"I forgive you. 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."
Nadine Collier delivered these powerful words of forgiveness at Dylann Roof's televised bond hearing for his June 17, 2015 massacre of nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Her mother, Ethel Lance, was one of the victims. Family members of the other victims expressed similar sentiments. News commentators and viewers around the world marveled at their readiness to forgive such an atrocious act. It begged the question, "Where does that kind of strength come from?"
I've have had to forgive many offences in my lifetime--from extreme racism to molestation to botched foot surgery--nothing, of course, compared to Ms. Collier's pain. Based on my experience and extensive research into the subject of forgiveness for my upcoming book Forgive, Let Go, and Live (Harvest House Publishers, Aug. 1, 2015), I've concluded that Bible-believing Christians are predisposed to letting go of the anger and desire for revenge based primarily on four tenets of their faith:
1) God has foreknowledge of every evil act and the power to stop it but allows some things to happen for a greater purpose (Romans 8:28). Christians call it His sovereignty--His divine prerogative to orchestrate life's events. While they honor and submit to it, they often struggle with trying to understand and accept it. Dylann Roof wanted to start a race war between blacks and whites, but his actions immediately had the opposite effect as people of all races united to decry his crime. A greater purpose prevailed.
2) Only God has the authority to avenge a wrong, to "even the score" (Romans 12:19). While fantasizing about retaliation and revenge may bring fleeting satisfaction and relief for the raw emotions of hurt and anger, Christians submit to the admonition that "vengeance belongs to God." To retaliate would be to usurp His authority, to take His job. Of course, this doesn't mean that Christians shouldn't seek justice via the judicial system, but they know it's critical to their spiritual and emotional well being to leave "payback" to God.
3) God gives His children the strength to triumph over all pain and suffering (I Peter 5:7). Christians make the decision to forgive immediately as an act of their will in obedience to God. Because they understand that healing is a process, their feelings are not the deciding factor. Thus, they don't determine whether they have forgiven an offender by how well or how soon their wounded emotions have healed. They expect God, much like a fitness trainer, to "spot" or assist them when the weight of it all is too heavy to lift in their own strength.
4) Forgiving others is a prerequisite for being forgiven (Matthew 6:15). Thus, if a Christian does not forgive his offender, God will not forgive his personal sins and transgressions. And, who doesn't need forgiveness on a regular basis? If God then only forgives those who forgive others, why "shoot yourself in the foot" and jeopardize your own forgiveness?
As Bible-believing Christians continue to practice their foundational beliefs and to declare their decision to forgive in the midst of painful and bewildering situations, a greater purpose will indeed prevail. The world may continue to be stunned by such forgiveness but perhaps the masses will also be inspired to respond similarly.
In the mean time, let's continue to pray for unity, justice, and racial healing in the USA.