Forgiving a Brutal Crime Against Your Family – Can You? Should you?
Updated: Dec 31, 2022
Some of you may have read about the brutal murder of a seven-year-old girl in Texas. The man arrested for the crime is a FedEx driver. He confessed to accidentally backing into the girl with his van. And although she was not seriously injured, he panicked. He kidnapped her, and then strangled her to avoid having to tell her father what happened.
A few days after after her murder, the girl’s grandfather read a statement to the press about the war between his “flesh” and the Holy Spirit living within him. In his flesh he had no mercy and no forgiveness for the killer; he said if the accused murderer stood before him, he would kill him.
But the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit told him to forgive, and at the end of his message the grandfather stated, “I forgive her killer.”
If, God forbid, something like that happened to you, would you follow the example of the grandfather? And if you did forgive the murderer of a family member, what does that mean? The confessed killer has been arrested and will be tried. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty if he’s convicted. (It’s Texas, after all.) If you forgive the man, do you now want him to be released with no trial and no punishment? In other words, by forgiving the murderer, has justice been satisfied?
Well, no, of course not. Not only did the perpetrator sin against the girl he murdered and her family, but he broke God's law and sinned against society. So, when you forgive the perpetrator of an evil crime against you, you don’t mean (I hope) that you no longer want him to pay for his crimes.
Does forgiving a murderer mean you would consider becoming friends with him, potentially having him be part of your life? I hope that’s not what you mean by forgiving him. After all, if he murdered one person, what’s to stop him from murdering others. So in forgiving someone who committed a heinous crime, you’re not saying you want him to be your next door neighbor or your golfing buddy or your child's teacher. Right?
But if forgiveness is not those things, what is it?
I looked over the “reader comments” after I read the above story about the grandfather. One person said the purpose of forgiveness was for the victim. By forgiving, you free yourself to live your life without bitterness and resentment and a desire for revenge.
I’ve lived long enough to have been deeply hurt by sinful people, and so the idea of forgiving an evil person who has done lasting damage to me or to my family is one I’ve been dealing with for many years. But to understand forgiveness, as a Christian, I have to reckon with what the Bible says.
I have a great amount of sympathy for the sentiment that we forgive to release ourselves from the shackles of hatred and a crippling desire for revenge. But forgiveness in the Bible is more complicated than that.
I’d like to talk with you again about this, in my next post. But to close for now, let’s agree that the highest and most important kind of forgiveness comes only from Almighty God. In the Hebrew Bible there is a word for forgiveness that is used only of God’s forgiving people. For God, forgiveness requires repentance and faith in the atoning work of His Son.
What does that mean for you and me, as we live in a broken world where we hurt others and they hurt us?