Do you know the internal struggle of trying to forgive someone who has deliberately hurt you or someone in your family? Reverend Anthony Thompson knows exactly what that feels like.
His wife Myra was one of the nine people murdered on June 15, 2015, at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Recently, I heard him share his story at the same church where his wife was killed.
Two days after the shooting, Reverend Thompson reluctantly went to the bond hearing for Dylann Roof. He had no intention of saying anything. In fact, he told his family members who were present to keep their mouths closed.
When the judge asked if anyone would like to speak, Reverend Thompson felt the Holy Spirit was prompting him to get up and address Dylann. As he approached the podium he had no idea what he was going to say. He stood there and looked at the young man who had murdered his wife just 48 hours earlier. “As I looked at him,” he recounted, “it was like no one else was in the room.”
Then it happened. Reverend Thompson spoke words of healing rather than vengeance.
“I forgive you, and my family forgives you,” he said, “and you need to confess to God and repent.”
Reverend Thompson recalled, “As I spoke those words I felt the anger, bitterness and loneliness leaving my body. I felt this peace like none other. I realized that was the peace that passes all understanding. God’s peace is real. But you are not going to get it until you forgive somebody.”
Over the years, I have heard many messages about forgiving those who have hurt you, but none of them could match the sincerity I heard at Mother Emanuel Church that night. Reverend Thompson was literally standing one floor above where his wife and eight others were gunned down in the basement. Yet his message was clear and unwavering: “Only forgiveness can bring about healing in your life.” I sat there with hundreds of others that evening amazed at how hatred, racism and violence were defeated with one simple act of forgiveness.
We carry a lot of baggage. When someone has intentionally hurt us or someone that we love, it is easy to carry bitterness and anger from our past into our future. If that is you, here is something to consider: What if forgiveness is more about setting you free than it is about setting them free?
Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievance you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (NIV).
I have found in my life that forgiveness is a wonderful concept until you are the one who has to offer the forgiveness! That is where the struggle begins. Letting go of our anger and bitterness is never easy because the hurt and pain someone caused you is undeniable.
Perhaps it is time you say the words you said you would never say. Imagine feeling the anger and bitterness leaving your body as you say, “I forgive you.” Those three words sound a lot like Jesus.
To quote Reverend Thompson again, “God’s peace is real. But you are not going to get it until you forgive somebody.”
— Keith Shorter is pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Easley, S.C., and a former president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.