Generally Speaking: To forgive is Christ in actionBy MARILYN TINNIN COLUMNIST,
On October 2, 2006, this startling news rocked the nation. A quiet milkman named Charles Carl Roberts IV stormed into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Penn., killed five little girls and wounded five more before killing himself.
In the post 9/11 world of that time, we thought we were becoming somewhat desensitized to such inexplicable horror, but we found ourselves heartbroken and weeping along with that far away community.
It seemed our entire nation wanted to wrap its arms around those peace loving Amish families who were living examples of self-sacrifice and kindness.
The media reported that more than $500,000 poured into the tiny town within a day or two to help with the medical expenses of the children who were still fighting for their lives.
But it was the reaction of the Amish themselves that baffled, impressed, surprised and captured the attention of many Americans.
It seems that among the 75 mourners who turned out for Mr. Robert’s funeral a few days later, half the number were members of the Amish community who came to extend love, comfort, and forgiveness to Robert’s widow. Yes.
Those who had experienced the greatest loss came to comfort the family of the man who had taken from them that which was irreplaceable.
One television reporter asked, “Who are the Amish that they can forgive the man who murdered their children?”
To my surprise, the reporter did not ridicule this odd gesture of forgiveness that she clearly could not explain.
Instead, her tone conveyed awe and even reverent respect as she closed with, “The Amish are resolute in their faith no matter how severely it is tested.”
There followed a segment on the faith that drives the Amish people.
In a nutshell, these people whose lifestyle appears to be out of sync with modern civilization have committed themselves to following Christ’s example in all things. Jesus’s prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” is the standard the Amish seek to imitate.
I have thought about the impact of that news story many times over the years.
The most powerful legacy of that event turned out not to be the fact of the disturbed gunman and his horrific act.
Instead, it was the universal amazement over the Christ-like response of the Amish community because the secular world could not fully explain or understand it.
And it bears mentioning that it was not sheer willpower or skilled pretending that was at work among the Amish people. No human being in his own strength can love his enemies and forgive those who wound him.
Those Amish parents would not see their children again in this life. Their grief was not going to end quickly. And yet…they were willing to forgive the perpetrator. Only the healing power of the Holy Spirit works such counterintuitive grace in a Believer’s heart.
Forgiving others is one of the most uncomfortable commands of scripture.
It definitely does not come naturally.
To forgive someone who has mistreated me might be hard, but possibly doable.
To forgive someone who has mistreated my husband, my child, or my grandchild requires grace beyond anything I, in my own strength, can muster. But there sit those words of Jesus from Luke 11 and Matthew 6: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Really? In this life? Did He mean it? Did He really mean it? I think so.
Brennan Manning was a Roman Catholic priest who left the priesthood to marry but became a renowned author and speaker in the 1990’s.
Throughout his adult life, he struggled with alcoholism going for long periods managing to stay sober and then falling into old habits again.
Maybe that is one reason he could write with such compassion on the subject of grace.
He knew well what forgiveness looked like because he recognized that he stood on the receiving end of lots of it.
In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, he speaks of something called “the victorious limp.”
Those words are precious to me. So often in our shallow presentations of the Christian life, we share the stories of fairytale testimonies where, as Manning says, “An attractive twenty-year-old accepts Jesus and becomes Miss America; a tenth-round draft choice for the Green Bay Packers goes to the Pro Bowl.
Miracles occur, conversions abound, church attendance skyrockets, ruptured relationships get healed, shy people become gregarious…” and on and on.
That picture of “Victory in Jesus” falls short of most of our life experiences.
The New Testament does not present the victorious Christian life that way at all.
The biblical image of victory was Jesus on Calvary. Broken, battered, bruised, and sometimes, like the prodigal son, finding the way home to a forgiving Father after wandering in a foreign land — that’s an image I really understand. Being reconciled to our Father does indeed gift us with a certain gait — the unmistakable victorious limp. (Remember Jacob? If you need a refresher, see Genesis 32).
I doubt the Amish ever read Brennan Manning, but they certainly understood what it was to walk with that victorious limp.
Legendary Dallas Cowboy Roger Staubach once said, “You’re not playing football unless you’re playing hurt.” The Christian life is so often exactly like that.
It seems to me God would realize He could attract more players if He had a different game plan.
But then, I suppose, the world wouldn’t stop and do a 180 every time it ran across someone who is playing hurt and still giving it their all.
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
— C.S. Lewis