On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV, a milk truck driver, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse and shot eight students, killing five of them.
The tragedy was widely covered.
The Amish response to the tragedy received almost as much coverage as the tragedy itself.
They forgave the shooter.
In fact, they reached out to console Roberts’s family and to show them practical love.
Their forgiveness provoked mixed reactions. Some people were awed by their graciousness, while others were appalled. How could the Amish forgive so quickly? Is forgiving the shooter even the right thing to do when the killer expressed no remorse? Does forgiveness really come so easy?
Several years later, there was another school shooting at Virginia Tech. And a group of Amish fathers from West Nickel Mines reached out to the fathers of the Virginia Tech victims. They met and ate together and discussed the possibility of forgiveness. How could they forgive the shooter?
One Amish father made an insightful comment about the act of forgiveness. He referred to the answer Jesus gave to Peter’s question about forgiveness:
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21-22).
The Amish father said that forgiving someone does not always happen all at once. Yes, you forgive, but he found you must keep on forgiving, day after, day, for the same horrendous act. In context, Jesus was talking about forgiving 490 times (70×7) for different repeated actions. But the Amish father suggested that forgiveness can also require seventy times seven moments of forgiveness for the same sin. Every time he remembered how his little girl was shot by Roberts…he had to forgive.
“Forgiveness is a process,” he said.
Have you had to forgive someone for the same sin more than once? That is, when you think of how you were sinned against, do those old angry feelings rise up inside you like bile, and do you start feeling the bitterness and resentment come back up?
Then forgive them.
Not just once or twice or seven times, but seventy times seven times.
In other words, forgive as often as you need to until it finally sticks, and the forgiveness finally reaches down as deep into your heart as the hurt you suffered.