Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On Leaving Space For Forgiveness When We Don't Want To

I struggle with my own sense of justice.
I struggle with the idea that as a Christian, I must leave space for forgiveness even as I rightfully demand accountability for my enemies' actions.
I struggle to accept the fact that believing in the radical transforming grace of God compels me to believe that grace abounded on that beach in Libya in ways I don't comprehend or want to accept.
I struggle with the boundless depths of God's love and forgiveness.
I struggle with the gospel.

Zack Hunt wrote that. I quoted it in my post back in February on how ISIS killing those Christians on the beach in Libya got me thinking about my walk with God. And now I'm thinking about it all over again as today, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, aka the Boston Bomber, was found guilty of all 30 counts he was charged with relating to the attack and the manhunt in the days after, and now the jury is deliberating on whether or not he should receive the death penalty, since something like 17 of his 30 counts carry that possible punishment.

My instinct is to say KILL HIM! Take his life like he took others'. Make him die like he did that innocent 8-year-old boy who was there to watch the race with his family. He has no concern for the lives of others, why should we have concern for his?

But then, I can't help but remember that there is no "sin scale". I have grieved God's heart just as much as this guy has. I can't expect there to be grace for me and not for someone else, even if it doesn't seem fair to me. I don't WANT there to be grace for Tsarnaev. But if I ask God to deny him grace and forgiveness, if I tell God that's what is "fair," then I might as well tell him to shun me and send me out because His forgiveness and grace over me and my life certainly is not what is fair.

We are not any more special to God than he is. Our sin just took a different path.  Humans have a hard time with love that is 100% unconditional, but God doesn't know any other kind. As Christians, we are supposed to pray for non-believers to come to know the Lord, no? And aren't we supposed to try to help them come to know the saving grace of Jesus, the grace that we know has transformed our lives? If we kill Tsarnaev because that is what the justice system has deemed appropriate, we're ripping that chance away from him. We're taking the possibility of an eternity of forgiveness and new life and holding it back; it's saying, "Sorry, you've screwed up too badly. You've done too much wrong. You can't come back from this." How many times do we feel that way about ourselves, but are able to rest in the knowledge that we serve a God of second chances? I know that, for me, it's quite often. I'm not saying that it's a guarantee that if he spends his life in a prison cell, Tsarnaev will absolutely, definitely have some moment of epiphany and turn his whole life around and live for Jesus, but if he's alive, there's still hope. The second his last breath leaves his lungs, that hope dies out. The hope and mercy of God doesn't come with any corollaries or conditions; it's there for any of us, no matter what we've done.

There is one thing that I try to remember, especially when I get angry that someone I feel doesn't deserve a second chance gets one: Jesus died for the sin of the WORLD. Not the sin of Christians. Because I know how it feels to realize that Jesus died to win my heart back when I felt so far gone, I can't pretend that he didn't die to win this guy's life, too, whether or not he accepts that sacrifice. I believe deep in my gut that just as God grieved for the lives lost and the bodies injured and all the lives irrevocably changed, He also grieved for the Tsarnaev brothers, for their choices, for the anger ruling their minds and lives, for their belief that this was the right way to go. As the bombs erupted and the screams echoed through the streets of Boston, His love never wavered for them, not even for a second.

Now please, hear me out. I am in no way trying to diminish the pain that the people of Boston have felt over the past two years as they have fought to rebuild their lives. My heart breaks for them and the ways in which their lives are stuck in this "new normal". And I am absolutely not saying that the anger is not justified. Anger is a completely natural, 100% valid emotion here. (And I don't think God would tell us not to be angry. The God I know allows us to feel things, even the bad stuff.) What I am saying is that if we let that anger win out and rule our decision making and how we treat Tsarnaev, then we're losing all over again. We lose the chance to show the enemy that mercy and grace can still shine bright even in the darkest of darkness.

If we really believe that God's goodness is as boundless as we say, we have to leave space for forgiveness, no matter for whom, no matter what.

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