Forgiveness, the upside-down choice

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On March 27, 2023, death and destruction came calling. At Covenant Christian School in Nashville, Tennessee, a deranged young woman broke in and opened fire. When at last the guns fell silent, seven people were dead—three children, three adults, and the shooter.

Last week, the Covenant school community came together to worship at their own church for the first time since the tragedy took place. Bestselling author, Karen Kingsbury, reported that early in the evening, clouds had gathered, and a brief rain had fallen. Just as the families were preparing to enter the chapel, the clouds parted, the sun appeared and, with it, a brilliant double rainbow arcing over the entire school. For families still reeling with grief and shock, it was a visible sign of God’s presence.

Toward the end of her lovely account, there were two sentences that caught my eye. “And get this—something you will not hear on the news—a number of Covenant families anonymously pulled together to pay for the shooter’s funeral. Because Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’”

From a people who’d just suffered a brutal attack, it was a breathtaking act of grace. With loved ones newly laid in graves, covered with earthen blankets, still some chose to forgive.

Sometimes I think of heaven as the Upside-Down Kingdom. The ways of God are often counterintuitive, backwards and, yes, upside down according to our human understanding. So it is with forgiveness.

The reason that forgiveness comes so hard is that often there are valid reasons for our hurt and anger. In this life, we will experience harm, injustice, and evil. No one escapes unscathed. When it happens, we naturally experience all the emotions attendant with injustice and pain. This simply means we are human.

The trouble comes when we cling to our anger, keeping it close, feeding it, stoking its fires. Normal anger, long held, turns into a darker companion called bitterness, and bitterness is a slow-acting poison. The ones being poisoned? It is us, not our nemeses.

Jesus did not tell us to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who misuse us, and to love those who oppose us because He was naïve. Of all people, He knew the extent of evil in this world. After all, He, too, was murdered by hateful hands. In spite of it, He chose to forgive. He persisted in stubborn love in the face of the ultimate injustice. If we want to look like Him, this is what we will choose.

Bitterness and unforgiveness, I’ve learned, hold us hostage. We are the ones in prison, and forgiveness holds the key to that cell. We may feel that by forgiving, we are letting the wrongdoer off the hook. That’s not the case. As someone once said, “Forgiveness is merely moving them off of our hook onto God’s hook.” Knowing this can help when forgiveness comes hard.

It should be noted that forgiveness doesn’t automatically equal reconciliation. Forgiveness is a one-man job. It can be done without any gestures, apologies, or remorse from the offender. It is largely done for us. But reconciliation always takes two, and trust takes time to rebuild. We can give ourselves grace for rebuilding.

What the Covenant families have chosen is inspiring. If they can take the high road, the path of Light and Life and Love, then surely we can, too. They are a shining example of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, famous words, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

May all who mourn find comfort. May all who despair find hope. May all who walk in darkness find the light. And as always, may God bless our America.

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