On Charleston and Christian Forgiveness

by Jenny Gabbert August 6, 2015

What heals our nation will not be just retribution.

The 21-year-old alleged Charleston shooter, according to a New York Times article, listened to a live video feed this afternoon of hurt families of victims who told the young man they forgive him, and they ask that God would forgive his soul.[1]

I find myself astounded and intrigued by this incident. It’s saddening and shocking, and I keep checking the media outlets for new information about Dylann Storm Roof. Why did he do this? Is it a hate crime? How can different skin color draw one to hatred and murder? Why did he do it?

The same questions circle my mind. If he expected to start an uprising, I’m relieved to see that so far his hopes haven’t culminated to reality.

The grievers of Charleston pray that Dylann would be forgiven. They told him this, amidst their deep pain, through the video feed that directed to where Roof is being held. This forgiveness brings more healing to the mourners than the death penalty will give.

We understand clearly that killing Dylann will not even the score; his crime was too atrocious. Those lives belong to the Father and Dylann took them, leaving their families to mourn their loss for the remainder of a lifetime.

We are mourners, all of us Christians. We mourn the destruction and corruption of life given to us from God. We’ve mourned this fate and stench of death since our exile from the Garden; cases like these simply re-open our wounds and direct our gaze back to the grievous state we’ve put ourselves in.

How do we function in our communities, then? How do we encourage those fearful ones who hate and face hatred on all sides? We are separated from God and from one another. Bonhoeffer tells us we are burdens to one another, becoming unbearable to live with because of our sin.[2] He speaks of forbearance and its law for us and grace for us that we are able to bear the sins of those in our communities.

“In suffering and enduring human beings,” he writes, “God maintained community with [humans].”[3] Jesus forgave us, saving us from death, even when we crushed Him. Christian community is held together by Christ’s forgiveness alone. Forgiveness alone will heal the mourners in Charleston.

“Because each individual’s sin burdens the whole community and indicts it, the community of faith rejoices amid all the pain inflicted on it by the sin of the other and, in spite of the burden placed on it, rejoices in being deemed worthy of bearing with and forgiving sin.”[4]

We must forgive sin. We cannot expect just retribution to bind us together in brotherly affection like forgiving will. Our future City exists because of forgiveness and as citizens of this present City we must recognize our crucial role to forgive our neighbors.[5] We pray that the Charleston grievers would continue to find true healing for their soul in this: they forgive because they are forgiven.

[1] Blinder, Alan, Richard PÉrez-peÑa, and Nikita Stewart. "In Charleston, Raw Emotion at Hearing for Suspect in Church Shooting." The New York Times. June 19, 2015. Accessed June 19, 2015.

[2] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, and Geffrey B. Kelly. Life TogetherPrayerbook of the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996. 100.

[3] Ibid, 101.

[4] Ibid, 102.

[5] The language here references Augustine’s City of God Against the Pagans as well as the image of the New Heaven and the New Earth in Revelation 21.

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