Taking innocent life is not new. You might say it is as old as Cain and Abel. The real culprit is hatred, and humanity has never been able to harness this destructive emotion. Hatred seeks to harm, in some form or fashion. And if we are unable to physically harm someone who we perceive as being worthy of our hatred, we find ourselves wishing harm to fall upon them.
But when hatred turns violent, and blood is shed as a result, it is fair to ask whether or not forgiving the shooter… the murderer… the butcher… the assassin is warranted, much less required. Is it our duty to forgive them for what they have done?
The answer is an unequivocal “Yes.” Absolutely. And without question. And I base this response upon the fact that Jesus, himself, forgave those who murdered him. Jesus, too, was an innocent victim of violent hatred.
But it is important to remember that forgiving someone who has slaughtered an innocent person does not mean that the pursuit of justice must be abandoned. God is a God of mercy, as well as justice (Matt. 23:23).
Justice, properly sought and obtained, must be void of hatred. Forgiveness insures that as justice is administered, it is not another heated demonstration of mindless violence, but rather a sober and thoughtful result of the lawful consequences of heinous behavior.
I have told my wife that if I were ever killed by a drunk driver, I would want her to speak these words at my funeral. “To the one who ended my husband’s life, please know that he has forgiven you, because God had forgiven him. And because he has forgiven you, he now lives with God and rests in peace.”
I know these words might be hard to read much less put into practice. I extend my sympathies and condolences to all victims of hatred and violence. I have written them, not because they are easy, but because I believe them to be true.
Does forgiveness erase hatred? To forgive someone means that you no longer hate them. Some level of righteous anger is a common residue, but hatred dissipates in the light of empathy and love.
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
– Luke 23:34