Today, if you hear God’s voice,/ do not harden your hearts as in the …day of testing in the wilderness….Hebrews 3:7-8
A Word of Hope
Only a few days after the massacre of 9 people at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, family members of those murdered—still raw from the loss—began to speak words of forgiveness publicly to the killer Dylan Roof whose racist hatred and bigotry spewed out in bullets.* As the video of Roof’s hearing went viral, people across the world heard their voices:
Nadine Collier, daughter of Ethel Lance: “I forgive you.”
Minister Anthony Thompson who lost his wife Myra also spoke forgiveness, urging Roof’s confession and turning his life over to Christ.
Felicia Sanders who miraculously survived the slaughter with her granddaughter: “May God have mercy on your soul.” In later statements she described the way she forgave immediately and said it was not a choice. “If you don’t [forgive] you’re letting evil into your heart. You’re the one suffering. You’re the one hating. You have to forgive. For you.”
Danielle Simmon’s granddaughter carried this principle further, asserting, “Hate Won’t Win,” a pledge she later turned into a movement by the same name.
Others, like Nadine Collier’s sister, were not there yet. They knew forgiveness can be a long journey, but, with God’s leading, they were on the road.
These expressions of forgiveness do not forfeit the search for justice for wrongs done. Nor do they mean we “forgive and forget.” They are gritty and hard and courageous.
We are challenged every day to choose whether to follow narratives of hatred and division or those of forgiveness, love, and the belief in the redemptive power of grace. Jesus is clearly on the side of the Emanuel Nine.
When he tells Peter that he must forgive 70 times 7, it is not to quantify—but to suggest there’s no limit to this movement. And there is no more powerful icon than Jesus on the cross. With his last breaths, he calls upon his Abba to forgive those who had perpetrated the injustice and terror of his crucifixion—and all who are complicit: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Often we don’t fully know, don’t realize the cost of our actions or the hardened heart which leaves a residue of bitterness, toxicity, or regret.
God of mercy and grace, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Amen.
Dr. Pat Saxon
*The details of the Emanuel community’s forgiveness were refreshed by the article “Forgivness: A National Tragedy and Radical Love at Mother Emanuel AME” www.faithgateway.com/forgiveness-national-tragedy-radical-love-mother-emanuel/#.YUZGTn1Ok2w