When I first saw the horror of another mass shooting flash across my screen, like so many others I crumpled in disbelief. “A church . . .” I thought, “that could have been at my church.” Truly, there is no safe place anymore. Not even the house of God, where Scripture is read, prayers are sent heavenward and souls changed.
As the story unfolded I began to I wonder what went through the kid’s mind as he sat in the basement room at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC receiving the hospitality of those who had so many reasons for suspicion and fear. I wonder, as he heard them read the Bible and pray and welcome him into their lives, if he thought for a moment about not killing them. According to news reports, Dylann Roof told police that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to me.” Almost.
Yet, this young man gave in to the hate and racism that blackened his heart long before he pulled the trigger. Unspeakable evil like this has no rational explanation, except maybe demonic possession, and anyone who denies human depravity is, well, in denial. Anyone who thinks we as a human race are progressing toward utopia has forgotten that racism is to social progress what cockroaches are to nuclear fallout—extraordinarily resilient.
But, you know what was more baffling to the media and the watching world than even nine dead bodies? The forgiveness that poured forth from the victims’ families. Did you see the video — them pleading with Dylann Roof through tears? They said they forgave him — the emotionless, gaunt figure who, days earlier police said, “screamed profanities and hate speech while shooting with deadly accuracy.” And the crimson pools that stained the floors didn’t stop him from noticing that their blood was the same color as his.
One after another, the relatives of the slain, begged Roof to turn to God. One after another, they prayed for his soul. One after another, they forgave him. It was neither expected nor explicable. Such forgiveness is unseen in the animal world and nonsensical to common human nature. Such forgiveness in humanity is when we tread closest to the example of our Lord Jesus who cried from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!”
One thing that we learn from this crisis is that forgiveness in the face of evil is often more shocking than the wicked deed itself. Somehow, through the power of Christ, the one offering pardon is able to absorb the evil being doled out and transform it into something greater. Forgiveness stops the cycle of hate and destroys evil by agape.
As one journalist wrote, “In a world where evil can seem unstoppable, these families from Charleston have demonstrated that there is still hope. Hope not only in the good fight against racism, prejudice and evil, but hope also in the good that overwhelms evil.
Good sometimes overcomes evil via counter-intuitive forces: compassion, mercy and forgiveness.”
I’m not trying to sounds trite here, but I’ve often thought that forgiveness may be the most powerful choice God endowed upon humanity. Through the practice of pardon we can be like Jesus and unleash the Gospel on a hurting world. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). -DM
 John Ortberg, “The Almost Alternate Ending in Charleston,” Leadership Journal June 2015
 John S. Dickerson, “Charleston Victims Wield Power of Forgiveness,” USA Today, 22 June 2015