Forgiving the Unforgivable

This past week, as Robert Godwin Sr. walked home from an Easter meal, a man walked up to him. That man asked Godwin his name, then shot him in the head. The shooter then posted a video he made of the encounter to facebook.

It's a horrible tragedy. After a nationwide search for this shooter, he was pursued by the police and then committed suicide.

I learned of the suicide as I was sitting in the waiting lounge of a doctor's office with my daughter. An adult daughter shared the news with her mother who was sitting across an aisle. After relaying the news, this woman added in an angry tone, "I'm glad. He had that coming."

This last comment took me aback.

I understand and agree that the shooter did a terrible thing, but rejoicing in the death of another human being always makes me incredibly sad. The reason for this is that I view everyone as a son or daughter of God.

The act of the shooter broke my heart for the victim and his family and loved ones. 

But two acts of violence do not make our world a better place than one act of violence.

My hope for people who commit terrible actions is that they come to the knowledge of God's love and forgiveness and redemption. Knowing the shooter committed suicide is not an acceptable second place in my book.

You may read this and point out that it's all easy for me to say. I didn't know the victim. And I think you have a point. That's why the comments of the family are so moving to me.

Speaking for the family, one of the murdered man's daughters said this: “each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer. … We want to wrap our arms around him.”

The son of the victim said, “I forgive him because we are all sinners.”

They said that their father had taught them to forgive others. That kind of response amazes me.

These are the ones who have lost more than any of the rest of us, yet they are first in line to offer forgiveness. We saw the same thing happen in the shooting at a South Carolina church last year. The family members offered forgiveness to the shooter in that case as well.

Nobody is asking that there be no consequences for such actions. There should be a judicial process for crimes, but in the midst of that process (or even if it never occurs), we have an opportunity to respond in ways that invite transformation in our world.

We have seen many shootings in our country of late. It's a terrible thing. It is also a tragic opportunity to display the transformation of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

Much as the crucifixion was a tragic opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate his love for us was at a level no one could have fathomed otherwise.

Sacrifice and forgiveness in the face of violence and injustice. This is one of the opportunities to point towards Jesus in the society where we live.

Even though that man didn't harm me directly, I can start by not rejoicing when he kills himself. Not wishing harm on him. But rather praying for the family and recognizing that the shooter is a broken and flawed human being.

I drove two of my children into Baltimore a few weeks ago in order to volunteer at the Salvation Army. A block away from our destination, I had to divert around a police roadblock. 20 minutes before we arrived, a man had been fatally shot.

I'm glad we were there. We were seeking to bring light and to show God's love in exactly the right place. I pray that the man who committed that murder will come to see the radically transformed life Jesus offers to all of us, no matter what we've done.

I heard a comment recently which spoke to this. I'll paraphrase: "It's easy enough to die for the good and beautiful, but to die for the miserable and corrupt, that's difficult; and that's what Jesus did."

There are going to be more terrible shootings and heinous murders. Let us prepare ourselves to be witnesses of the love, mercy and forgiveness of Christ, even as we trust him to provide the justice he says he will ultimately provide for all.