I was on the first leg of a church bus trip when I learned about the horrific shooting at a Charleston church last week. In the quiet moments (which were few), I went through a swirl of emotions. First, sadness washed over me as I thought about the victims and the families who would have to stumble through the wreckage of wrenching sorrow. Then a swatch of wrath wrapped me up– anger at the gunman and hateful people and terrorists who behead Christians and torch their churches. The anger morphed back into a weary grief. “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2 NIV)
Then, thankfully, a beam of hope sliced through my gloom. The people whose family members were murdered by Dylann Roof stepped forward in a court hearing, one-by-one, to forgive the young perpetrator.
“I forgive you,” said a daughter of one of the slain victims. “You took something very precious away from me. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you…you hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
One grieving woman told Roof that they enjoyed him in the Bible study on the night of the shooting and a family member of another victim said, “We have no room for hate. We have to forgive.”
A teenager whose mother was killed said that he and his family had nothing to offer but love. ““I’m a little bitter, but I’m overwhelmed with love,” he said.
A grandson of one of the shooting victims told Roof, “We would like you to take this opportunity to repent … confess, give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so that He can change it – can change your ways no matter what happens to you, and you will be OK. Do that and you will be better.”
According to NBC News sources, Roof himself told police that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.”
I wonder how many churchgoers would speak love and forgiveness like these folks did? How often do we lower the banner of Christ to raise the flag of resentment and bitterness? Most of us will not face the grueling prospect of facing the killer of a family member, but remember that Jesus linked lust with adultery and anger with murder. Every human action begins in the heart. In Sunday school, do we tout the importance of forgiveness and then badmouth the preacher in the parking lot? Do we speak “nicey-nice” in public, but dream about a person we don’t like falling into hard times? Do we cheer when the enemies of America and opponents of Christianity are blown to kingdom come? We treat the Gospel as a bland, feel-good tonic when it is a hard call to radically love — and unequivocally forgive.
Perhaps that is why Jesus told would-be disciples to “count the cost” before they followed Him (Luke 14:25-34). The way of forgiveness and reconciliation is a narrow road that I’m afraid too few take — even those who sit in a pew every Sunday.
(Photo courtesy of m_bul via Flickr)