How can I forgive my father for making his family suffer?
I don’t understand my father. He acts as if the way he treats us is perfectly fine and we ask for it. I hope I never become like him, although I can sometimes see (and feel) myself as his mirror image and making him drown in my hatred. That is another reason why it’s so hard for me to be a Christian. How can I forgive someone who is soo self-righteous (and always right) when he continues to destroy me and my family?
You ask two questions: How can you forgive your father for making his family suffer? And how you can believe in God’s love even though God allows such suffering to continue?
We can’t do without fathering. Our earthly fathers were intended, through their love, to give us glimpses of the love of our Father in Heaven. It is exactly because this is what they were intended to be that we suffer so greatly when they fall short. When they do fall short — when, like your father, they fail to be likenesses of the heavenly Father, instead becoming fountains of pain — that doesn’t mean that we can do without fathering. What it means is that we must hold out our arms and get our fathering directly from God. If we refuse to do this because of our resentment of our earthly fathers, then we merely become like those earthly fathers, continuing the deadly cycle. You’ve caught a glimpse of that already.
That’s why I think that a choice between two paths lies before you. One path is to resent your earthly father so much that you become like him, drowning in hatred and rejecting your Father in heaven too. The other is to depend on your heavenly Father so faithfully that you become like Him instead, overflowing with the strength which is sufficient even to forgive your earthly father.
Here is the bad news: If you try to do this by sheer will power, you’ll fail. It can be done only in the power of God.
Therefore, trust Him. Do not ask for proof of His love before you trust; only trust, and then you will receive the proof. If you wonder how you can believe in His love even though He permits us to make each other suffer, remember that in His love He took the worst of our suffering upon Himself. I realize that I repeat that often in this column; it is such a great mystery that even the angels long to look into it (1 Peter 1:12).
Have I answered both questions?
Because you’re concerned that you may become your father’s mirror image, I am assuming that you are a son rather than a daughter; if so, you may also gain insight from some of the very helpful books of Leanne Payne, especially Crisis in Masculinity. In February 2001, Touchstone magazine ran a special double issue on God and fatherhood called “Return to the Father’s House,” which may also be helpful to you — and to many other readers. Finally, you may want to take a look at this linked article, “Pain.” Please feel free to write again.
A final word. If your father is still physically injuring the younger members of your family, he must be made to stop. Report him to the authorities. This is not a violation of the commandment to honor parents, because it is not a part of honor to allow him to do injury to others.
Grace and peace,
Copyright 2001 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.