Is someone a "bad person" or one who did "something bad" when a person does something that we think of as unthinkable?
This question has been on my mind since before the Boston Marathon bombing. One Sunday in March, when I was doing the Youth Sunday message, I commented that we have to love each other as God has commanded us to. One of the young people asked whether she had to love someone who did something really terrible. As hard as it was to accept, I had to say, "Yes, according to Jesus you must love that person."
I remembered that exchange several Friday evenings ago, and realized that I had to really think about what I had said in light of what happened during the Marathon and the ensuing days and nights of fear and uncertainty that followed. Do I really believe what I said -- that I need to love a person despite what they do? Did I practice what I preach when watching the events unfold that Friday night, as I joined more than 42 million people, watching and hoping for the capture of this young man who, along with his brother, had chosen to do something truly heinous? Did I love another as God loves all of us?
I don't believe that people are inherently "bad." I think that people do "bad" things. Since I believe that we humans are made in God's image, and therefore are a reflection of God, we are all good. But we can choose to do "bad" things: We can choose to ignore the person on the street who is in need, or we can be rude to people or kill people. That is our choice. That is what comes from having "free will." We are free to choose. Therefore, we also must accept the consequences of our choices and decisions. That doesn't mean that the person is "free" of their wrong-doing. That person has to answer to and is responsible for his or her actions and has to pay the price for those actions. But as Christians, we are expected to forgive them.
Being a Christian is not easy because it requires that we do things within a certain framework. It involves more than bringing food to a food pantry, or feeding the hungry or financially supporting our church or a cause about which we feel strongly. It is hard work as we seek to balance justice with forgiveness and love for all people. As Christians, we have chosen to follow one who set the example for us. And similar to free will, we can't pick and choose what parts of Jesus' ministry we want to follow and what parts we don't want to follow. Jesus said that we must forgive someone as many times as needed. We are required not only to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our strength and all our might, but we are also to love our neighbor as ourself. It would seem, then, that the only way to not love our neighbor, is to not love ourself. Quite a choice: only if we treat ourselves negatively, can we then have any excuse to treat our neighbor the same.
Because I have chosen to follow Jesus and try as best as I can to follow the commandments he has set before me, I then must also forgive. Love that forgives the one who wrongs you is a love that is beyond most of our understanding. I am in awe of the Amish who forgave the man who shot and killed their children while they were in school. And yet, they did exactly that. While they still grieve, they have forgiven the shooter.
I have also been in awe of those Christians for whom I have cared as they near the end of their life because many of them choose to "right the wrongs" they have had in their life, whether they were the one being wronged, or they wronged someone else. Seeking forgiveness and forgiving someone are often among the most important issues with which those who are dying want to deal. I have been very humbled by those who find ways to do so, especially ways to forgive those who have wronged them. It is not "lip-service" forgiveness; it is forgiveness from their heart. They seem to want to do their best to emulate Jesus by forgiving others and allowing old hurts to heal. Many have expressed that they can't believe that they let so many years go by, holding onto their anger and their hurt. They say that they feel unburdened and wish they could take back the years they held something against their family member or friend. They hope for more time to mend those wounds. Sometimes, they have the time, other times, they die soon thereafter.
So, do we too need to forgive those who have wronged us, hurt us, caused us deep pain and anguish, and those who have killed others who are innocent, and in particular, have killed our children? As Christians, it would seem that the answer must be "yes." No matter how hard that is to accept or swallow, we are commanded to love and to forgive those who have wronged us.
Seem impossible? It does to me because I cannot yet fathom a love that can transcend the human hurt, pain and suffering we experience. Perhaps some day I will. One thing that I do know for sure: With my faith in God, all things are possible.