Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Power to Forgive

"Tender Strength"
- in my meditation garden - 

Every once in a while something will happen in the nation or in the world that seems to grab everyone – people stop what they are doing and pay attention. The horrible mass shootings in a South Carolina church was certainly one of those “attention-demanding” events, but there was something that happened in the aftermath of those terrible shootings that got people all over the world to pay attention equally as well.

Yesterday, the surviving relatives of those nine victims who had been brutally murdered in that church gathered together in a South Carolina courtroom – the grieving mothers, the sisters, grandkids of the victims.  They looked into the eyes of the “gunman” who had so brutally robbed them of loved ones, reached deep down into the depth of their own pain and sorrow, and then amazingly enough they offered him gentle words of forgiveness.  It was a moment of such amazing grace:

One mother said:
You took something very precious away from me.
 I will never talk to her again,
I will never be able to hold her again.
But I forgive you, and I have mercy on your soul.
Another said:

You have killed some of the most beautiful people I know;
every fiber in my body hurts and I will never be the same.
But I forgive you, may God have mercy on you.

The whole world seemed to stop and pay attention to what was being said in that South Carolina courtroom yesterday. I heard these words broadcast over the radio, on the TV, on all the newspapers - these words of forgiveness flooded the social media all day long.

In one sense I suppose many people found it hard to believe that anyone could be so forgiving of a heinous murderer who had brutally killed the people they loved most in this life. No doubt many people found these acts of forgiveness to be foolish and even delusional: “that killer is nothing but a piece of trash, he should be stepped on and thrown away.” 

And yet, I think so many people everywhere were so touched by these unexpected tender  words of forgiveness because they rang so true. These words touched something very deep and very  “real” in our human condition: As hard as it may be sometimes, unless we forgive we remain the victims of our own hatred - forgiveness sets us free.

Yesterday as I listened to those plaintive voices sobbing through their painful and yet tender words of absolution, I felt the depth of their sorrow but I also knew that this was also a moment of profound grace- as they forgave that boy they not only set his soul free, they also freed themselves.  

I vividly recall something Martin Luther King once said about the power of forgiveness. Dr. King was certainly someone who had a reason to hate.  His church was set on fire, he was thrown in jail, he was degraded and abused by vile haters throughout most of his life; and yet he had the courage and the wisdom to proclaim:

We must always develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.
He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.
There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.
When we discover this we are less prone to hate our enemies.

There is a passage in the Christian scriptures:  If you say you love God but hate your brother, you are a liar. Pretty strong words.

This passage becomes even stronger when you add this on: If you say you love God but won’t forgive your brother, you are a liar.

In my heart of hearts I truly believe in the truth and wisdom of what Dr. King once taught.  It speaks more loudly today than ever:

He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.


  1. I'm grateful I do not have to forgive this guy for killing my loved ones. I suppose you do not know you can do that until something like this happens.

    Forgiveness means keeping no record of wrongs done and it takes a keep insight into the spiritual realities to bring it off.

    My heart is with those who are grieving. Honestly I have difficulty caring about the future of the killer. I guess I still have some work to do on myself. He is deserving of love as much as the others. But it is hard to say that.

    Paul these are troubling times in the nation and the world. In this incident we see what hate does and we see what love does. I chose love.

    1. As always, thank you for your insight, my friend.