In Avis Clendenen’s book on forgiveness, she notes that the doctrine of purgatory is becoming more important. This is because so much trauma is left unresolved in this life. The Christian God, as we see in Jesus, is a healer of wounds and a reconciler of broken and violated relationships. So there must be a place where confrontation, reparation, atonement, forgiveness, and new creation are possible. Especially when a perpetrator is dead yet his victims live on. Or at least try to. Otherwise, trauma has the final word and our claim that God is just and merciful is a lie.
In my own extended family there is deep unresolved trauma. An elder family member violated his children and grandchildren sexually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. One son committed suicide with a gun, another with the bottle. Both daughters were deeply scarred. One has a diagnosed mental illness and spiritual hardships, the other is mentally ill, but chooses to function erratically, without diagnosis or care, while finding some solace in the Church. This man also sexually abused his grandchildren, solicited them to other men, and dominated their minds and bodies.
The elderly man died. While dying, perhaps he asked for forgiveness. Perhaps not. For him, it was more about ensuring his own salvation than truly repenting for the healing and well-being of his victims. He took an easy way out. He no longer had to deal with his guilt and the consequences of his actions. Like in many families, this cycle of violence remained hidden. Not only to the world, the law, and to others, but even to the waking consciousness of his victims.
The perpetrator is dead. He is gone and has left generations of human wreckage as his legacy.
So now what? Can a dead man be confronted by his victims? Not in this life. At least not through any means I know.
Where is justice and healing for his victims? Most cannot wait for the next life for this. Their wounds are infected and need attention now. And our faith declares that God always begins with the victim.
Where, then, is God’s salvation for the “sinned-against”? Does God truly bind wounds and create new life out of human wreckage? How so when the perpetrator is long dead and not coming back to stand trial?
I hope to explore this topic in the future. The problem of God’s presence among us and innocent human suffering. Either here, in an article, a book, or essay. It is too urgent to ignore.