The Joy of forgiveness

Violence answered with violence always begets more violence.

Last week our nation was shocked when Adam Lanza walked into an elementary school, bringing violence and hurt with him. Adam’s violence ended in minutes,  but did not die with him. His violence, like all violence, spread like a polluting plague across the nation. Adam’s brother’s picture raced across the internet with expressions of hate and hellish intent. Even Adam was soon lost under the roaring din of THE BATTLE OF ISSUES. The front lines converged on guns, prayer, God’s presence, and mental health, but the skirmishes extended into our very hearts.

We answered Adam’s violence with a violence of our own, believing, like Adam, that our ends justify our means. We, like all soldiers, wore protective eye gear; seeing the world through battle-tinged glasses. Just as the glasses worn by the citizens of Oz turned everything to emerald, so our glasses turned humans into ideologies, ideologies into opponents, and opponents into outsiders. “We deny the humanity of outsiders when we chose to treat them as anything other than a neighbor,” (B. Velasco). Our goggles shield our soul from our opponents’ humanity.

But I will show you a still more excellent way.

In 2006 Charles Carl Roberts IV stormed into a one-room school, ultimately killing 5 young girls, and injuring more. As always, the nation erupted in horror and outrage; violence begets violence. As always, everyone’s anger burned against the outsider, or at least whoever was outside their camp. Everyone initially blamed Roberts, but, as always, quickly added anyone who’s social theory was believed to be the source of Roberts’ violence.

Everyone that is, but the outsiders. Roberts’ victims were the epitome of outsiders: they were Amish. And, in typical low-key Amish fashion, they gave us a miracle. Members of the Amish community went to Roberts’ family’s house within 12 hours of the shooting to extend forgiveness. One Amish man held Roberts’ father for over an hour as he sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. On the day of the shooting one of the victims’ grandfather was overheard telling his young relatives not to hate Roberts, saying, “We must not think evil of this man,” while another said, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul.”

The Amish treated their enemy as their neighbor, the inhuman as a human, and met violence with forgiveness.

I can’t help but remember a similar story of crime and forgiveness, when the victim suffered for the enemy. A similar story, when the one who had born all the pain intentionally incurred more pain for the sake of his assailants. I can’t help but to think of the God hanging on the cross.

This story is easier to learn than live. Just this week,  I’ve been guilty of spewing violence in two different contexts. But my violence was met with forgiveness. Violence begets violence, but I have experienced that the other side: forgiveness begets joy.

I believe this is the joy that glistens at Christmas. It is not a joy of lights, eggnog, vacation, or family. It is the joy of wrongs set right, the joy of violence unraveled by forgiveness, the joy evil overcome by innocence. It is the joy that stems from the Prince of the world destroyed by the vulnerability of an infant. But Christmas calls us to do more than receive joy–we are called to give joy as well.

We are called to give joy to our friends, joy to those on our side, joy to those we love. But even the pagans do that. Those who worship the God in the manger are called to go the second mile and give joy to our enemies, joy to those we hate, joy to our opponents, joy to the evil people who can’t possibly be moronic enough to have a perspective and opinion that differs from our own.

“Joy to the World” adds music to the return of the King, the end of the curse, and the wonders of his love. May our actions add music the the King’s rule in our life, may our words flow with blessing and not the curse, and may our world be shocked by the wonders of our love.

For more advent posts go to:
Week of Hope
Week of Peace

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About Tim Owens

I'm a husband, father, and Christ follower. I also live in Albany, NY, where I work as a pastor.
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