When we are sorely tested, do we truly practice the forgiveness that Jesus preached?
In October of 2006, in a tiny hamlet of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Charlie Roberts, a local milk truck driver, broke into an Amish one room school house and shot and killed 10 Amish schoolgirls aged 6-13, before turning the gun on himself.
The shock and grief over the death of the schoolgirls extended far beyond the quiet Amish community. Media from all over the country descended upon this small rural community to report on the story. The day after the shooting, 1600 people gathered at a local church to pray for the young victims. Thousands of sympathy cards, letters, teddy bears and other gifts poured in from all over the world. Over four million dollars was raised through various funds to support the families.
But the part of the story that is less well known is the response of the Amish community to the tragedy.
Nine years earlier, Charlie Roberts lost his first child, a baby girl, 20 minutes after she was born. He blamed God for this and never got over the grief of his loss. In his mind, he needed to get revenge against God by killing innocent Christian schoolgirls.
The afternoon of the shooting, within hours of the event, Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to offer Roberts’ wife comfort in her sorrow and pain. The Amish community responded not with rage or finger-pointing, but with compassion and forgiveness.
The Amish culture follows the teachings of Jesus. Our Lord taught us to forgive one another, to place the needs of others above our own, and to rest in the knowledge that God is in control and can bring good out of any situation.
Every September we hold our breath, wondering if this is the year we will experience another 9/11. The forces of terror seem to be running unchecked in the world. Innocent people are being turned from their homes, persecuted, and even killed for their faith. We are subjected to horrific images of brutal executions, all calculated to make us give in to fear and lose hope.
As a nation we are more likely to respond with outrage and a desire for revenge. The message God has for us today is not the one we want to hear.
We would like to hear words of comfort for our mourning. We would like to hear words of solace for our hurt. We would like to hear words that assure us of justice for the harm we have suffered. But those are not the words God has for us today.
As we pray for those who are still persecuted for their faith, we turn to God for understanding, instead Jesus tells us to forgive. Not just once or twice or seven times; we are told to forgive every time our brother sins against us.
We find the answer in other words of Jesus, the prayer He taught us. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” God will forgive our sins against Him to the degree we forgive those who have sinned against us.
Love and compassion should be our rule in life, vengeance is left to God.