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Anguish and Forgiveness

To plumb the depths of a person and there find pristine virtue and untarnished valor is rare, seldom sighted among us, notable because of its infrequent reality. To detect its presence in a lighted eye neath the furrow of sincere brow, to catch a drift of telling word and its corroborating moves–moves that signal not only the philosophy, but the exhibition of this thing called forgiveness, is an almost unknown factor in our jaded society. I mean real forgiveness, gut-wrenching forgiveness, ghastly forgiveness. Forgiveness that stops the world, that snaps to attention the heads of men and women across the globe. It matters not our divergence, our cut, our color or our class…for when we see it and hear it and know it, we understand that we are seeing, hearing and knowing God. It’s that rare.

The Nickel Mines Amish did it. They showed us Forgiveness. Awful forgiveness, anguished forgiveness, bloody forgiveness.

Recall that just over a year ago these Amish people–a religious group who lived in Nickel Mines, Pa. on farms without electricity and other modern conveniences had their lives splintered into untold agony when a person who lived in the area, their milkman, Charles Roberts, burst into a one-room schoolhouse, and shot ten young girls. Five of them died. Unbelievably, during these atrocious actions, one of the girls, 13-year-old Marian Fisher, offered to be killed first, thinking perhaps the others would be saved. The most telling of all is that within hours of the murders, these beautiful Amish people–the families of the slain children–not only spoke of forgiving Charles Roberts, but visited his wife and children and gave them food and money.

Picture and the following from the Pittsburg Post Gazette

Horrified strangers worldwide sent $4.3 million to the Nickel Mines Amish settlement in Bart, Lancaster County. But the Amish, who have no insurance, used the gifts for more than medical bills.

They gave shares to local emergency services that came to their aid and, in a move that caught the world’s imagination, to the widow and children of the man who murdered their daughters.

“It certainly means a lot for us to spend some time with the families,” Miller said after their meeting together on the anniversary of the shooting. “There’s no other place we would have rather been this morning.”

Also attending were community members, state troopers and officials from Virginia Tech, where a gunman killed 32 students and faculty members in April, Miller said.

Though grateful for all the help and sympathy it has received, the Amish community is hoping to be left alone as much as possible Tuesday during the actual anniversary of the shootings.

The New Hope Amish School, which replaced the one torn down after the attack, was closed Monday and will remain shut Tuesday.

Read more here.

Now consider this–also from the Pittsburg Post Gazette

Not everyone affirms the Amish response.

Rabbi Alvin Berkun, rabbi emeritus of Tree of Life Congregation, Squirrel Hill, and president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of Conservative Rabbis, applauds the Amish care for Amy Roberts, but not their forgiveness of Charles Roberts.

“In Judaism, there are some strings attached. I have to say I’m sorry for what I did, I have to resolve not to repeat that pattern of behavior again and I have to ask those I harmed to forgive me,” he said.

“Letting somebody off the hook even though they are dead doesn’t sit well with me. Society can’t function when you just wipe the slate clean constantly. He did a horrendous, horrendous thing and he did absolutely nothing to repent.”

This post was difficult for me to put together, and I truly can say as I finish here, that from the skin of my body to my inward parts, I am shaken, and at this moment physically tremble. I knew when I broached the subject it would be difficult. For in trying to be honest with myself, I wonder…I truly wonder…could I forgive such an assault on my family as did the Amish in Nickel Springs? Am I that Godly? If I’m not, why not? Is such forgiveness indeed Godliness?

What about you? Do you have it within you to exhibit such a sterling quality? Have you been challenged in your resolve to forgive those who wrong you? Ever had to extend forgiveness when it really hurt, when it caused anguish? Do you perhaps agree with Rabbi Berkun that forgiveness in this instance is misplaced?

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My devotional blog is here.

By Shirley Buxton

Still full of life and ready to be on the move, Shirley at 81 years old feels blessed to have lots of energy and to be full of optimism. She was married to Jerry for 64 years, and grieves yet at his death in August of 2019. They have 4 children, 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren...all beautiful and highly intelligent--of course. :)

26 replies on “Anguish and Forgiveness”

I have to say that forgiveness isn’t just for the person being forgiven. It is for the person doing the forgiving and for the preservation of their relationship with God. We will all be judged by One who will show us the measure of mercy we show others. Evil people will be dealt with by the law, Gods steward, and ultimately by God himself.

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I remember when this happened. I remember seeing on a news website, a video clip taken from a helicopter above. It showed a group of Amish ladies approaching a house to give pies and food to the family of the one who murdered children from their community. Tears of emotion began to well up in my eyes which does not happen often. This act which seemingly exemplified pure forgiveness was very moving.
As it has been mentioned, it’s hard to know how you will react until something happens.
But I’ve noticed that forgiveness is a central teaching of Jesus. Most notably found in the Lord’s Prayer Matthew 6:9-15 And considering the fact that forgiveness is so connected to the Lord’s Prayer, I believe that God would have us remember that his forgiveness toward us is under the condition that we forgive others every time we pray.
But yes, you tend to wonder “If something really hard like this happened to me, would I or could I forgive so easily, or at all?” I certainly hope that I and everyone else would be able to.

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Rochelle-

On your site, previously, I read some of your experiences, and I must tell you how much I admire your strength, your trust and your successes.

The brutal abuse of a child–whether physical, mental or emotional–is almost more than I can bear. I say this not for effect, but for truth. In grocery stores when I see parents yelling and snatching at small children–wild-eyed, helpless, pale children–it’s all I can do to restrain myself from interferjing. (And I would interfere if I was certain of abuse…and I know there are times to snatch up a child…and a yell or two never hurt one…and I’ve swatted my own…but I hope you get my drift. Abuse is different, and sometimes can be spotted easily.)

Off that little tangent 🙂

To forgive those who caused the pain…for such a person as you, who surely must look back and see the helpless child that was you…I cannot imagine such intensity, grief and sorrow. I weep for you now, and sometimes I want to

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Karen-

It is bound to be a source of strength and courage to observe one who has been so wounded as the gentleman in your church, and then has shown such a Godly spirit as you have reported. What agony he surely has suffered–what victory he is entitled to claim.

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R Guy-

The older I become, the more I absolutely understand my need for grace and mercy. I know without it, I can never stand worthy before God.

Society judges that sin differs in level of evil, and I acknowledge myself to be one who engages in such thinking. My human logic cannot equate partial birth abortion, where a baby’s skull is screwed open and his/her virgin brains sucked out, with petty theft, say. I also acknowledge God to be all wise and so holy that no sin can stand in His presence, and that SIN is SIN to Him.

Forgive the humans who walk beside me? Yes, I must.

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Well written post, Shirley.

I think lots of folks, including this Rabbi, are confused about forgiveness. It doesn’t mean that the person automatically escapes the legal or natural consequences of his actions. It doesn’t mean that he is automatically off the hook with God. It doesn’t mean that we excuse or condone the person’s behavior or gloss over what he or she did.

It means that we consciously choose to let go of our need for vengeance. We choose to see ourselves a debtor to God’s grace ourselves and realize that we are just as much a sinner as the one who wronged us. It means that we rid ourselves of the anger, hatred, and bitterness, for the sake of Jesus and for our own good.

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Okay. I’m going to have to start bringing a box of tissues when I come here. Wow. You always get my mind spinning and my heart yearning. First, thank you everyone, especially Esther, for your honesty. God’s mercy flows through you. For myself, this information filtered through a different vein. I was severly abused on so many different levels from the age of about 5 0r 6 to age 11. I will not go into details, but I will say I recognize that God spared my sanity, and life. The abuse, although does not define me, has very much shaped me. I had to learn that forgiveness is a process. And I have to admit there are times in which I still have to re-forgive. Not only those who abused me, but those who choose not to see the abuse. For me, forgiveness is not always a feeling, but simply a choice. Forgiveness for me has meant that I have to tell myself that I give up every right I have to be angry at them for being so selfish and for robbing me of my childhood. And for the phsyical aspects of the abuse still left behind. And it is easy to forgive when all is well, but there are times in which memories flood my soul and I don’t want to give up the right to be defensive, and hurt, and angry. Sometimes I have remind myself that forgiving them doesn’t make what they did right. The end result is this, at least for me, unforgiveness will destoy the life that God spared for me. So everyday, forgiveness is a choice. Sometimes that choice is easy and I don’t even think about it. Other days, I get down on my knees and simply say the words.

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Wow, this is a very heavy topic, and one we have discussed before in our home fellowship group. There’s an old saying that goes, “To err is human, to forgive divine”. I think there are times when we don’t have the power in us to forgive an offense, even if we may want to do so. It may take God’s divine intervention in our lives before we can really forgive someone. I have heard true stories of people that were terribly hurt by someone, and they asked God to help them forgive because they did not have it in their heart. He miraculously came through, and they were able to forgive the offender and actually feel love and compassion for them. A brother in our church is one example. His sister was murdered by her husband. It took him a long time, but through prayer, God granted him the ability to forgive his brother-in-law. He even went to prison to visit him and forgave him and felt divine love for Him. I honestly don’t know how I would respond if I were in the Amish folks’ shoes who lost their children. I would hope that I would have enough of God in me to forgive, but if I didn’t, I would beg God to heal my hurt and forgive them. I believe He would answer that prayer. Like Carol indicated, the only other option would eventually destroy us. Jesus said to forgive 70 times 7. I don’t think he mentioned anything about any strings being attached as the Rabbi did.

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Esther, today you have exhibited an outstanding Christian character–first of all in having the courage to speak of Todd’s death, and in the telling of your forgiving the man who caused the accident. Then to think to mention dear Joel and how you felt compassion for him–it’s beyond the call. Thank you.

I agree with you totally about these tragedies being merely a stroke of life. I cannot believe that on the morning of Mike’s death, God looked down, arranged for Joel to drive under the bridge and for Mike to be standing high on the boat. No, it was a mere accident, as was the death of your Todd.

Some quarrel with that, saying, “When it’s your time to go, you’ll go.” Of course God knows when we will die, and at moments, He seems to miraculously prevent accidents. But not every time, not every day.

Active, authentic faith in God says, “I’ll serve You if You deliver me, and if You don’t? I’ll serve You still.”

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Carol, you have cut right to the chase in saying “If we don’t forgive, then wouldn’t the only other option be to be destroyed by bitterness and resentment?”

Is there a third place–a place where one is not consumed with the loss, is not really bitter or resentful–but whose mind cannot just cannot reconcile with forgiving such an event. What is forgiveness, anyway? Is it saying it’s okay that you caused this dreadful happening?

I find the Rabbi’s remarks interesting: ““In Judaism, there are some strings attached. I have to say I’m sorry for what I did, I have to resolve not to repeat that pattern of behavior again and I have to ask those I harmed to forgive me,” he said.

But, then, Carol, you pointed to Jesus. On the cross He forgave those who were actively killing Him…at the moment…He forgave them.

God help me.

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I did want you to know one other thing. When Mike had his accident that took him from us, I made sure I confronted Joel. I told him I would forever be mad at him if he blamed himself. He needed to get a grip on that. I know he did blame himself. But, I wanted him to know that he was not to blame. Not at all. It was an accident which was just a part of his ol’ life. Joel is precious to me. I hope he knows that no one that I know of, puts any blame on him.

SHIRLEY’S NOTE: The Joel of whom Esther speaks is one of my grandsons. Mike was Esther’s son-in-law. Joel was driving a boat in the Sacramento River, Mike (a brilliant attorney, and father of five children, some of whom were in the boat) stood too high on the boat’s rigging, and was killed when Joel drove the boat under a bridge. Esther, please correct me if I have stated anything incorrectly. Esther and I are close in other ways. My youngest son, Andrew, is married to her youngest daughter, Shawnna.

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That is a tough question to answer. I may not have had the opportunity to confront him if he was as you discribed. He probably would not have been standing in the lobby confused and remorsful. But, if he were some place where I knew and could get to him, I probably would have done the same thing. It is all because I wanted it off my mind. I knew I would be heartbroken for a long time. But, I felt it would not have done anyone any good to have him live his life with this mother never forgiving him. He did have a family which made his actions in the truck all the worse. His kids were in the truck
with him when this happened.
Another thing about these accidents that happen to loved ones, which could lead to a whole other subject for you to address. People say God allows things like this to happen. Some people even blame God. Some blame Satan. But, I blame neither. It is just “life”. Just accidents. This is part of living in this ol’ world. I would like to hear from others on their thoughts about this God versus Satan being blamed for things like this. What do you think?

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Sister Buxton, you’ve done it again. You have a way of writing and bringing up subjects that really make people think. I would like to think that I would be as forgiving as the Amish if it were one of my children that were killed, but I too wonder if I honestly could. At the same time, I think about the man Christ Jesus. Nobody has ever been wronged like He was, and yet He forgave and continues to forgive on such a grand scale. If we don’t forgive, then wouldn’t the only other option be to be destroyed by bitterness and resentment?

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Thank you, my dear friend Esther, who despite suffering such raw loss, has been able to come to this site and tell your story, relating your decision to forgive someone who terribly hurt you and your family. You speak not to a hypothetical idea, but in light of frank experience…and what powerful words you have set down here.

I have one question. Would you feel differently if the man who drove the truck that killed Todd were not sorry, but instead denied responsibility or was arrogant and headstrong?

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Sis. Buxton……… what a subject. You really come up with some heart searching thoughts. I do not claim to be such a wonderful person or extra ordinary Christian. But, I do have some personal experience with this subject. When a man in a pickup did not stop at a stop sign and plowed into my son Todd and Bro. Jimmy Shoemakes son and killed them both, it was the same as someone shooting them (to me). It was so stupid of him, careless and unthoughtful. However, the forgiveness part brings peace of mind to the one doing the forgiving. I went up to that man, shook his hand and told him I forgave him. This was not to make me seem so righteous but to make me feel better. My reasoning behind this was because I realized that he was truly sorry and, most importantly, nothing would bring my boy back to me. Why should this man suffer his whole life when there was nothing that could have been done to change things. Doing this made me have peace of mind. Also, and this is the most important part: I know what my God has forgiven me of, and continues to forgive me when I make mistakes. Many, many times He has forgave when I have make bad decisions. I could go on and on but I think you get what I mean. Bottom line is: if the one who was done wrong can forgive the one doing the wrong, it benefits the one who was done wrong. You gain peace of mind and that is what is most important.

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HELEN, I think this may be what happens: A remark is made with a certain amount of truth to it–it is then repeated as “gospel” for generations, and without closely examining it–because it is so often quoted as truth–we accept it. There is certain truth in “forgive and forget,” for when we forgive someone or ourselves, even, we should not bring up the subject again–not hold it against them–forget it, if you will. In that regard, perhaps, some truth can be perceived in the platitude. But in general, it is just not true–it’s not possible.

REBECCA, that’s why we sometimes must forgive every day, because we. just. can’t. forget. Our brains are too good. 🙂

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I don’t see forgiveness, even of a single event, as a one time occurrence. For me, it’s a process, and sometimes I have to choose, everyday, to forgive. Maybe that says something less than admirable about me?

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RE: “I don’t believe one must forget in order to truly forgive. In fact, it’s not logical to demand that. ”

Amen, Shirley. “Forgive and forget” is one of the stupidest phrases I’ve ever heard. If you forget, how do you know what you have forgiven?

It’s not only not logical to demand; it’s impossible to do.

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Dean, I’m glad you introduced the issue of forgetting in light of the forgiveness issue.

I don’t believe one must forget in order to truly forgive. In fact, it’s not logical to demand that. The Nickel Amish families will never forget the slaying of their children by Charles Roberts. That is an impossibility. Yet, they can forgive him.

It is commendable that you can say you believe you could forgive a man who killed your children. I’m working to get to that place, but honestly, I’m not at all sure of myself…

Is it too much to announce on the internet that “I could use some lessons on forgetting my past and forgiving others for theirs?” Of course not. You’re among friends, and its good to sometimes voice our concerns. (I’m going to someone’s site and find a quotation that I want to give to you. I’ll be back with it later. Check in!)

Think about it, then respond: Do you actually believe someone must forget an incident in order to forgive the wrong done?

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Helen, that’s a great line …”knowing that most of the time we only “flirt” – with what it means for a Christian to forgive – when God has proposed marriage.”

I sincerely pray that I will never have to face the issue of a man shooting one of my babies. I tell you honestly, I’m not sure I would react as finely as did those precious Amish.

Have you wondered if in their “heart-of-hearts,” any one of them may have reservations about forgiving Charles Roberts?

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Daniel-

“A lot on the mind and the Spirit,” you say. What should we do with subjects that weigh on our minds and on our spirits? Shall we wait them out, trusting we will never have to be “proven,” or should we make such matters a specific matter of prayer and study? I’m really wondering about it. Perhaps all God requires is that we strive for holiness and godliness, trusting that when we are tested, we will react in the right way.

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I would like to believe I could forgive, but I am sure the real test would be …. could I forget? I could use some lessons on forgetting my past and forgiving others for theirs. Is that too much info to share with the whole internet?? Peace

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Powerful post. And we don’t know the answer unless we’ve been tried in this manner, which most of us have not. Sort of stops me in my tracks, knowing that most of the time we only “flirt” – with what it means for a Christian to forgive – when God has proposed marriage.

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