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 those beautiful young girls after forgiving the man who sent them for their death? How could families take a seat to meals 3 x per day, looking at the empty place at the table, and still forgive the man who took away a beloved child and sister?
The solution is based on a significant truth about forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t about letting someone “get by” 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 left out 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 people 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 dependent on remorse. He taught us to pray saying, “Forgive us our trespasses, even as we forgive those that trespass against us.” There’s nothing in that 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’re sorry. a course in miracles podcasts They might not even feel that they have done anything wrong. When they do sense any error on their part, they might continue to justify their behavior in any number of creative ways, always finding some way to excuse themselves from any need to apologize. If we simply forgive those that apologize first, we would not forgive many people.
The Amish recognized the true problem that could arise should they didn’t forgive the murderer of their children. They knew that the painful wounds within their hearts where their children were ripped out of their lives would fester and spread or even healed by forgiveness. We often believe that forgiveness is just a gift to usually the one who behaved badly, however the people that are harmed need 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 the fixation on wrongs perpetrated hundreds of years in the past. Unwillingness to forgive eventually transforms into a destructive force that cannot be subdued with no act of forgiveness.
The Amish quickly responded for their tragedy by embracing the family of the murderer within their forgiveness, because they practice forgiveness within their daily lives. It is hard to forgive, and just like weight-bearing exercise allows a development 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 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 in order to cope with the shameful act.
Forgiveness is about dealing with reality and accepting truth. The Amish didn’t try to share with anyone that what Charles Roberts did was “okay.” They acknowledged the horror of his behavior and chose to forgive in order 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 within their hearts, healing their memories, strengthening them to have through daily, giving them hope for another over time and eternity that has been not doomed to despair by the poisonous blend of grief and vengeance. Likewise, while the Roberts family received forgiveness, they, too, were permitted to deal with reality. They did not need to try to hide themselves from the vengeful stares and ostracism of the Amish. They did not need to try to justify what Charles did or even to will not speak of 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 doing away with victims. Five girls died, and many others were injured, some permanently. In a Balkan mentality, this event will be mourned and memorialized for generations to come. The families of the victims would go through the family of the perpetrator for opportunities to repay wounds with wounds. The transactions of vengeance would continue for hundreds of years until nobody really knew anymore what it had been all about. It’d simply be “us” against “them.”
This is a picture of our human predicament. Lots 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 manage the facts and accept the facts and love each other in the light of truth. It is really hard to forgive, because it is so hard to deal with the truth. We have to overcome that problem.