Forgiveness is the key to unlocking handcuffs to hate

Published 12:03 am Saturday, June 27, 2015

A horrible tragedy occurred in Charleston, S.C. last week when a young gunman shot and killed nine people during a Bible study at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church.

It’s inconceivable that one person is capable of committing such evil against innocent human lives, and in a house of worship to the Lord where he was welcomed by strangers that he murdered after listening almost an hour to their Bible study. People from the city of Charleston, the state of South Carolina and the entire country have come together to pray for the victims’ families and the church congregation.

News reports of the shocking tragedy tell of a troubled man filled with hate for his fellowman just because of the color of their skin. In the aftermath of the tragic event, when the suspect appeared via video before a judge for arraignment, family members of those murdered were given the opportunity to speak to the gunman.

They told the self-confessed shooter that they forgave him. News reports stated that the daughter of Ethel Lance, one of the nine victims, said, “You hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you.” A man representing the family of victim Myra Thompson told the killer, “Repent. Confess. Give you life to the one who matters most, Christ, so he can change your ways…”

It’s inconceivable that people whose loved ones were gunned down by a hate-filled man could tell the stone-faced killer they forgave him. Watching and reading about the victim’s families, I thought of the saying, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” They have preached to the world the forgiveness of Christ who, while dying on a cross said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Extending forgiveness in this situation would be humanly impossible were it not for their faith in Christ that enables them to show His compassion. Stephen Singleton, Emanuel’s former pastor, said, “We’re people of faith, and people of faith know that we heal. God helps us heal. This doesn’t drive us away from God. This drives us to God.”

What is forgiveness? “Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you for hurting me,” according to psychologist Archibald Hart. “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive,” C.S. Lewis once said.

Hopefully, you and I will never have to forgive someone for something so horrendous as murdering our loved ones. But, are we willing to forgive the person who hurt us this week or even many years ago? Sometimes we find it hard to forgive ourselves.

Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom has written, “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”

Several years ago, Ann Curry commented while reporting on the murder of five Amish schoolgirls whose families’ forgave the killer, “I realize I did not know what forgiveness was until now.” Would someone learn the meaning of forgiveness by looking at our lives?

-Jan White is an award-winning columnist. She can be reached at