1401 Charlestown Road
Phoenixville, PA 19460
800.432.8322 | 610.935.0450
1401 Charlestown Road | Phoenixville, PA 19460 | 610.935.0450
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"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you."
Lewis B. Smedes
Sooner or later, we all struggle with forgiveness. Life is filled with fractured relationships which hurt us to the bone. Just about any of us can be close to tears at just about any time if the right subject is brought up. Every time that happens, the challenge of forgiveness stares us in the face.
I love stories of forgiveness. Every time I hear about someone's capacity to forgive, I am encouraged to do the same. If they can forgive after all that they have been through, somehow and some way I should be able to forgive what I am going through.
In his book Think No Evil (Howard Books, 2009), Jonas Beiler tells the story of the tragic shooting on October 3, 2006 of ten Amish children in Nickel Mines, PA. Out of that horror comes one of the greatest examples of forgiveness one could ever find. According to Beiler, "The Amish will be the first to tell you they're not perfect. But they do a lot of things right. Forgiveness is one of them."
I doubt that Charles Roberts ever really wanted to be a monster. His own life was shattered when his daughter, who was born prematurely, died twenty minutes after birth. For nearly ten years that pain kept eating the insides of this simple milk truck driver from Lancaster County, PA. Somewhere in the middle of that internal dark place he began devising a plan that would change more lives than he could ever imagine.
Even though I knew a little about this senseless shooting, I didn't really know the details. As I read this book I could hardly grasp the cold blooded way he gathered his evil paraphernalia: long wood planks, eye bolts already screwed into them, four bags of plastic ties, tape, nails, binoculars, batteries, flashlights, and other tools for harm. He also had a 9mm handgun, a 12-guage shotgun, and a .30-06 bolt-action rifle and nearly six hundred rounds of ammunition.
His children had no idea that fateful morning when he said good-by to them as they got on the bus that they would never see their father alive again. The volcano was about to erupt.
As I read this story I felt like I had a front row seat on an incomprehensible disaster. And it was. But then the story shifts to the amazing response of the Amish. Beiler says, "Immediately following the shooting, when Charles Roberts was identified as the gunman, a few of the Amish neighbors walked over to his house to meet with his wife and parents. Despite their shock and sadness over losing so many children, they were also concerned with Marie (Charles' wife)." Two weeks later they all met together in a fire hall where they talked and cried and prayed together.
Beiler shares many other examples of forgiveness in his book, including some from very painful experiences in his own life. But whether you have a five-hundred year tradition of forgiveness like the Amish or you are up against if for the first time in your life, forgiveness really is a choice.
With his front row seat on the Nickel Mines shooting, Beiler said, "I have come to believe that, first and foremost, forgiveness is about self-care." He went on to explain that Charles Roberts was not helped by the families of those schoolchildren who chose to forgive him. He was gone. "...they were actually freeing themselves from the hate, bitterness, and years of pain that would otherwise imprison them."
I suppose that is why Paul Boese said, "Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future." Even the decision by the Amish to tear down that school house and build another one somewhere else affirms their commitment to look forward.
Forgiveness is indeed an amazing grace.
Think about it.
Valley Forge Christian College is a private Christian College located in Chester County, Pennsylvania, 35 miles northwest of downtown Philadelphia. VFCC offers on its sprawling park-like campus, as well as online, 67 undergraduate and seven graduate degrees in the Arts, the Sciences and the Professions. The college's mission is to prepare individuals for a life of service and leadership in the church and in the world.