Tragedy struck a small church in Charleston, South Carolina Thursday June 18th when Dylann Storm shot and killed 9 people during a church prayer group. He drove to the church from his hometown to "start a new civil war". He arrived at the church and sat through about a half an hour of the meeting. During that half an hour, something happened: an emboldened killer paused for a second. Something about the niceness of the church members made him rethink his plot.
Dylann ultimately decided to carry out his executions. According to the information available, he took his time systematically executing each member one by one, leaving a woman alive to tell others what he did. He wanted to be a famous man. The man that would start a race war.
So what happened? Well, we have the usual flurry calling for gun control, more calls to examine our race relations in our country and political posturing from our leaders.
Here is what struck me: During the arraignment, Dylann starred blankly into a monitor while the families of his victims were paraded in front of him. What did they do? They forgave him. With pain and grief flowing through their minds, the found the courage to find forgiveness when most of us would be calling for vengeance.
Forgiveness was something unique to Jesus's teachings. To truly forgive someone is one of the hardest emotional decisions we can make. To be angry at someone gives us the sense that we have power of them, but in actuality, they have power over us. That anger can build into resentment, then eventually an entrenched grudge that consumes us from the inside out.
I felt this way about my father for a long time. He and I did not get along. Toward the end of his life, I would say we were close to bitter enemies. When he died when I was 16. I almost literally danced on his grave as I drove away from his funeral in the very car he tried to keep me from driving.
I didn't win anything. The anger never left me. It just built itself up over the years and reeked havoc on my life. Twenty years later, I can forgive him. I am not like the family of the victims of that shooting. I am not worthy of loosening their sandal strap.