Today at my church, like countless churches across the nation, our sermon was on the topic of forgiveness…
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
For me, this message was especially timely because of a school shooting that happened in a neighboring town and a colleague’s public suicide during business hours at my work. The tragedies of the last week are ones that I have only experienced indirectly. Mostly through dear friends who were impacted directly. I know for those who are still in the depths of pain, pleas for forgiveness can feel like betrayal. Yet forgiveness is the path of God and in the end it is His greatest gift for us.
In 2013, I experienced a personal tragedy that disrupted every aspect of my family’s life. As I think back to the 10 months that followed, it is with deep sadness. A handful of times I tried to turn to God but I never felt the peace I was hoping for. One day I read an interview with Malcolm Gladwell on the power of forgiveness. In this article he shares Wilma Derksen’s story.
Wilma and her husband lost their 13 year old daughter only to find out six long weeks later their child had been tortured and killed by a sexual predator. Their daughter’s body was left in a shack close to their home. The night the Derksen daughter’s body was found her parents received a late night visitor. After extended family and friends had left their house, Wilma and her husband were visited by a man who had long-ago lost his own child to murder. He warned that in the years after he lost his child he went on to lose near everything else as well. His relationships, his job, even the remembrance of his daughter had all been buried under hate, anger, and scars of injustice. That night Wilma and her husband decided for their own sake and for the sake of their two surviving children they would journey the path of forgiveness.
Gladwell shared another story of an Amish community in Pennsylvania. A man broke into the Amish single classroom school, tied up all the girls and shot them. The community came together an in an expression of love that is hard to understand. The Amish community issued a statement of forgiveness within hours. What followed in subsequent weeks is hard to imagine:
“On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man.” Another Amish father noted, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.” Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”
A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts’ widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims.” (Wikipedia)
He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. (Ephesians 1:7)
After reading this article I felt humbled, because even though the tragedy I was experiencing was life changing, it was nothing close to the loss of a child. I felt pushed by this article to get to know the God they knew! I wanted to be in deep relationship with the God that gave peace and love to that Amish community and the Derksen’s in their dark hours. This random article, reignited a fire within me to know the living God that forgives.