I am extremely saddened by the recent shootings at Oregon's Umpqua Community College. My heartfelt prayers go out to the families of the deceased - I simply cannot imagine the pain and hurt that would come from losing a loved one, especially a child. And I share this today, honestly, without totally understanding how they feel. How could I? However, I truly believe that God's grace is big enough to help these families through this. I truly believe that God's grace is big enough to heal the pain. I truly believe that God's grace is big enough even to help these people to forgive the person who brought this evil and pain into their lives.
Forgiveness is a crazy thing. I remember when I lived in Seattle there was a serial killer named Gary Ridgeway that was on trial for the murder dozens of young women. He was the epitome of evil. You just look at his face on TV and you could tell that he was not a good man. This was big news in Seattle, and I remember watching the part of the sentencing when they brought the families in to have the opportunity to address the killer of their daughter or sister or mom face-to-face. What transpired was nothing less than an act of God. Take a moment to watch this and then continue reading below:
Something similar happened in Amish country in Pennsylvania when a man killed several school children. The families of the murdered raised money for the dead murderer's family to have a funeral for him. They forgave him publicly the day after the events unfolded. The media didn't know what to do with this. Some people got mad at them and said "how could you possibly forgive someone who killed your kids?" The answer is powerful: "Because God forgave me and he is calling me to forgive others. He is calling me to forgive people over and over and over again, even when they are not seeking forgiveness. To forgive those who do not deserve to be forgiven, just as I didn't deserve to be forgiven either." It was moving, and God used this to display to the world the truth that Jesus said that the world would know we are his followers by the way we love. The world saw it that day and the world saw it in the sentencing phase of Gary Ridgeway's trial and the world can see it again.
I realize that it could come across as cold to post something like this in the shadow of a horrible tragedy and disaster such as the murders in Oregon, and I promise that is not my intent. My heart truly hurts. And God knows that I would need HIM to give me the strength to forgive this man if he murdered my child or wife or family member - there is no way in my flesh that I would do it. I would want to kill him. I would want revenge. I would want to make him pay. But this isn't what God wants. God wants to use tragedy and pain and suffering to bring about an opportunity for his love to shine. Even in the midst of the greatest evil and pain, God is at work. The power of God's love can overcome even the most hardened, evil, sin-loving person or city or culture or world. But God's love is supposed to shine out through us, as Christians. The problem is that we tend to respond like every other person on earth when tragedy hits: We get mad. We point fingers. We look for someone to blame. We start talking about gun control and the NRA. We start talking about how Christian persecution has come to America. We start talking about how this man asked everyone if they were Christians and, if so, proceeded to murder them. And not that we shouldn't talk about that - yes, persecution does appear to have come to our shores - but what we should be talking about more is forgiveness and grace and mercy and love - for these are what God has shown to us. We have the opportunity of a lifetime to show the world that Christians love the world! God loves the world - he does not hate it. He wants nothing more than for people to see his love and his mercy displayed on the cross for all to see. And, fortunately or unfortunately, these are the moments when God's love can shine the brightest. Let's join God and show love to this nation - God knows we need it more than ever before.