Another horrific massacre took place last week in Charleston, SC. A twenty-one year old young man opened fire in a bible study group and killed nine victims including an 87 year old woman as well as the pastor of the church. The young man was eventually apprehended and his license plate bore the emblem of the confederate flag. In a video, the tearful pained voices of the victims’ relatives expressed their hurt and forgiveness to the unemotional lad who stood between prison guards. How does one respond to such an injustice as the loss of a loved one. Is it wise to offer forgiveness to an unrepentant soul?
Now I am all for forgiving others, but I wonder if perhaps this process has been misunderstood by some so I began to do some research. When we are hurt or offended by another person, we usually experience a wide variety of emotions, so let’s explore these for a moment to see how they are to be handled.
When someone hurts us, there are many reactions we may feel; some of these are healthy and some are not. We may feel hurt, grieved, saddened, and sometimes devastated. These are all normal emotions and especially in the case of the death of a loved one. We need to allow ourselves to feel these emotions fully. To deny or forgive the other too quickly is both unhealthy and unwise. We need to take the time to feel and to grieve. Another response is the desire to want to get back at the other person. This is known as the desire for vengeance. So what about when we feel the need to “pay them back” for the hurt they’ve caused us?
The sense of injustice is reasonable. However, when we harbor thoughts of vengeance, these negative thoughts poison our mind and steal our peace. It would do us well to remember that we, too, have hurt others. When we let go of this need, and give it to God, we rid ourselves of that poison. It may be difficult, even painful, to forgive, but unforgiveness hurts us even more in the long run.
I was surprised at how quickly the relatives were to offer forgiveness to the perpetrator who showed absolutely no sign of remorse or regret. Does such a person deserve to be let off the hook, so to speak, so quickly? Is this even biblical?
There are many verses in Scripture that tell us to forgive and how many times to forgive. There is one verse however that may shed some light as to when to actually forgive someone. It is found in Luke 17:3 and reads “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.”. This is from the King James Bible, perhaps the oldest and most accurate version. Notice the caveat – if he repents. In other words, we are not commanded to forgive unrepentant people. Let’s use another scenario.
Say your child tells you a lie or steals money from you and you find out about it. As a parent, you don’t stop loving your child, but would you insist the child apologize? Or would you say “I forgive you” and then let the whole issue drop? If you do, the chances of having a repeat performance is likely to occur, would you agree? The role of a parent is to develop character in their children and teach them right from wrong. When we insist on moral behavior it does not mean we do not love our child. In fact, good discipline is a necessary component of raising healthy adults. There is one more consequence of forgiving too quickly.
When we forgive someone who is unrepentant, we take away the opportunity for real change and growth. Most human beings have some sort of conscience, and without the chance to repent, the person will wallow in guilt and shame. The purpose of true guilt and shame are to bring someone to accept responsibility for what they have done and to change. Then and only then, are we to forgive them for they have shown a change of heart and a true sorrowfulness for their actions.
Now this post might be controversial. I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic. We must stem the tide of these killings and hold the perpetrators responsible. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Until next time, keep looking up!