This article was written just over a year ago, soon after nine parishioners at Emmanuel Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, lost their lives at the hands of a racially motivated gunman who has since admitted to and been found guilty of the murders. The racially motivated events we have seen this year were (at times) bitter cases of déjà vu, and make the topic of forgiveness an even harder solution to present, but a necessary beginning for everyone affected by tragic losses and other transgressions. In light of these and other events, I believe there is an urgent need and opportunity for the church to unite to show the country and the world the only realistic solution to enduring problems.
On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof went out at night to betray 9 parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina after having fellowshipped with them for an hour at their weekly bible study held at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Likewise, Judas went out at night (when most sins occur) to betray Jesus after he had broken bread with him (John 13:26). There’s no doubt in my mind that, Roof felt the love that was being shown to him by the Charleston Nine because he was a visitor and it is the norm to embrace visitors who join any church service. However, because Satan had already entered him and convinced him of his assignment to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10a), he rejected love and instead followed through with his diabolical plan. Judas too had an assignment that he carried out as it was prophesied, to betray Jesus; Satan entered him as well (John 13:27) and he followed through with his plan to turn Jesus over for 30 pieces of silver (Matt 26:15). Roof set out to end his story by committing suicide; Judas actually did commit suicide just after showing remorse for what he had done (Matt 27:3). Judas was remorseful and repentant to man, but he failed to be repentant to the one who had the power to save him. Instead, Judas as he was birthed to be, remained condemned. His story ended.
Some expect an apology or remorse from Dylann Roof. Without a doubt, apologies to man are gracious and human, but they are futile for a soul destined for hell. Man has no eternal rest to give, only God possesses that. In order to live in peace and to truly rest in peace, we have to be repentant to God. Unlike Judas, Roof is not the son of perdition, doomed for death that is, he did not take his life, his story has not ended, therefore, if Roof confesses his sin to God, He is faithful and just to forgive him and to cleanse him through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, just as he forgave and cleansed every other follower of His. He too will become Roof’s Lord; that’s the scandal of forgiveness. Our sin at our worst may not be the heinous murder of nine people, but we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As Christians, Jesus is our example, the image of perfection that we will never attain. Yet, I witnessed Jesus’ example in the sister of one of the shooting victims when (it was reported that) she quickly, without reservation, said that she forgives Roof and prays for his soul. So what about us, who may not have directly lost a loved one as a result of the Charleston tragedy, similar tragedies, or other offenses great or small? This close relative, despite her grief, tapped into a power far greater than hate, the power to forgive. Power is not relinquished when we forgive, it is retained and a part of you perfected. When you forgive, a wise woman once said, “you are not letting [the perpetrator] off the hook, because they will still have to answer to God.” You are, however, making your heart lighter through the letting go of offenses. You are giving grace to others that you yourself would like to receive when you fall short, and that you expect from God (Ephesians 4:32).
We are commanded to be lights in a dark world. Tragic events like these just prove the need for Christ and make His work on the cross more valuable; there is such a desperate need for Him. Many Christians of all shades wonder what their place is in the heat of tragedies such as these and it is clear: be light, be salt, refuse to conform, and foremost of all—pray without ceasing. Furthermore, our perspective should differ from the world’s. It should be at odds with the world because we are supposed to be like Jesus. We should be Jesus to the world, be love to the world in order to win some of them over for Christ. How are you illuminating, seasoning, and being a misfit in a world of conformity?
Dedicated to the Charleston 9