Nearly ten years ago my friend, Beth, came to Pennsylvania for a visit. We had just moved to the state four months earlier and I was anxious to show her what I’d found so far.
No trip to this part of the state would be complete without a touring of Amish Country. So Beth and I set out to explore Lancaster County and find the Plain Folk. We were not disappointed. It was harvest time and big draft horses pulling plows seemed to be around every other twist or turn.
It was a beautiful day in early October, 2006. Driving around the rolling hills and lush farmlands, we laughed and chatted and enjoyed the bucolic scenery. Little did we know that less than seven miles away, a man walked into a one room Amish school house, shot ten young girls between the ages of 6 and 13, and then killed himself.
I can’t remember if we heard it on the radio during the drive back to my house or if we saw it on the news that evening. What I do remember is the deep feeling of sorrow and thinking about the happy, apple cheeked children in bonnets and black hats that we had just seen.
The truly remarkable thing about this event, however, was how the Amish families came together to forgive the shooter, even going so far as to comfort his family.
A year ago we all watched with dread as reports of a shooting in a Charleston, South Carolina church filled the news. We learned it was a racially motivated crime: a young white man killed nine black worshippers after attending a service that he had been wholeheartedly welcomed into.
But again, we as a country witnessed forgiveness for something that most of us would consider unforgiveable. The daughter of one of the women killed had this to say at a press conference:
I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again – but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul… You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.
Forgiveness has never been much of an issue with me. I can never think of someone I need to forgive when that question is asked of me. I used to believe it was because I had that part of my faith locked down, but I realize that’s not the case. After pondering long and hard on this, I think it’s because of a few things: 1) I’ve never been the recipient of something most people would consider unforgivable; 2) I’ve never been one to hold a grudge or stay angry for any length of time; and 3) I’m more of a big picture kind of gal.
I have been angry with people before and I have been hurt by people before. But my typical thought process is that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. In the grand scheme of things it was not a big deal.
I admit it’s a great way to go through life. It really is. However, it has nothing to do with being a good Christian or saint like. It’s just the way I’m wired.
But losing someone you love to an act of terror matters profoundly at the end of the day. In the grand scheme of things it IS a huge deal. And I don’t know that I could forgive someone for something so dark.
In fact, I KNOW I couldn’t forgive someone for doing something like that. These people I mentioned above don’t have that ability either. What they have is the supernatural power of a God who is love and who forgives and who, in the grand scheme of things, is THE biggest deal.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~ Philippians 4:13
Even step into the light and forgive someone for the unforgivable.