I’m not one who likes to watch news about tragedies. It’s probably all those years I spent producing and reporting TV news that makes me scream, “Enough is enough!” After seeing only a few minutes of a report on the Amish schoolgirl murders in rural Pennsylvania, I’d certainly seen enough—enough to be moved to profound admiration for these people whom most consider a little odd. When you think about it, I guess it is a bit odd for Christians in America to actually practice Christianity. But these people do. And they do it unflinchingly, naturally, and with conviction.
In the face of unspeakably demonic horror, most of us don’t stop to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Members of this Amish community didn’t either. They didn’t have to. They knew the answer and they revealed it to the world: Jesus wouldn’t respond with rage or retaliation. He would not be bitter and he would not lose his faith in God. From everything we know about Jesus, we know that he would unflinchingly and naturally forgive; and he’d do it with great conviction.
As Rita Rhoads, a local nurse and midwife who had delivered three of the young female hostages, told NBC News’ Ann Curry, “God said, ‘I will forgive you as you forgive others’ And we truly believe that.”
Obviously, the rest of us don’t. Many of us believe that forgiveness is not freely granted. There is a cost. It is a reward for meeting our conditions: “I’ll forgive you if… I’ll never forgive you because…” That’s the position we take when someone violates or betrays us. And we decide to punish them by withholding our forgiveness for hours, days or forever.
When we plant seeds of forgiveness, we reap forgiveness. What do we reap when we withhold forgiveness? So who is really being punished when we refuse to forgive? Do we really understand what “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us” means?
This Amish community obviously understands that extremely well, as evidenced by those who went to the home of the murderer’s family—to comfort, not condemn. One of them reportedly held the murderer’s father in his arms for an hour, and told him, “We will forgive.”
Ms. Rhoads summed it up quite nicely, “There are two things that happen with your faith: Either you let it go and you get bitter, or you grow stronger. We’ll grow stronger. When you have Christ in you, that’s what happens.”
And what happens to those of us who think that God and Christ are far, far away, rather than an accessible source within?
The answer is clear. We have tons of technology in the world surrounding the “plain people” in that rural Amish community. But what this heartbreaking human drama revealed, more than anything else, is that we don’t have nearly as much Power.