Red Letters

Red Letters

Difficult Love: A Clarification

This morning I posted on a CNN article that described a vicious attack and rape of over 150 women in a Congolese village. Based on feedback from regular blog readers and friends, it is clear that my initial post failed in its goal, and so I decided to remove it and start over. Thank you to everyone who extended the benefit of the doubt about what I was attempting to communicate, and to those who offered clarifications on my behalf.

After reading the article I thought, “If a building fell on these guys
and killed them I think I’d be okay with that.”
But that was the
response of my flesh, and I immediately felt the tension between that
first inclination, and the words of Jesus in Matthew 5.


When I re-read the article in light of Matthew 5, I was reminded that we are called to a difficult love. Difficult because it is a love that runs counter to that bubbling anger that would lead us to commit more violence as a solution. Difficult because restoration is so much harder than retribution.

I do not believe that Jesus says the victims of violence should allow themselves repeated abuse, or in some way “choose”  to be subjected to violence. In reviewing my post, I realize I left this impression. This is not my belief in any shape, form, or fashion. I apologize for the lack of clarity in the original posting. The abuse of women is never justified under any circumstances. No woman should allow this, and every man should prevent it.


My last two books, Scared and Priceless, brought me face-to-face with the absolute terror of sexual violence toward women and children. Over the past 15 years of ministry leadership, I’ve heard too many firsthand stories of children in Swaziland raped by family members. I’ve listened to young women in Russia tell me the horrors of their abuse. And I’ve laid flowers upon the graves of unknown girls who lost their lives to this kind of violence.

Jesus calls us to a difficult love. Jesus says His love transcends circumstances and injustice. I believe Jesus teaches that this love–this difficult love–will ultimately overcome the evil work of the enemy.

One reader offered this clarification, and I want to share it here. Note: I’m not an expert on the justice and reconciliation process in Rwanda, but I do know there is a role for seeking and obtaining forgiveness from victims:


For me, this story reminds me of the reconciliation that is taking
place in Rwanda following the genocide.  If they were to take ‘an eye
for an eye’ from every person that took part in the genocide, Rwanda’s
population would be cut in half…again…and another type of genocide
would take place.  What they are doing is bringing the people who took
part to justice, taking them to court. But they bring in the families of
those that the convicted person raped, mutilated and murdered.  The
convicted person is then forgiven by the people and they must pay their
debt to society by helping to rebuild the country, kinda like serving
work probation.  The kicker?  The family must choose to forgive that
person or they will feel the full weight of the law and receive the
death sentence for their crimes.  If “our” rapist was brought before us –
by the Most High Judge – would we choose to forgive and let the Judge
handle him or would we want to exact our own revenge. 

In light of this, I’ll close as I often do with a question for you as the reader: How do we love the way Christ calls us to love in the face of horrific circumstances?

Comments read comments(9)
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posted August 24, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Well, I’ll offer this with the caveat that I haven’t seen nearly the horror you’ve seen first hand. Most of my experience is via reading stories from the internet or talking to aid workers. I’ve met a few women freed from porn & prostitution but they were in the US and not the areas you’ve been.
I would say that one way to love under horrific circumstances is to really remember that we ourselves are no better than the accused. I know when I think of the sum total of the sin in my life it could stun a team of oxen in their tracks. Jesus died for my sins and I could never repay that debt. Yet Jesus doesn’t demand that.
It’s hard…very hard….but I try to remember grace and mercy is given because it’s what I want to receive from God.

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posted August 24, 2010 at 2:11 pm

If a Christian is raped, they need to report the rape to the police, because if they do not it could endanger others in society. They can forgive the rapist, but this does not mean to act like it did not happen and not report it.

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Kevin Feldotto

posted August 24, 2010 at 2:15 pm

I would strongly recommend the powerful documentary, “As We Forgive” about the genocide in Rwanda and two women presented with the opportunity to forgive those who destroyed their families.

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posted August 24, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Tom, thanks for your honesty. We all can have initial reactions that are not in line with scripture, and that is why we need to return to it constantly and let it reshape and transform us.
I have not worked much with those who have experienced physical and sexual violence, but I do work with those who have been spiritually abused. The stories I have heard make my blood boil, make me physically ill, and absolutely break my heart. The manipulation and distortion of God’s truth and how it has shattered lives is so painful to see. Many of these people may never return to church, scripture, or community again, but I keep hoping, praying, and trying. Even in the bleakest moments I pray the Lord will open an avenue so they will reach a point of returning to Him in a way that brings eternal life. Recovery from abuse, trauma, and violence it such a complex journey.
The love and forgiveness I have seen from some who have experienced these traumas is incredible. Honestly, that love doesn’t come from them, it comes because they have been able to let go of the situation and release it to the Lord. That loves comes because they understand that they are in need of a Savior, that they have sin and have also hurt others, and because they believe with all their being that the Lord is mighty and able to do what they can not. It comes because they concentrate on loving God instead of their enemy/abuser.

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posted August 24, 2010 at 3:40 pm

I can tell you that even as a little girl being sexually abused by her own dad and physically abused by her grandmother…it is hard to forgive..but I have. I can never forget and the scares are still there but I loved my dad. I always wanted to know WHY? I have found out his brother did the same thing to his daughters.
If it had not been for my new life in Christ and knowing I was to love as He loved and to forgive as He forgave, I think I could have been a basket case. My siblings and I have broken the generational curse that satan laid on our family. satan’s job is to destroy and with these women who were raped..God can heal them, from the inside. They can forgive these men knowing they are not being lead by Our Father but by satan!
There are lots of sins I have committed I wish I could take back~ Thanking my God for making an escape from these sins through Jesus!
Praying Gods mercy on these women and these men who committed such a horrible crime against them!

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posted August 24, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Matt 18:6 “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
We are called to forgive, God will take care of them. But we are called to love and help, which means actions. thanks for the post.

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posted August 24, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Corrie Ten Boom said it requires a
supernatural love to be kind to our
enemies, to love those who despise,
hate, persecute, and cause us great
This supernatural love comes from
the heart of Christ!!

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Tom Davis

posted August 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Those of you who have suffered abuse have so much to say on this issue. I’m completely open to learning from you about how God has taught you to love and forgive.

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Cris Ward

posted August 25, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Thanks for the clarification Tom. I was getting worried but I hoped that you meant what you stated in this updated post.
My first reaction to the story was that these men should have to die. My first reaction was not to forgive, I would leave that up to God. That’s His job, right?
This is my typical reaction to this type of thing. I have a mom, a wife, and two daughters. This is how I should react, right? What if it had been one of them? I think that we have clarified that God has called us all to forgive, just like He forgives. Which means that it is my job to do this. Is it an easy job, for me, not really. It is one that we were called to none-the-less.
If a woman is raped, she should forgive her attacker. Not because Cris or Tom say they should, but because God says that we are to forgive. Not saying that it will be easy, but we are commanded to do so by our God who has chosen to forgive us. (Please do not read this as a downplay of the seriousness of rape, that was not my intent. It is a horrendous act, one that I can not imagine.) Even though, we are called to forgive, that does not mean that we should allow it to happen, nor should we allow it to go unreported.
What struck me about my reaction to this story, was actually my second reaction. My reaction for swift (and painful) justice left me rather quickly. Even before it was gone, I began asking myself what was going to happen to the victims? Will the women receive any Godly love and care to help them heal? What about the husbands and children that witnessed what happen? Who is going to help them?
Then I asked myself, what can I do? Then I prayed.

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