“God surely you can’t expect me to forgive the murderer of my son,” I cried out in the stillness of the night. Caught in the darkness of grief following the murder of our eldest son, Tim, in September 1992, I couldn’t conceive of ever forgiving the man who had ended Tim’s life. Even some Christian friends agreed with me that there are some offenses so heinous that God would understand and excuse my anger, my bitterness. After all, this horrible act had broken my heart. Surely, I reasoned, this could not have been a man, but an evil monster that would kill a young man of twenty-three whose only crime was that of helping a friend. Such a monster didn’t deserve my forgiveness. But God did not agree.
In the following years, God slowly and patiently taught me the meaning and purpose of forgiveness. My journey isn’t complete, for He continues to teach me new and deeper realities of this “impossible command.” He calls me to do acts of forgiveness as well as speaking words of forgiveness. He has been my guide as well as the source of power to forgive. But, it was up to me to first choose to obey.
I knew what God said about forgiving others. I’d been a Christian since I was a little girl and I had read the commands to “forgive, as God as forgiven you.” I knew Christ had taught us to pray, asking God to “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” “But,” I reasoned, “forgive a murderer of my adored son? How is that possible?’
The initial step came as a decision to be obedient to God’s command. My first prayer was simply, “Lord, I want to obey you, give me the desire to forgive.” I knew that I had not deserved God’s forgiveness, yet He offered it abundantly through His Son. The murderer didn’t deserve forgiveness either, but God assumed that since I am His child and have experienced forgiveness, I would extend forgiveness to others—no matter what the crime. Forgiveness was the evidence, or proof of my relationship with God. It is the free gift of God that placed upon me the expectation of a forgiving spirit towards others.
Eventually, I could pray, “God, through your power, I surrender the right and desire for revenge, and I extend forgiveness to this man.” I had been obedient; I had chosen to forgive. I had done what God asked. But it wasn’t finished. It wasn’t simply a one-time decision.
Over the months and years since Tim’s death, I’ve wept over the terrible effects of grief in the lives of family members, especially my other two children and husband. I’ve watched my little granddaughter, Tim’s child whom he never knew, hurt for the need of a father. Over and over the feelings of anger and devastating pain would threaten to overwhelm me. Forgiveness would melt like yesterday’s snow. I was faced with choosing to forgive again.
The disciples in Mathew 18 struggled with Jesus’ teaching on this subject also. The Apostle Peter had asked of Jesus, “Lord how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Peter’s offer was beyond normal expectations. Under the Old Testament Law, revenge was only restricted to “an eye for an eye.” The Rabbis of Jesus’ day taught that three times was the maximum number necessary to forgive when the offense continues. The Apostle Peter offered seven, but Jesus expanded the standard to an infinite number. God’s grace demands that forgiveness be offered for every offense, every time. Tim’s murder was a one-time act, but the effects and ramifications ripple on throughout our lives. The “seventy times seven” for me meant choosing to forgive every time the anger returned.
For nearly five years, stage-by-stage, I sought to forgive. I felt I was doing all God had called me to do. I was doing my “seventy times seven.” But still the journey of forgiveness did not end.
I struggled with the implications of I Peter 3:9. I could understand I wasn’t to “return evil for evil, or insult for insult” but what I didn’t know was how to apply the command to “give a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” This was too much, I reasoned. God expects me to bless this murderer? What would such a blessing look like?
I learned that this “blessing” meant to “speak well of or to” the offender. I couldn’t comprehend how to speak well of this person, but God did showed me how. God also taught me from Acts 7:60 and I Corinthians 4:12, that such a blessing includes active prayer and intercession for the person who harms me, my enemy. So, I began to pray for this man’s salvation and for his children who were also innocent victims of his crime.
Eventually I was able to contact this man and begin a correspondence in which I expressed my forgiveness and my desire that he know the forgiveness of the Heavenly Father. This was, at that point in my journey, what my forgiveness looked like—fulfilling how I could speak well to this man. The struggle to make this contact was difficult—but the freedom I experienced upon doing it was incredible. Recently, the Lord has impressed on me to offer to make contact with his children and seek to bring healing and hope to this them. This is my act of forgiveness—my blessing to the one who hurt me the most, the one I am called to forgive.
I’m convinced that what seems to be an impossible expectation by God, to forgive whomever sins against you, in really an abundant gift from God for my good. The consequences of not forgiving are destructive. My angry, bitter heart that sought revenge did not do anything to bring justice or healing and ultimately it would have destroyed me spiritually: emotionally and physically. My relationship with others would be damaged. Anger and bitterness are a cancer that eats away at the soul. Only when I released my “right” to be unforgiving, did I experience freedom and healing from God.
Forgiving is not easy, but the price of not forgiving is too great—I can’t afford it. I want, even in my grief and pain, to live out God’s command in Ephesians 4:32-33, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice, And be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
This is now the cry of my heart.