With the conviction of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I thought it appropriate to repost this from 2013.
“God in your mercy, hear our prayer.”
One Sunday morning in June of 2001 as I listened to the pastor’s sermon, I found myself nodding in agreement to his timeless message. He spoke of the incomparable love of God. He used words like infinite and all-encompassing, unlimited and incomprehensible. And then he spoke of God’s specific love for each of us as individuals.
“God loves you just the way you are,” he said. “God loves you no matter what you do or who you become. You are a child of God and God’s love for you will never falter.” (Amen!) “God loves the broken, the desperate, the incarcerated,” he said. “He loves each one of these just like he loves you. Because just like you, they are children of God.” (It was one of many times I wished my church were one where shouting an occasional “Hallelujah” wouldn’t cause the membership to go straight through the pearly gates from pure shock.)
“That means,” the pastor went on, “that Timothy McVeigh is also a child of God. That’s right. God loves Timothy McVeigh every bit as much as God loves you and me.”
Whoa now. Hallelujah halted.
A little back-story. From 1988-1992, my husband and I lived in Oklahoma City and absolutely loved it there. (We’d be there still if we could find a way to move that state closer to SC where our parents live.) We’d been back in NC for less than three years the day Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, 19 of whom were children under the age of 6. Another 200 people were injured in this the worst act of domestic terrorism in US history. And while I didn’t lose anyone dear to me in the attack, this violence in the city I called home for four years hurt my heart. When McVeigh was identified as the terrorist responsible for the tragedy, I saw him as my own personal enemy. My bitterness grew over the years and when he was sentenced I felt nothing but relief that he was finally getting what he deserved.
Sitting there in the pew that Sunday, I was positively flummoxed. The idea that McVeigh could even deserve God’s mercy was—I confess—not something I was willing to concede. A beloved child of God? Timothy McVeigh? The man I’d come to appreciate about as much as I valued flesh-eating bacteria? That Timothy McVeigh? No way. Surely God loved me more than McVeigh.
Yep. It’s true. That egocentric notion actually settled in my mind. But even as my brain was forming this idea, I saw the ungodliness of it. God playing favorites? No way. I mean, really: if a mere human parent did that, who among us would condone it? Was I seriously ascribing that abhorrent quality to God?
My heart turned and God’s mercy washed over me (God’s like that—always forgiving, always drawing us back into the divine embrace). And as I sat there, drenched in the love of God, the Holy Spirit revealed the truth to me. While Timothy McVeigh’s actions on April 19, 1995 were heartless and cruel, my hatred for him was not changing that reality. Instead, it was changing me—and not in a way that made me look more like Jesus. So, by the power of God (certainly not by my own strength), I forgave Timothy McVeigh: a murderer, a terrorist, and a beloved child of God, just like me. And just like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other;
just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also
Colossians 3:13 (NRSV)
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