In a world of atrocities we beg for relief. One painful blow after another leaves our hearts battered and bleeding and we wonder how much more tragedy our land can take before humanity implodes. Be it movie-theater-shootings, trafficking of young girls, cholera-infested drinking water, or the many other crimes men and women commit against fellow beings, the pain remains. Compassion floods and bursts the dams of our hearts, and we cry out in anguish "No more!"
Another flash across the screen and my mind can't help the thoughts streaming across my brain. Can it get any worse than this? One of my biggest fears is not only can it get worse, but it will.
And with what can I arm my soul against such warfare?
I long to take up the same weapon of my Savior - forgiveness...
Today is the day after James Holmes opened fire on innocent movie-goers in Aurora, Colorado. I suppose a journalist would add the word allegedly into that sentence somewhere. I suppose I'm glad not to be a journalist today. Not because I desire to use words carelessly, but because I want to use them generously, and also because this post serves not to accuse, but to explore.
Could we explore the potential of this life for one moment? ... Murder, arrest, trial, judgement, sentence. Families of victims could call for the worst for him. I know I'm not the only one who googled whether or not Colorado holds the death penalty. And of course one could argue that if he got the worst, he'd be getting what he deserves.
So why do I find my heart hoping for a good, strong, bold, compassionate prison chaplain for this man? Probably because I put myself in his concrete boots and hope that someone would love me that much if it were me. Because I too am a murderer.
"But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person" - Matthew 15:18-20a (NIV)
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell." -Matthew 5:21-22 (NLT)
I don't find it strange that what I'm reading in my time with the Father the past few days is the story of Joseph and his evil, murdering brothers. Joseph, who honored God and walked with integrity, and found that what resulted was more and more persecution - over 20 years of it! In the end, however, his revenge weapon was nothing short of complete forgiveness.
"But Joseph replied, 'Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.' So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them." -Genesis 50:19-21 (NLT)
Am I God? [tell me you don't love the beauty of this rhetoric]
Clearly I am not. Not the Judge. Not the One who decides - about Mr. Holmes, or about the sex-buyer of children, or about a careless UN worker defecating cholera into the stream, or even about my own murderous heart that defiles me over and over. Thank You, Lord, that I am not You nor in Your judgement shoes. I really couldn't do it.
I think of more models of forgiveness this morning, with the likes of Joseph. I ponder over Corrie ten Boom, who actively chose to forgive horrors against her unimaginable. (This quote from The Hiding Place is a bit lengthy - thank you for your endurance today.)
"It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there - the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie's pain-blanched face.
"He came up to me as the church was emptying, 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 in Bloemendaal 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 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." [emphasis mine]
And one more model comes to mind in light of recent tragic events - the sister who forgave her brother's murderer, Karla Faye Tucker. In June of 1983, she and Danny Garret killed two people, one - a man named Jerry Dean who had a sister named Peggy Kurtz, a follower of Christ, who, with her church, prayed for the salvation of his murderer(s) the day after they found the bodies. And when Karla and Danny were apprehended over a month later, Peggy (who had known Christ for less than a year) began to pray for forgiveness.
"I didn't want to be consumed by hate. So, I told the Lord that now that I had a face to put to the crime, I still chose to forgive, and that if He made it possible, I would tell Karla. ... I wanted my mind and my heart to be filled with the Word of God. I had to take every thought captive. It's obedience to Christ. I could not let my mind become absorbed with the details of the crime. Instead I began praying every day for their salvation. I knew God could change them ... You know where the Bible says we are to 'lay up treasures in heaven'? We usually hear those verses used in reference to giving money to God's work. But the Lord showed me that forgiveness is a treasure! So being able to forgive in spite of this hurt in my heart is something He calls a treasure. It's His treasure of amazing grace. ... I will get to know her, in heaven. Then we can share all we want and neither of us will have to feel any of the pain of shed any of the tears." [Karla Faye Tucker: Set Free by Linda Strom]
Karla Faye Tucker was introduced to Christ very early in her incarceration, and gave her heart and soul to Him even before her trial began. She lived proclaiming His salvation and grace from 1983 until February of 1998 when she was executed by lethal injection. Though she appealed the death penalty on the basis that God had changed her, inside and out, she was denied and subsequently surrendered her mortal life for an eternity with Him willingly. Her life still shouts the greatest glory to Him - His great power to change a human being.
And so, Lord - today I pray for Mr. Holmes. I ask for You to place a chaplain or other spiritual guide, may it be another prisoner or lawyer, or whomever You may choose to use for Your glory. I ask that You do what You do best - forgive and change. There is no other source of such treasures, and nothing more amazing to our human understanding than Your power to turn a life from darkness to light. May You receive thanks and praise for what You will do. Even in the face of tragedy and fear, today I choose to trust You. Because I know You can. The love and forgiveness needed by the victims and families must come from You and You alone. His eternal forgiveness and salvation are Yours to give. I pray that when You do, his hands will be open to Your grace. Thank you, Jesus for your greatest model of forgiveness. I desire to follow it.