I can’t understand the evil that dwells in the soul of a human being that can sit within a circle of other human beings for an hour, a circle of human beings who opened their lives to him even though he was a complete stranger; then — after listening to them speak of the Anointed One who gave his life for sinful, broken human beings — stand, pull out a gun, point it at one in this circle, see the terror in the face of that person, take enough time to talk to that person, to hear their trembling plea to not do what the murderer is about to do, and still, after all of that to pull the trigger of the gun that strikes the bullet that fires from the chamber and rips through the beating heart of one who is of the same race – the human race, watch the life bleed out of the victim; and then, repeat this same horrifying act again… then again… then again… then again… then again… then again… then again… then again. Simply because the color of their skin was darker than his own. I can’t understand this.
Neither can I understand the blinding, hateful venom spit out by other human beings speaking on radio talk shows, or the blithe, venomous outright lies that are, knowingly, spit out of the mouths of human beings on television “news” programs, at NRA conferences, or Tea Party rallies, venomous words that seep through the ears and enter the souls of human beings who have access to the antidote of truth; but who also have access to weapons designed for no other purpose than to violently rip apart the bodies of other human beings.
But, maybe I can understand. To say that I “can’t understand” risks making it sound as if those who choose murderous weapons and murderous words instead of the truth are so other than I that they don’t even understand the choices they have. To say that is to let them out of the responsibility they have for the decisions they make. And the reality that there are those among the human race whose brains are ill and who may choose to take hateful words to their logical, murderous conclusion, makes those who spit out lies and who provide easy access to weapons for killing all the MORE responsible for the actions of those with less ability to understand their choices. So, after all, in my own brokenness and sinfulness, sadly I may be able to understand more than I like to admit.
Maybe what I can’t understand is the depth and breadth of love and sheer grace that gives the daughter of one of the murder victims the strength to be able to say to the human being who shot and killed her mother, “I forgive you.” The daughter of Ethel Lance prefaced those tremendous words with other words that acknowledged the irrevocable loss and suffering the murderer inflicted on her — “I will never talk to [my mother] ever again. I will never be able to hold her ever again.” And yet, she was still able to say to the man who killed her mother, “I forgive you.”
The nine human beings shot and killed in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, June 17, were killed inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. They were women and men gathered to learn more about the one who they had chosen to follow in life, Jesus. They were gathered together not merely to learn more about Christ, but to experience his presence with them, that they might become more like him. It is not too hard to imagine that many of the surviving relatives of those killed at Emanuel Church, those surviving relatives who spoke such staggering words of forgiveness, are also seeking to follow Jesus. The same Jesus who when he was nailed to a cross, being killed for nothing he had done, prayed for those killing him, “Father, forgive them. They don’t realize what they are doing.” This ability to forgive such horrific evil, this is what I can’t understand. I know where it comes from, Lord. But I don’t know if I could live it. I thank you, God, that there are at least others, better than I, who can.