The cold blooded killing of nine church members at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. is the latest reminder of the violent world in which we live. One month ago violence erupted in Waco between warring biker gangs who chose a local restaurant as their battlefield. Two years ago the Tsarnaev brothers set off pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon killing three people and injuring 264. Three years ago James Eagan Holmes walked into an Aurora, Colorado theater and opened fire, killing twelve and wounding seventy. Four years ago Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford was shot in the head while delivering a speech in a Safeway parking lot in Arizona. These are but a few. The list goes on.
Some respond with fear, staying close to home, hoping to somehow hide from a violent and unpredictable world. Others are enraged, arming themselves for protection, retaliation and revenge. Some wish we could go back to a simpler time when the world was safe. Most of us try to ignore the violence and put it out of our minds. But the news reports will not leave us alone.
The world has always been violent. It is part of the human DNA and has plagued every generation since Cain killed Abel. Jesus’ crucifixion is evidence of the violence and brutality present two thousand years ago. History is filled with atrocities.
Surviving victims of the AME shooting last week demonstrated a better way when they confronted their attacker. They wept and grieved the loss of their pastor, their relatives and friends, and they expressed forgiveness. To the man who days before gunned down their loved ones they said, “I forgive you, my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent.” Four days after the shooting, their doors were open on Sunday welcoming strangers once again.
We saw a similar response several years ago when a gunman entered an Amish school in Pennsylvania and shot ten girls ages 6-13. The Amish responded with forgiveness and comfort to the murderer’s family saying, “We must not think evil of this man.” The gunman’s widow later wrote an open letter to the Amish. “"Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. ... Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”
In every violent attack the number of people who respond with sacrificial courage and compassion outnumber the perpetrators many times over. Violence and evil will not prevail upon the earth.
The Bible says, “As the garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:11).
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21). Jesus said, “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45).