When Charles Roberts gunned down five girls in an Amish school, the nation was horrified. When the Amish community lined around forgive him and his family, the nation was stunned. How could the family and friends of the dead possibly forgive a person who killed five innocent children in cold blood? How could they honor the memories of these beautiful girls after forgiving the man who sent them to their death? How could families sit down to meals 3 times per day, taking a look at the empty place at the table, and still forgive the man who took away a beloved child and sister?
The answer is based on an essential truth about forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t about letting someone “make do” with evil deeds. Forgiveness is about redeeming relationships by building them on truth.
Many people commented on the Amish willingness to forgive by noting that the killer had never expressed any remorse. The note he put aside only clouded attempts to comprehend his actions. It didn’t include anything remotely like remorse. The killer’s final act was to kill himself, destroying any hope that he might later express remorse. Many individuals felt that Charles Roberts didn’t deserve forgiveness, and most especially, he didn’t deserve forgiveness from the parents of 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 that trespass against us.” There’s nothing in that prayer that suggests we ought to hold back until wrongdoers say “I’m sorry.” Some of the people who hurt us never will say that they’re sorry. They might not even feel that they have done anything wrong a course in miracles podcast. If they do sense any error on their part, they might continue to justify their behavior in any number of creative ways, always finding some solution to excuse themselves from any need to apologize. If we only forgive those that apologize first, we may not forgive many people.
The Amish recognized the real problem that will arise when they didn’t forgive the murderer of the children. They knew that the painful wounds inside their hearts where their children were ripped out of the lives would fester and spread if not healed by forgiveness. We often genuinely believe that forgiveness is really a gift to the main one who behaved badly, but the individuals 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 could observe every day. The Balkan peninsula has become iconic for its fixation on wrongs perpetrated more than 100 years in the past. Unwillingness to forgive eventually transforms into a destructive force that cannot be subdued without the act of forgiveness.
The Amish quickly responded to their tragedy by embracing the family of the murderer inside their forgiveness, simply because they practice forgiveness inside their daily lives. It’s hard to forgive, and just like weight-bearing exercise allows a progression 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 which they needed seriously to forgive the killer and his family. They recognized that there may be no healthy relationship involving the Amish and the family of the killer if this disgraceful behavior were allowed to build 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 deal with the shameful act.
Forgiveness is focused on dealing with reality and accepting truth. The Amish didn’t try to inform anyone who 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 to 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 each day, giving them expect the next with time and eternity that was not doomed to despair by the poisonous mixture of grief and vengeance. Likewise, because the Roberts family received forgiveness, they, too, were permitted to cope with reality. They did not want to attempt to hide themselves from the vengeful stares and ostracism of the Amish. They did not want to attempt to justify what Charles did or even to will not talk about him lest someone remember what he did. The forgiveness of the Amish plainly uncovered the horrible truth with this horrible act and prevented it from destroying either the Amish or the family.
Forgiveness is about eliminating victims. Five girls died, and many more were injured, some permanently. In a Balkan mentality, this event would be mourned and memorialized for generations to come. The families of the victims would go through the group 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 anymore what it had been all about. It’d simply be “us” against “them.”
This can be a picture of our human predicament. A lot of our behavior is colored by somebody’s unwillingness to forgive. Too quite a few relationships are made on the shoddy foundation of lies – the unwillingness to manage the truth and accept the truth and love each other in the light of truth. It’s really hard to forgive, because it is so very hard to cope with the truth. We must overcome that problem.