words, the issue is not so much who gets rid of it, but rather who takes it. If you try to get rid of it by yourself, the first thing you will notice is that you cannot really get rid of it. If you make sure God takes it, He can take it for good.
Now when you give it to God, exactly what are you giving to Him? There are numerous aspects to this, but let me mention just a couple.
The first is that you are turning over to God your desire for a perfect balance of justice and mercy. Your father is not yet among the damned, and although you have struggled with bitterness and anger toward him, if God were to turn to you on the Day of Judgment and ask you which destiny it should be for him, your only possible response would be “this is too great for me.” We should want God—perfect omniscience—to handle the Day of Judgment. And because we would want Him to take it over then, such a “turning over” is something we are invited to do now. In what has happened to you, there is a raw injustice that needs to be put right. The decision of the court only approximated putting things right. The shattered pieces of your life have not yet been put back together, and if the resurrection will be a time when every tear is wiped away, and it will be (Rev. 21:4), then something much more complete will have to be have been done about this situation.
This is where praying the psalms can be invaluable for you. Many people falsely believe that psalms of imprecation are ancient and barbaric, exhibiting the same impulse that we find in the use of sticking pins in voodoo dolls. But imprecation is actually an exercise of turning something over to God. We do it with our requests, according to our best understanding at that moment, but we are actually releasing the whole thing into the hands of God. And shall not the judge of all the earth do right (Gen. 18:25)?
When you pray this way, you are praying that God would destroy an enemy, and there are two ways this can happen. The first way of destruction is when God transforms an enemy of His into a friend. This is in fact a complete destruction. It is true destruction. This is what God has already done for all believers. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). You and I both were once enemies of God, just as your father is now, and God destroyed His enemies by reconciling us to Him.
So this should be your first prayer for your father in turning everything over to God. Your request is that God would destroy His enemy in this way. That prayer cannot be offered without first uprooting every form of bitterness and malice in your heart, which is what I was writing about last time.
But we live in a world where not everyone repents, and we know this as we pray. When you turn a situation over to God, you do so knowing that there are times when God destroys His enemies, as we might say, in more of an “old school” fashion. “And shall not he render to every man according to his works?” (Prov. 24:12). “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27). “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works” (2 Tim. 4:14). When the terrible day arrives, it will not fare well for unrepentant fathers who repeatedly abused their daughters. “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).
As you learn to pray the psalms, along with other similar prayers found in Scripture, you can do so in the full confidence that you are turning everything over to a Father who sent His Son to die for people who were far worse than your father was. In other words, his vile works do not put him beyond the reach of mercy. At the same, he is not necessarily beyond the reach of his vile works. So when you “give it to God” you are doing something fundamentally different than “letting it go.” Letting it go is hard to distinguish from a pretended apathy on your part—releasing it you know not where. But you cannot be apathetic. This matters to you. It should matter so much that you turn it over to the one who will handle it perfectly.
A second part that you need to turn over to God is your future. The question of “what will become of me?” is one that has never been far away from your mind. You look at other women that you know, happily married, and that all seems as far away from you as the dark side of the moon. You cannot imagine being approached by a man sexually while feeling like his approach was holy (Heb. 13:4). All your experience with the ungodly attention from your father was decidedly unholy. The unholiness of his violation of fundamental taboos is a palpable thing to you. At the same time, the holiness of sex—God’s invention—is just words on a page for you. You believe those words to be correct, but you cannot imagine experiencing it as holy.
But you know that being married and flinching every time your husband touched you would be no fun for him, and so it is easy for you to assume that you are a lost cause. And this is why so many girls in your position feel like they have to opt for either a bitter “chastity” or promiscuity. The bitter chastity can take the form of lesbianism, where attempts are made to banish the intrusive male, or it can take the form of a sexless, angry, and very solitary life. Promiscuity results when a girl concludes that she somehow must have deserved the treatment she got, and if that was the case, she must still deserve it. The impulse comes in the form of self-destructive urges. “If someone as important as my father treated me this way, then he must have seen how worthless I am.”
This can drive other forms of recklessness as well—drugs, alcohol, crazy driving, tattooing, cutting yourself, and so on.
But you were created to be protected. You were created to be treasured. That wall of protection was broken down by your father, and the one charged to protect you became the one you needed protection from. But—and this really is good news—the wall can be restored. When you turn the whole thing over to God, you are turning it over to a Father who sent His Son to suffer and die on a cross for you. He did not do this because we were so valuable—we were all of us a broken mess—but we became valuable because He did it.the one charged to protect you became the one you needed protection from
Remember what I said earlier. Christ died for us when we were enemies (Rom. 5:10). “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Christ did not die for us because we were already valuable. But we have been made valuable because Christ died for us. This is the foundation of your worth — the blood of Christ.
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).
If your faith is more precious than gold, then you are certainly more precious than gold. If you are part of a chosen generation, then you are chosen. If you are part of a royal priesthood, then you are royalty. If you are part of a holy nation, then you are holy. This is your true identity in Christ, and so the invitation to turn this tragic part of your story over to God is simply an invitation to grow up into a mature grasp of that identity in Christ. You have been made precious.
There is much more I would like to say about this, but I have gone on too long for one letter. Maybe in the next installment.
Cordially in Christ . . .