How Charleston Families Forgave Killer:
It’s Christ’s Love
Note: the feature picture for this article, and the one shown below, is a public domain picture under Creative Commons License taken by Nomader at the Charleston memorial service where the shooting took place.
The families of the Charleston victims have responded to the tragedy by offering the love and forgiveness of Christ to the killer.
Many of you have probably heard about that already.
But I’m writing about it today because 1) this remarkable reaction to evil stands in shocking contrast to the way that other political groups and religious ideologies have responded to persecution and insult; and 2) there’s an important truth behind this remarkable turn of events: Jesus Christ, through the love “that He has shed abroad in our hearts,” is able to use even the most wicked acts of humanity and re-purpose them for good.
But first, just in case you don’t know the details, here is how the families forgave the killer — as reported by this news outlet (I have only included excerpts of the report):
…Relatives of the nine people shot down during a Bible study session inside their historic black church confronted the 21-year-old suspect Friday during his initial hearing. They described their pain and anger, but also spoke of love…
“I forgive you, my family forgives you,” said Anthony Thompson, whose relative Myra Thompson was killed. “We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. … Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now”…The families are determined not to respond in kind, said Alana Simmons, who lost her grandfather, the Rev. Daniel Simmons…“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof — everyone’s plea for your soul is proof they lived in love and their legacies will live in love, so hate won’t win,” she said. “And I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.”
…Roof’s public defender released a statement from his family offering prayers and sympathy for the victims, and expressing “shock, grief and disbelief as to what happened that night.”“We have all been touched by the moving words from the victims’ families offering God’s forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering,” the statement said…
Going back to the first two points at the top:
1. If only other groups would choose to emulate Christ in the face of persecution and insult. One telling contrast: one particular religious group will try to kill you if you draw a sketch of their religious founder. Contrast that to the Christians like the ones in Charleston who will forgive you — yes, actually forgive you — if you kill them.
2. The news about this remarkable response — that there was forgiveness, not rioting or revenge killings — is being spread far and wide around the world. In our modern Screen Age, when news stories swarm the globe and fill the minds and hearts of millions of people in minutes, this shocking story of forgiveness is having a global impact. It’s certainly having an impact in my town here in California. I’ve spoken with people who are amazed by the act of forgiveness that happened in Charleston.
This ability to forgive in the face of such extreme suffering is not an anomaly. It is the central creed of Christ’s teachings to His followers. And this is the crucial part that many non-Christians (and even some cultural Christians) do not understand:
1. Jesus taught that when you believe His words and accept the payment He made on your behalf to clear all your debts with God forever, then the Spirit of Christ quite literally comes to live inside of you. Yes, the cat is out of the bag. Orthodox Christianity — i.e. the teachings of Christianity in their purest form — teach that, in a very supernatural way, Christ Himself takes up residence within you when you put your faith in Him with sincerity.
2. However, the Spirit of Christ does not “possess” you in the pop culture sense. He still leaves room for you to make free will decisions. He establishes a new “beachhead,” so to speak, in your emotions, thoughts, and spirit. There is a new Presence, a new Personality, at work inside of you. The Spirit of Christ influences you from within and, especially in times of great hardship, moves in your heart and gives you the ability to forgive in a radical, miraculous way that defies the usual reactions of human nature.
We need more orthodox Christians in our culture. We need to stop ridiculing and publicly shaming Bible-believing Christians. Enough with the Christophobia. My prayer is that our culture will see the immense value and miraculous power of orthodox Christianity and its message of radical forgiveness.