Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on the one year anniversary of the Charleston Shooting (June 17, 2016). We are re-featuring it to remember those who died, to highlight the significance of this event, and to reflect on what the godly example of Christians who experienced great pain and loss might mean for us.
Remembering What Happened
Im afraid that many of us may have already forgotten the lessons of the horrific church shooting that took place just one year ago. During a routine prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, nine people were killed when Dylann Roof opened fire.
Roof had hoped to reignite a race war in the area by inciting hatred and rage in the community through this senseless crime. Instead, these brothers and sisters in Christ taught all of us something biblical: forgiveness (Matt. 6:1415; Mark 11:25).
Remembering What They Taught Us
The family members, friends, and congregants of those who were murdered had the opportunity to express to Dylann Roof their malice and anger, but they spoke words of mercy and forgiveness instead. This response, of course, went viral through social media outlets, but what they did remains instructive for all of us one year later. They did as Jesus did, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
What does it take to freely offer this kind of forgiveness to someone who has wronged us? And what does it take to continue forgiving, even when it continues to hurt?
In order to forgive others, we need to know that we have been forgiven. Paul says, Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). The basis for forgiveness is the gospel of Jesus Christ. He suffered and died at the hands of sinners so that we would be forgiven by God. His sacrificial death on the cross has left permanent scars on his bodyhis hands still have holes and his side is still pierced (John 20:20).
Forgiveness is sacrificial; it isnt cheap. It personally costs something to the people who are wronged, and they must endure those marksthe painfor as long as they live. Nadine Collier lost her dear mother, yet in anguish and grief she told the murderer:
You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul.
For Polly Sheppard and Felicia Sanders, two survivors of the Charleston massacre, this still rings true one year later. They have lost loved ones and yet they stand by their words. They continue to extend forgiveness to a murderer, hoping that he will find grace and the world will learn from their example.
Only because we have already been forgiven are we able to show undeserved, unmerited, and unexpected forgiveness to others. In order to continue to offer forgiveness to others, we need to dive deeper into the gospel of grace. The tragedy of Charleston may no longer be trending on Facebook or Twitter, but for those at Emanuel AME who lost loved onesand their pastorthe pain still stings to this day.
Forgiveness is a long-term project. It must be offered again and again. Its a marathon, not a sprint.
If we look to our own goodness or kindness to keep forgiving, we will tire out and fall back into being angry and vengeful. Injustice doesnt sit well with us apart from looking to the cross of Christwhere all of the worlds injustices met justice. One day very soon, at Christs second coming, all of the wrongs of this world will be made right.