I have a long way to go. My first reaction to the recent tragedy in Charleston was anger, sadness, and frustration. What happened is so wrong, so hurtful, just plain evil. I had the incredibly heartbreaking picture in my mind: those people praying together, unsuspecting, not knowing that minutes away some of them would actually be with the Savior they were praying to.
A dear friend posted on Facebook about how we need to pray for the man who murdered them. He is loved by God just as we are and is evidently troubled. He needs compassion and love. She’s right.
I have so admired people who have that gentle, amazing outlook of forgiveness and compassion in the face of injustice, evil, pain and loss. I think of the story several years ago of some Amish people who actually began reaching out to and caring for a man who shot and killed some of their own. I’ve heard of parents who began visiting their child’s murderer in prison, befriending them, forgiving and showing God’s love.
I am asking myself today, would I, could I honestly do that? If someone had killed my daughter, my husband, my friend? I know God can help us have a change of heart and help us do anything, but I’m thinking my nature is not bent that way. Not yet, anyway. I’m not proud of this, just being honest. I already knew I still have a long way to go in the transformation of my heart to be like Jesus, but today that reality is especially apparent.
I am comforted by the story of Corrie Ten Boom, a woman who endured harsh cruelty in concentration camps during the Holocaust, but kept her faith in Jesus. She began traveling and sharing the story of her experience (and her sister Betsie’s, who died in the camp) as well as the Good News about Jesus. At a church service in Munich, she saw a man who had stood guard in the shower room in the processing center at Ravensbruck. She writes that he was the first of their actual jailers she had seen since being released and when she saw him, all the painful experiences resurfaced. This is how she describes her encounter with him:
He came up to me beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself. 1
Corrie was a woman who loved and followed Jesus for years. Yet, even she struggled to forgive.
Sometimes we might think, “Well, I will eventually, it’s just too fresh right now.”
How did Jesus forgive his murderers while He was still hanging on the cross?? His accusers weren’t even repentant, but He had compassion for their lostness and concern for their souls.
Thank goodness, thank God, it is not dependant on me or you. As Corrie so beautifully said, the world’s healing hinges on Jesus’ goodness and forgiveness. We are just commanded to share it and pass it on, even when it feels impossible.
Jesus, help us to be more like You! I know that love, YOUR love, not anger and retaliation, will reach those troubled, lost ones who hurt others. Walk so closely with the loved ones of these martyrs in Charleston. Comfort that church, that community. And yes, comfort the killer. Open his eyes and heart to what he’s done, but also please heal and save his soul. I pray in obedience, knowing that even if I don’t feel all these words, you hear and are at work for his sake, as well as those who lost family, friends and pastor. Bring your healing, God, please.
When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed Him to the cross…Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:33-34 NLT
1 p. 238, The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom with John & Elizabeth Sherrill, Copyright 1971, Bantam Books