In June of 2015 Dylan Roof entered the prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. By the time he was finished, he had killed 9 people including the pastor. His hopes were to start a “race” war. His hate towards people who are black was evident not only in this event, but also in so many other areas of his life. A few days after his capture when he was in court, he was confronted by members of the victims’ families. They responded with forgiveness and pleas for Dylan to come to know Jesus Christ as his Savior. It was an amazing display of forgiveness, hardly the reaction Roof expected. It was an act that reflected the spirit of Jesus in the most amazing way at a most difficult time.
We all know that the gospel hinges on forgiveness. There are some things that are relatively easy to forgive. This was not easy to forgive. Every time I hear that story I am reminded of the story of Jesus on the cross. He’d been arrested in the dark of night and convicted by the Jews in an illegal trial. He was brought to the Roman authorities who gave in to mob pressure to put Him to death. He was flogged, mocked, and beaten again. He was so weak that He couldn’t carry His own cross. After being nailed to the cross and hung up there for all to see, and mock, He said this: “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” (Luke 23:34)
Radical forgiveness seems to be a forgotten practice in the church. When someone slights us in the church, we immediately plot revenge, or we look for ways to find another church. Yes, we’re hurting. Yes, it’s hard to be there, but most of us have sought other ways to deal with the hurt than forgiving the other person. That’s not always easy. Many times people that hurt us don’t even realize that they’ve done so. If you were to go up to them and say, “You hurt me, but I forgive you,” their reaction may cause even more hurt and anger. In cases where the hurt is obvious – like Jesus on the cross or the families of the Charleston shooting victims – forgiveness offered is seen as an amazing gesture. In most cases, though, forgiving someone who hurt you is laughed at because the person who hurt is unaware of the hurt they caused. Nevertheless, we have a mandate: forgiveness.
There are two types of situations that we are called to offer forgiveness. The first type of situation is when someone apologizes to us. It’s so hard to apologize, isn’t it? When someone takes the courageous step to apologize, we need to show the forgiveness of Christ. Even when the apology is forced, as in “Tell your brother you’re sorry of you’ll stay in your room for a week,” we are to forgive – and not grudgingly but lovingly. The other type of situation that we are called to offer forgiveness is when someone does something wrong to us and doesn’t apologize. Sometimes we need to tell that person, as the families in Charleston did. Sometimes we need to forgive silently knowing that the other person may not realize how much they hurt us. If God can forgive us even if we don’t confess each and every sin, we ought to be able to forgive others. That doesn’t mean it will be easy; that means we will be obedient to Jesus.
Oh Lord, You have forgiven me in so many different ways. Sometimes I recognize that forgiveness; at other times I don’t even realize that I needed it. Help me to live a lifestyle that forgives others no matter what they have done. Let my attitude towards others always reflect Your forgiveness.