The nation was impressed and moved.
It seemed so rare as to be a kind of spiritual Haley’s comet. You wanted to see it because you never knew when you would have the chance to see it again – at least this deeply and on this scale.
There they were, the families of the victims of the Charleston massacre, publicly forgiving the young man who took the lives of their cherished loved ones just two days before.
They told him that if he would repent of his sins and trust God, God would forgive him and save his soul. They said they had prayed for him, that God might be merciful to him.
There was no cry for vengeance, no demand for death, and no pleading for judgment. Nobody said he would feel better if he could watch the young perpetrator die. Nobody shouted that he would burn in hell for what he did.
He had committed a vicious, bloody, heartless crime of hate and prejudice.
He had killed nine innocent men and women.
Because they were black.
After sitting with his future victims for an hour in a Wednesday evening Bible study.
They were Christians, of whom it may be said that faith was the animating center of their lives.
They were good folks; people of love.
They had, as one family member put it to the young man, “welcomed you with open arms.”
He had repaid their kindness by pulling out his recent birthday present, a .45 – caliber handgun, and shooting them.
But when he appeared in court via video to be indicted for this heinous and unconscionable act, the relatives told him they forgave him.
The state is likely to seek his life for what he did that night. Prosecutors will argue for it, the government sanctions it and most people will want it.
It’s called justice.
There will be no forgiveness in court.
He killed. He deserves to die in return.
A 21- year old filled with hate and bitterness, violent, without remorse, driven by inner demons. That’s what the government will say. God’s moral law, as the apostle Paul would be quick to remind us, is not intended to mete out mercy, but judgment. The law calls the guilty to reckoning. The state “beareth not the sword in vain” (Romans 13: 4, KJV).
Secular government is not in the mercy business. It’s in the law-making and law-enforcing business. Civil law judges and condemns. This is its God-given role.
But still they forgave him.
Nobody criticized these Christian believers for what they said that day in court. Nobody mocked them. Nobody called them intolerant, bigoted or a threat to liberty. Nobody said they were narrow-minded.
Instead, millions of people who have no use for Christians or Christianity found themselves in genuine and profound respect for this unarguably Christian response.
Why is that?
Because most people are as impressed with the actual practice of Christianity as they are offended by its contradictory profession. Non-believers have some sense about what Christians should be like.
Christians should act like Jesus.
That’s not a complicated theological treatise reserved for analysis at seminaries.
It’s what C.S. Lewis called Mere Christianity.
Non-Christians know enough about Jesus to agree that he would forgive. They know he told his disciples to forgive. They know that those who call themselves Christians are supposed to base their lives – their words and conduct – on the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.
In this, non- believers have a better read on the Bible than many Christians do – and a deeper understanding of Christian ethics.
In that courtroom, Jesus Christ was glorified.
In the wake of inexplicable tragedy and in the face of evil, Jesus was lifted up. In the midst of heart-breaking personal loss, our Savior was honored. In those moments, as those followers of Jesus spoke and wept, the sacred transcended the secular.
It was more powerful, more meaningful, more heart and mind impacting than a million gospel tracts, movies or sermons.
The state must sit in judgment. It cannot forgive. The Christian, whose first allegiance is to Christ and not the state, must forgive.
The families of the Charleston nine, sharing the faith of those who were slain, bore testimony to the world about what a true Christian is.
Hate was met with love.
Prejudice was met with kindness.
Anger was met with forgiveness.
This is Christianity – not the shallow, thoughtless and fearful caricature that the media and atheists are so anxious to portray.
This is triumphant Christianity.
As church bells tolled across Charleston last Sunday in honor of the victims, the church where they were murdered was packed. The visiting preacher (the church’s pastor was among the dead) found his text in Isaiah 54:17:
“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper”
Paul told the Christians living in first-century brutal Rome that nothing could ever separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
John began his gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus by asserting that the darkness of this world would never be able to extinguish the light of our Lord.
May the example of our brothers and sisters in that Charleston courtroom renew our determination to follow in His steps.
May God bless you and your family.