It seemed that those covering the horrific murders of nine innocent people last week in Charleston, South Carolina, breathed a collective sigh of relief when surviving members of the families of the slain said, “I forgive” the man responsible for their pain.
It was noble for them to say that, but I don’t for a moment believe it.
It’s too soon. They are in the throes of the deepest pain ever. They are aching and are in shock. The reality and the full implications of how their lives have been forever changed because of this tragedy has not yet set in.
Whenever a person dies, there is a period where the survivors just get into work mode: they have to work to deal with the funeral home and the funeral/memorial service. They have to pick out caskets and decide what their loved one will wear. Some have to scuffle to find money to bury their loved ones. The time immediately after the loss of a loved one is probably the easiest, because those left behind are just too busy to deal with their pain.
But after everyone goes home, after there are no more donations of food, after the arrangements have been done and the funeral and burial are done, the real work of grief begins.
It is not easy.
And forgiveness, if it is to come, does not come immediately.
Forgiveness is a process. Sometimes it takes years for people to get to the place where it “kicks in.” Before that moment, though, the emotional pain pushes against even the thought of forgiveness. Christians are confounded (some of them) and pressured by the commandment of Jesus that we should forgive “not seven times, but seventy times seven.” It seems dastardly and grossly unfair that the survivors of extreme circumstances that resulted in the death of their loved ones are supposed to forgive, and Christians struggle with that. We are reminded that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” We reject Jesus’ own words and the theology Jesus gives us. We are angry and hurt and resentful and we hurt. Some of us simply do not win the struggle.
Black people have struggled with having to forgive white people for all the atrocities that have been done over the years. I daresay that there has been some forgiveness or else black people as a cultural group in this nation would not have survived to the present day. It was slavery, yes, but it has also been Jim Crow and lynching and injustice via the justice system and discrimination in education and housing and employment. In spite of it, black people have not been eradicated, either physically or spiritually. Forgiveness has to be credited with the survival of black people because forgiveness is for the one who forgives, not for the one being forgiven.
But it has been and continues to be a struggle. Forgiveness is a process.
Only time will tell how and if the survivors of those slain in Charleston will be able to forgive Dylann Roof; only time will tell if the African-American community will be able to forgive yet one more assault on our collective presence in this nation.
But this much is a sure thing: forgiveness for these horrific murders has not come to be yet. We need all be in prayer for those who are working to put their Christian faith into action. The words and commands of Jesus are not easy. Those confronted with this kind of pain know that all too well.
A candid observation …