As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Col.3: 12-13)
When Terri Roberts heard the sirens she wondered what was going on. Nothing much ever happened in her small rural community. Then her husband Chuck called and told her to meet him at their son and daughter-in-law’s home immediately. Wondering what on earth was happening, she soon learned her world was about to collapse into unbelievable tragedy. She heard on the radio while driving to meet her retired police officer husband that a gunman had just shot ten Amish schoolgirls after locking them in their schoolhouse. Panic hit. Had their son been killed trying to intervene? No, not exactly. Charlie was the gunman.
How does anyone survive news like that? Terri not only survived, she eventually became part of the team of people giving care to one of the surviving Amish girls. The girl survived the attack, but was left unable to walk, talk, or even feed herself. Terri spends a day a week helping the family in whatever way she can. How can she do that?
She managed because of how the Amish community responded to her and her husband. First one of their neighbors came to call on them to offer forgiveness and love. Then the Amish neighbors came to Charlie’s funeral to support them at the death of their son – the man who killed and maimed their daughters. How could the Amish parents do that? Because their faith compelled them to do so. It’s not the first time an Amish family reached out to a non-Amish family when violence ripped their community apart.
Forgiveness is the ultimate solution to violence. It is not the option most of us choose. It does not come naturally. Not at all. We continue to believe revenge is the solution to violence. Retaliation and a strong response of force is the tool of choice most of the time. But violence only begets more violence. It never leads to lasting peace. It may bring about a short-term period of peace. It may lull us into a false sense of security that our side won and we showed them. But that kind of peace is only a time out while the ones allegedly defeated regroup and find another way to retaliate for our retaliation against their retaliation. Such patterns of getting even are like being locked in a chamber of mirrors.
The Amish parents who supported Terri and Chuck in their grief – even as they were overflowing with their own grief – is how we stop the cycle of violence. This is the narrow way that most of us overlook in our quest for justice and closure.
Few of us are in positions of influence significant enough to stop the madness of war. All of us are in relationships that will from time to time require us to do the most natural thing of all – let it go. Forgive the offender. That was the message of Easter. That is the path to lasting peace.