Can grace extend to the perpetrator?

Feb 15, 2011Family Uncaged, Find joy today, Heal from the past

I received this comment on My Family Secrets blog on a post about incest. It begs the question: Can God’s grace extend to the perpetrator?

Anonymous writes:

I am male, 29. I feel worried after reading.

Today, and in general from time to time I read stories about incest. Why? I was 10 when I played with my 8 year old sister – we both were curious, sexually unaware, innocent. We tried to have sex, without any success. We decided to wait a few years. Sadly I did remember a few years later, my sister too, but she wasn’t curious anymore – still I couldn’t resist. Almost 20 years later we both still ‘work’ on that experience, while she resolves this trauma, I start to become traumatized. Now I am afraid to become the father in the truck one day, or the grandfather in the kitchen.

Some might be shocked to read this – I am happy to be able to talk about it. As a victim one is traumatized, changed for life. If you tell, you may fear to destroy all people around you, but you save them.

As the one making a victim who can you talk to? You can talk to the victim (if she agrees). Any professional has to report you to police – you save your friends, but you take away your chance of changing yourself – you go to prison for 10, 20, 30 years – what then? You also destroy your family and friends…I am a victim of myself in regular fear of the future.

I don’t know how it makes you feel that I write here, I hope you don’t feel I abuse your site/story.

And yes, in a way this is a cry for help – I do want to have children, I do want to work with people, but I don’t want to endanger them and I also don’t want to spend my life in prison. 🙁

I’m back. The anguish in this post is clear, isn’t it? It reminds me of the time a someone slipped the name of the boys who sexually abused me when I was five. Suddenly as an adult, I had names. I searched the Internet for clues as to what those two brothers became. I’m not even sure if I located them or not, so I didn’t contact them.

But as I saw photos of what could be those boys as men, I felt a wash of pity flood over me. What if they carried their secret with them? That as teenage boys they molested a helpless kindergartner? Wouldn’t that be torture? I prayed for them. I chose again to forgive. I prayed again that they would let the secret out, get healing, and move on. I have no idea if they’ve done that or not.

I can’t help but think that those boys perpetrated what was perpetrated against them. That gives me more empathy.

So as I read this man’s words, part of me cringes. Part recoils. I don’t want to offer grace. What he did was wrong (and he seems to admit that). He violated. He stole. But now he walks the earth haunted.

If I don’t believe that God’s grace is big enough to cover this man’s sin, then I have a small view of God, of Jesus’ outrageous act on the cross, and of grace. If I withhold forgiveness, I will imprison myself.

Yes, grace extends both to the victim (in ample amounts) and the perpetrator. It has to. It must. Because before a holy God, we all are perpetrators in need of pardon and mercy. But for grace to be extended, repentance and brokenness must happen first. Otherwise, that grace, as Bonhoeffer said, becomes cheap grace.


Is it hard for you to extend grace to someone who abused another? How do you benefit when you withhold forgiveness? What do you do with people who are unrepentant about their sin against you?