Forgiving the Unforgivable


Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)

Today I stand in awe of my brothers and sisters in Christ in Charleston, South Carolina. They have shown in the worst of circumstances what it is to live as Jesus taught.

The whole nation has been following the trial of Dylann Roof, who gunned down nine members of a Bible study group at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in July, 2015. One of the victims was Myra Thompson, who led the Bible study that evening.

Her husband, Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, is the vicar at Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church. Less than 48 hours after the shooting, the bond hearing for Roof was held. At that hearing, Rev. Thompson and four others whose family members had been killed said they forgave their murderer.

How many of us would be able to do that?

This week the jury returned a guilty verdict. The New York Times quote of the day for Dec. 16 is from comments that Rev. Thompson made as the trial concluded. “He (Roof) is not a part of my life anymore. Forgiveness has freed me of that, of him completely. I’m not going to make him a lifetime partner.”

I stand in awe of my brother as he lives out what Jesus commanded.

Many times I’ve seen how forgiving someone rather than holding a grudge has cut loose the chains that kept me fretting about what that person did to me or someone I cared about. Forgiving makes it possible to move forward. Sometimes, it even lets friendship between me and the one I forgave grow deeper and stronger than it ever was before.

But some deeds are so heinous, they seem unforgivable. They are too far beyond what I could ever forgive in my own power. If I try to forgive by human strength alone, I will fail. Only the Holy Spirit can give me the power to forgive the most horrible injuries. I hope that I would be able to do as Jesus commands, but I also hope and pray that I never have to find out. Would I long for vengeance or could I choose to forgive?

Justice is getting what we deserve for what we’ve done.
Mercy is not getting what we deserve for the evil we’ve done.
Grace is getting good things that we don’t deserve, regardless of the evil we’ve done.

Rev. Thompson’s forgiveness is a living example of God’s grace in action through those who love Him.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to extend grace when you could have demanded justice, are you pleased with the choice you made?

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