forgive? hell no!…heaven yes!

On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in what now is indelibly, searingly imprinted on the memory, the psyche of a city, a state, a nation, perhaps a world, eight members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and their pastor, among those gathered for prayer and Bible study, were shot and killed. Two days later, Dylann Storm Roof, the alleged perpetrator, was arraigned in court and charged with nine counts of murder. Also present, members of the families of the dead, who were granted liberty to speak. In that moment, something as stunning, perhaps more, as the killings were shocking, occurred. The offering of pardon. One saying, “I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you.” And another, “Hate won’t win…(the) victims died at the hands of hate. Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies live in love.”

The reactions, primarily two, to this act of compassion – this fruit, I believe, of faith that, acknowledging and accepting God’s forgiveness, must offer it, even, especially to the worst offender – were swift. For many, awestruck inspiration, and for some, tinged with an immediate, humble admission of pained wonderment about the capacity to do the same if ever in a similar sorrowful circumstance. For just as many, incredulity, and for some, a profound skepticism that questioned the validity of what one considered an “instant, unreasoned absolution that always requires time, maybe a long time, to achieve, if ever.” Another said, “Sometimes the wrong is too great. Sometimes the answer to the question, ‘Forgive?’ is ‘No’!”

Though I stand with those who are awed and inspired by the merciful kindness of the Charleston families, I also confess that I wrestle with forgiveness. That I can be swift to take offense and slow to pardon. That I can hold fast to my grief even when the circumstance is far from heinous and even when I know that the grudge I bear bothers my offender little and burdens me greatly.

Still, amid this horrific historical moment, I sense, I am sensing a shift in my spirit. A movement inspired, incited by the munificent witness of the families of Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson. They, in their swift, sincere, and sure bestowal of mercy, have preached to me the grace and goodness of forgiveness. And I, with the inner ear of my soul, have heard.

forgiveness - MLK

2 thoughts on “forgive? hell no!…heaven yes!

  1. I’m so glad you addressed this Paul….I watched every second of that hearing and when the first relatives said “I forgive you”, I was blown away. AND the forgiveness just kept coming!!

    I thought instantly of the class we developed Love and Forgiveness and thought that this example would be an outstanding discussion topic. I remember us talking about circumstances where a person may not be able to forgive. Murder was one of them.

    I’m happy to read that your spirit is changing. I too forgive much more quickly than I used to. BUT I can’t honestly say at the moment that if one of my relatives was killed in that church, that I would stand up the very next day and court and be able to forgive. I applaud them for their ability to do so.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective with us.


  2. Nor can I say, Loretta, that if something horrific happened to the ones I love, particularly by human will and hand, I’d grant forgiveness so readily, if at all. Still, something, as I’m wont to say, has broken open inside of me. Something stern and rigid and unyielding has been breached by the kindness of the Charleston families. It’s almost as if their words of forgiveness directed to and at Roof were spoken to me, saying, in effect, “Paul, to hold onto hurt is also an act of hate. Let it go.” Another thought occurred to me. The calls to take down the Confederate battle flag have been ringing in the ears of my soul, saying, “Paul, lower your long-standing banner of your grudge-bearing spirit.” So, again, I am sensing a big shift in my inner being.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s