This is why I believe in Jesus.

Dylann Roof forgiveness

Forget the Bible.

Forget historical records.

Forget faith and personal conviction.

Forget all those things for this single aching moment.

I believe in Jesus because of forgiveness.

But not just an afterthought-sort of forgiveness made for misdeeds done decades ago.

No.

I believe in Jesus because of face-to-face forgiveness for a man who took someone you love less than 48 hours prior.

Hardly 2 days.

I could maybe understand a forgiveness like that after 2 decades — “enough” years of grief and acceptance, if there could ever be such closure. The time to weep, time to heal, time to talk and be still and somehow amble forward.

But forgiveness in 2 days?

In 2 days the tears are still damp against your cheeks.

In 2 days your eyes are lined and sore with sleeplessness.

In 2 days your head is dizzy with disbelief, your insides numb and burning all at once.

In 2 days you cannot piece together complete sentences, let alone the one sentence that says

I

forgive

you.

Forgiveness like that is illogical. It doesn’t make sense for 2 decades, and it certainly doesn’t make sense in 2 days.

And yet it happened last week at a Charleston bond hearing.

How does forgiveness like that even exist? Where do those three impossible words come from?

I don’t know any of the Charleston victims’ families. We’ve never met. And yet I think we have a common Brother. I am sure of it, actually.

I could never prove Jesus is “real” in a tangible sense. I can’t show you the surveillance footage from His tomb. I can’t pry open my chest and show you the mystical blue light of the Holy Spirit. I can’t even point to a particular corner of the sky and allow you to absorb the ageless face of God himself.

I can’t show you the wounds in Jesus’ hands. I can’t even touch them myself, unlike my doubting scriptural namesake.

But I can point you to Charleston.

There you’ll find unspeakable pain, yes, but you’ll also discover something greater than gaping wounds.

“Hate won’t win.”

and

“I forgive you.”

Look no further than Charleston for resurrection breaths in flesh and bone and tearful voices.

I don’t understand why a good God allows atrocities like the Charleston shootings. Believe me, as a Christian I can’t begin to explain it.

But for all the pain I can’t fathom, I am left speechless by something all the more powerful. Something that overpowers the heinous and the hurt, storming like rain from another realm.

Forgiveness.

It is unnatural. It is supernatural. And it is here. Here in our midst in seven recorded minutes.

Forgiveness is not of this world, I’m convinced. Like a leprechaun on a rainbow in the dead of mountain night.

I call it Jesus. I watch a recording, and I hear His voice speaking beyond the tomb.

Despite this doubt and ache in Charleston’s wake, I feel something else in my soul. I watch seven minutes of a bond hearing and I’m convinced of this man named Jesus.

He was real 2,000 years ago, and He is more alive today than ever before.

He is real, because His inexplicable message of forgiveness survives. Somehow even thrives amid scenes of sheer horror.

Forgiveness is why I believe in Jesus. He is realer than a recording. Realer than a light in your chest.

Realer than the heavens above and hope for this helpless earth below.

  • “I don’t understand why a good God allows atrocities like the Charleston
    shootings. Believe me, as a Christian I can’t begin to explain it.”

    Free will. He wants us to be us, even if “us” is a horrible monstrosity. Without free will, our souls are not ours, and if they aren’t ours we can’t give them back to Him willingly. We would be mindless robots, programmed only to obey Him. He doesn’t want robots, he wants “you.”

    But the atrocities don’t last. It seems like they do, from down here on this ball of dirt, but this is nothing more than a blink. A terrible, monstrous blink that lets us be who we want to be fully and totally so we can see who He is and that it’s so much better. It is an unsafe safe-zone to prevent us from an eternity of despair. The bad happens now so we can SEE it, see it inside us, and so that we can chose to walk a different path forever and never suffer again. 🙂

    It’s complex, but also beautifully simplistic. He sure knows what He’s doing.

    • While I appreciate the cookie-cutter explanation, it still opens up a can of theological worms and frustration. Free will given us or not, God had all the power to cross this man’s path with some redeeming person or flash of light or even strike him dead before he pulled the trigger. And He didn’t.

      In general I probably believe most of what you wrote, but for the sake of the victims and their loved ones I’m leaving this to the big unknown. He is God, and we are not. Hoping with all hope that God can somehow meet these people in their brokenness. I can’t imagine the pain.

      • I apologize for apparently writing in a way that makes you see it as a cookie-cutter explanation. It took me 30-odd years of life, prayer, study, and deep thought to reach it. I am not regurgitating some company line, or copying and pasting from Wikipedia. I’ve walked through many valleys for this answer, and it’s what I’ve personally found after a lot of seeking. I don’t mean to be confrontational or callous, only to share those findings because they took a lot of time and effort and they shine the glory of God.

        Let me take your scenarios above for a second and show them back to you deeply in case you’re missing them:

        Let’s say God strikes him dead before he pulls the trigger. Let’s say God does that for everyone who ever decides to sin. You ever decide to sin? I know I have. I have in spite of knowing it was wrong, and this guy apparently didn’t even think he was wrong. So let’s consider a scenario where God strikes dead every person just before they sin, every time. That a God you want to follow? (You wouldn’t really get to answer, I guess, because you and I are both long dead in this alternate reality.)

        Let’s say God flashes some light at him just before that moment. Let’s say God flashes a light just before every moment we sin, every time. That’s forcing change. That’s taking away our free will, because then we don’t get to choose. It’s like an RPG where the hero is asked a Yes/No question, and if you choose No then there is a line saying “It’s pretty important, are you sure you won’t reconsider?” and that line keeps coming up until you click Yes. You want zapped every time you start to choose your own path, with a message on repeat “Are you sure?” until you click yes? God’s not going to force you. That’s taking away the “you” of your existence.

        The last one of your alternate could-haves is the most fascinating, and I don’t know if you noticed what you wrote or not, but WOW is it a big one.

        “God could have sent a redeeming person.”

        God did better. He sent 9 of them.

        Yet here we are. Because free will. Because it is the gift God will not take away from you because then you will stop being you, and He loves you. If He kills you, or zaps you, or forces you with Angel-power, you don’t get your free will. God doesn’t want a bunch of mindless drones. If He did, He’d make them instead and we wouldn’t be here. He could just hang out with all the plants and animals He dreamed up, and a few man-sized robots maybe.

        Last thought, and then I’ll shut up.

        If this “opens up a can of theological worms” – good. Don’t walk away from that can. Dig in, pour that can out, run your fingers through the squishy theology worms. Nine people died to open that can for you, don’t shut it back up. Thousands more have died so others could dig through that can, and one died a few thousand years ago so that there was no fear of what that can might hold. It’s difficult, and dirty, and frustrating at times, but there isn’t anything else. There is only the can and all the things distracting you from the can. You, me, we’re all here for those cans of worms. The longer we run from them, and close them back up for a myriad of reasons, the longer this life has to keep being as dark as it is. I know I personally spent 27 or 28 years running from them. If I had to do it again, I’d open that can on Day 1.

        You wouldn’t think there would be some great prize at the bottom of a can of worms, but then you wouldn’t think blood could wash things clean and white as snow.

        Yet here we are. 🙂

        • And yet free will aside, God also directly intervened throughout Scripture, killing wicked people from the Flood to the early Church. I mostly agree with free will, but free will is also not that cut-and-dry a concept with a sovereign God.

          • Well to be fair, the Flood was after hundreds of years of us slaughtering each other and violence had become SO ingrained that the only solution was to start over. It wasn’t like He stepped in for Noah’s sake, so Noah wouldn’t have bad things happen to him.

            Beyond that, though, God intervenes and shows up in clouds and burning bushes when He has something to say. Specifically, Scripture. It was done so that people would pay attention; so they would know what was happening was important not just in the moment, but for thousands of years to come.

            If God stepped in with flashes of light in this case, it would mean we all better pay serious attention because something is changing, and there’s something being said. Otherwise He uses free will to let us run amuck and see who we are inside, hoping it will lead us to repent for the wickedness we all contain. Then, if we do, He intervenes because we WANT Him to, and then it’s directly in our own lives. A very one-on-one kind of thing, because each of us has only our own will to give or hoard, yeah?

          • Right, so it seems God operates on a complicating cycle of both free will and intervention, letting us kill each other and then killing us or saving us outright. Whether it was the victims of the Flood or Saul/Paul or whoever. I don’t think God is bound completely to our free will, and that’s what makes something like Charleston disheartening. Because He could have intervened as He’s done countless times before, but He didn’t. I don’t think we can ever answer the question why God does or doesn’t do something, especially in light of these victims’ loved ones who’d probably take a simple “free will” answer as hyper-spiritual and harshly trite.

            I’m just wary of putting God into a box as if we have Him and His ways all figured out. That’s all I’d caution here.

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  • Jackson

    I know I’m late to this so I apologize, but I’m trying to catch up on Tom’s posts…

    Something I’ve been bouncing around in my mind is whether God determines what instances to intervene in based on what would bring the most glory to His name? I’ve always struggled reading Romans 9 and seeing the relation back to Exodus (14 I think) when God hardened Pharoah’s heart (how is that fair for God to make Pharoah’s heart hardened towards him!?). This is the thought I’ve got: in light of God’s foreknowledge of all human decisions, he orchestrates His ultimate plan to maximize His glory in the midst of our choices. So even in our terrible choices and decisions, the murders and wars and atrocities of the world, he’s orchestrated it all in such a way that he would receive the maximum glory. For me it’s a bit unsettling to think like this, especially in the wake of tragedy after tragedy. So I kinda waver between that and an idea of God as wanting the best for me/for us. Not that the two necessarily are exclusive, but they tend to alter the way I think when I view him as being one way or the other.

    Just my thoughts. Sorry again to be late to this.

    • Good thoughts. It’s certainly an interesting thing to sit and consider, isn’t it?

      One thing that helps me a lot is to remember that what we are experiencing now is such a tiny speck in the grand scheme. We can get caught up in life being this huge, be-all-end-all aspect of existing, you know? But this is nothing more than a blink. So, in your example of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened, that was just the tiniest moment in time. We see it as a big thing because that’s all it says in Scripture about Pharaoh. Yet I have little (none, really) doubt that God worked through every stage of that man’s life, from beginning to end. We see how God used him to change the course of Israel, but it’s wise to remember that God used Israel to change HIM, too. That gets overwhelming for our brains (or me, at least) because we can’t imagine blending so many situations perfectly together and getting every single one to the perfect result. To God, though, it’s not difficult.

      Scripture says that God is unwilling that any should perish. That means, to me, that Pharaoh and God got to sit down one on one and God offered him the same grace He’s offered me (and you, and Tom, and everyone). If Pharaoh accepted that gift, I don’t doubt for a second that you could ask him in heaven “Now that you see the big picture, are you glad God hardened your heart in that one moment and used you for such glory?” and he would grin from ear to ear and say yes. Because when we look at things from THAT moment (instead of this one we’re currently in) perspectives change quite a bit. QUITE a bit. 🙂

      You also mentioned “how was it fair” for God to do that in that moment. One thing that I always try to keep in the back of my mind is how grateful I am for things not being fair. As the Relient K song goes:

      “And this life sentence that I’m serving
      I admit that I’m every bit deserving
      But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair”

      If God was fair, I wouldn’t have the 7,000th “second chance” I’m currently on in my life! And, in the end, I have a feeling we’ll find out He’s been more than fair with each and every one of us. Again, it will take that moment in heaven before we truly get to see clearly for the first time. But oh, when we do, wait until you see how glorious it all looks. 🙂

    • Jackson! Long time no see. Thanks for the comment and good thoughts! I hope you’ll stick around these parts. Feel free to catch up all you’d like!