Forgiveness. Since the most recent school shooting nothing but blame and judgment have filled media reports. In the aftermath of the school shooting in Marshall County, Kentucky earlier this year, the media rushed to place blame. And it doesn’t stop there. The media rushes to judgment, passing condemnation on those who legally own gun and blaming law enforcement for not stopping it. The media promotes the viewpoints of those who are calling for the execution of the shooters.
A difficult task
Thursday nights is when my church holds the mid-week service. As a part of my ministry, I teach basic Christian doctrine each week through a seminar-style of teaching. But last night, I was asked to focus on offering a prayer service for the victims of the most recent school shooting in Florida. Not sure what I was going to do, I began to pray about this task I was given. And as I sat down and prepared for the service, the Lord laid something on my heart that needs to be shared.
Forgiveness is where we must begin
Anything I do within my service to the Lord is centered on scripture. Therefore, even last night’s prayer service was to be scripture focused. It became important to focus on scripture. When facing any tragedy, I believe it is important for us to come to the Lord with the right kind of heart. Paul wrote, Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice (Ephesians 4:31). In other words, we have to elevate ourselves above the fleshly desires and calls for vengeance. We must look beyond the deeds. We cannot pray when our hearts are filled with bitterness, wrath, and anger.
But it doesn’t end there. Paul also wrote, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another (Titus 3:2-3). Notice, there’s no discriminator there. Nowhere does Paul write anything like except for these kinds of people… But we do see the reminder, for we ourselves were sometimes…
It’s easy to let our anger and fear dominate
I’ve been a born-again believer in Jesus since 2006; there are still things I learn every day. Through some trials in my own life, I have learned it is easy to get angry and to say things that are the opposite of Christ-like. And it is especially easy during times such as this, when we see innocent people murdered by a young man we are now being told is mentally disturbed. James understood this well. Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another? (James 4:11-12).
It is easy, far too easy, for us to tear down those such as these young men. After all, they made the decision to take firearms to school and to kill others with them. But that’s not the gospel of Jesus at all. When we cast judgment and do not forgive, we set ourselves up to be judged by those same tough standards. Remember the teachings of Christ: Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven (Luke 6:37).
There but by the grace of God…
When I look back at my own past I clearly see the times I have failed to live up to the high standard set by Jesus. Even before I received Christ as my savior, I called myself a Christian. But my life from 1988 to 2006 was far from Christ-like. It didn’t resemble the example set by Jesus during his earthly ministry. Although it is all forgiven, I will admit I was not the person I am now. And anyone who is a born-again believer in Jesus will admit they are not the same person they were. Any one of us could have become empty and deprived enough to do horrible things to other people. And some of us did.
Jesus taught his disciples, And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses (Mark 11:25-26). It stands out that Jesus is not talking about forgiving other believers. He is telling us to forgive others indiscriminately. If I am to receive the forgiveness I want from the Lord, I must be willing to forgive others in the way Jesus forgives.
And we must pray for healing
We live in a broken world and in a broken society. But praying with a heart of forgiveness is where it begins. And once we have forgiven, we must repent of our sins and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. Several places in scripture teach this very thing. I think the most well-known of these scriptures is: If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).