When Charles Roberts gunned down five girls within an Amish school, the nation was horrified. Once the Amish community lined up to forgive him and his family, the nation was stunned. How could the household and friends of the dead possibly forgive a man who killed five innocent children in cold blood? How could they honor the memories of these beautiful little girls after forgiving the person who sent them for their death? How could families take a seat to meals 3 x a day, considering the empty place at the table, and still forgive the person who took away a beloved child and sister?
The solution is based on an essential truth about forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t about letting someone “get by” with evil deeds. Forgiveness is approximately redeeming relationships by building them on truth.
Some people commented on the Amish willingness to forgive by noting that the killer had never expressed any remorse. The note he left behind only clouded attempts to comprehend his actions. It did not include anything remotely like remorse. The killer’s final act was to kill himself, destroying any hope that he might later express remorse. Many people felt that Charles Roberts did not deserve forgiveness, and most especially, he did not deserve forgiveness from the parents of the girls he killed.
When Jesus taught about forgiveness, he never said that forgiveness was to be influenced by remorse. He taught us to pray saying, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There’s nothing because prayer that suggests we ought to wait until wrongdoers say “I’m sorry.” Some of the those who hurt us never will say that they are sorry. They might not really feel that they have done anything wrong a course in miracles podcast. Should they do sense any error on their part, they could continue steadily to justify their behavior in any number of creative ways, always finding some way to excuse themselves from any need certainly to apologize. If we only forgive those who apologize first, we would not forgive many people.
The Amish recognized the actual problem that would arise if they did not forgive the murderer of their children. They knew that the painful wounds inside their hearts where their children were ripped out of their lives would fester and spread or even healed by forgiveness. We often think that forgiveness is just a gift to the main one who behaved badly, but the people who are harmed require it just like much. The myths surrounding the Hatfields and the McCoys or Romeo and Juliet are made on truth we are able to observe every day. The Balkan peninsula is becoming iconic for its fixation on wrongs perpetrated more than 100 years in the past. Unwillingness to forgive eventually transforms into a dangerous force that can not be subdued without the act of forgiveness.
The Amish quickly responded for their tragedy by embracing the household of the murderer inside their forgiveness, since they practice forgiveness inside their daily lives. It’s hard to forgive, and just like weight-bearing exercise allows an advancement of work with ever heavier weights, practicing forgiveness in small things prepares a person to forgive in large things. When this tragedy struck, the Amish already knew that they needed to forgive the killer and his family. They recognized that there might be no healthy relationship involving the Amish and the household of the killer if this disgraceful behavior were allowed to create barriers between them. The Amish burst through the barriers of shame and fear and pain with forgiveness modeled on the grace of God toward sinners. They didn’t forgive the killer and his family out of a need to hide the shameful act; they did it to be able to cope with the shameful act.
Forgiveness is about dealing with reality and accepting truth. The Amish did not try to share with anyone that what Charles Roberts did was “okay.” They acknowledged the horror of his behavior and thought we would forgive to be able to bring that horrible event into the light of God’s love and grace. By forgiving the killer and his family, they opened themselves to God’s work of love inside their hearts, healing their memories, strengthening them to have through every day, providing them with hope for the next over time and eternity that was not doomed to despair by the poisonous blend of grief and vengeance. Likewise, since the Roberts family received forgiveness, they, too, were permitted to deal with reality. They did not want to try to hide themselves from the vengeful stares and ostracism of the Amish. They did not want to try to justify what Charles did or even to refuse to talk about him lest someone remember what he did. The forgiveness of the Amish plainly uncovered the horrible truth of the horrible act and prevented it from destroying either the Amish or the family.
Forgiveness is approximately eliminating victims. Five girls died, and many others were injured, some permanently. In a Balkan mentality, this event could be mourned and memorialized for generations to come. The families of the victims would look at the family of the perpetrator for opportunities to repay wounds with wounds. The transactions of vengeance would continue for more than 100 years until nobody really knew any longer what it had been all about. It would simply be “us” against “them.”
This can be a picture of our human predicament. Plenty of our behavior is colored by somebody’s unwillingness to forgive. Too many of our relationships are made on the shoddy foundation of lies – the unwillingness to face the truth and accept the truth and love one another in the light of truth. It’s really hard to forgive, because it is so hard to deal with the truth. We need to get over that problem.