Most of us have been following the tragic Charleston church massacre story the past two days. The victim’s families made heart wrenching statements today at the bond hearing of the racist terrorist, Dylann Roof. They all courageously confronted the evil degenerate who murdered nine of their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, and friends. And all who spoke in some way gave the same shocking message to the gunman:
“I forgive you.”
They were honest about the hurt and pain Roof inflicted, and through tears they lamented the loss of their loved ones. The curious element was this: Every statement had another kind of lament in it. A lament not just for what Dylann Roof had done, but a lament for Dylann Roof’s soul. A grief not just for lost family members who are deeply loved, but a grief for a lost young man who is blinded by hate.
It shook me up. And media members, who were called to react to it on live TV, were left grasping for categories.
Greg Gutfield, a typically sarcastic conservative commentator with razor wit, was visibly moved by the statement on the Fox News Show “The Five”. Never at a loss for words, Gutfield almost was this time:
“That might be the most powerful display of human emotion I’ve ever seen in my life. I will never be that good. They just witnessed unmitigated pure evil. But that (response) might be the best example of what is ‘good’ I’ve seen in my life….”
The next portion of Gutfield’s statement I found particularly heart wrenching (for a different reason):
“I’m not a religious person…But I can’t begin to understand. Does religion make great people? Or do great people go to religion? I can’t even comprehend this…I’m gobsmacked.”
There was a great act of grace displayed today in the words and tears of the victim’s families. And if they were to expound on what’s behind their radical statement I wonder if they’d point away from themselves. Maybe the foundation of radical grace isn’t found in “great people.”
Maybe they know the deep need of forgiveness they have before a holy God, and they’ve experienced all that forgiveness and more in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They know the bent of their own crooked heart towards hatred, bitterness, and anger. Because of their self-awareness they know the only place where healing for those dark gripping emotions can be:
At the foot of the cross of a gracious Savior. The God-Man who made himself a victim of the violence and blind hatred of man.
I’d bet the families of the Charleston victims have prayed the publican’s prayer many times before this tragedy, maybe even during the prayer group the found themselves in last Wednesday night: “Lord be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
The families are primed to be striking ambassadors of God’s goodness towards Roof because they intimately know the God who covers their badness with grace. And Gutfield’s right. We can’t “comprehend” supernatural grace with fallen minds. This has nothing to do with whether we are religiously predisposed or not.
Does religion make great people?
Not at all. Largely it ruins people, as most religion treats its traditions as proud badges before God and man (Mark 7:13).
Are great people attracted to religion?
Not at all. There are no great people. Not one. Just a great God Who forgives great sinners like us (Romans 3:10).
But there are normal people apprehended by a counter worldly gospel of grace, as the hurting Charleston families have attested today. And there is a great God who shows up in the midst of mindless suffering to give victims their voices.
The world is listening to these strong broken voices. And what He’s saying to them, and through them, is beautiful.
It’s beautiful because it’s mirroring the silver lining of good news even with a backdrop of horrifically bad news. It’s the living word of the gospel He speaks to us everyday, through the blood of His Son shed for us.
The Law of God has proven we’re guilty.
We stand condemned in an eternal court.
A Father stands before us with a statement.
His only Son’s blood is on our hands.
His words to us, the perpetrators:
“You’re forgiven. I love you.”
Amazing Grace. Should leave us wrecked everyday.
Or as some would say: Gobsmacked.