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Grace in the Face of Tragedy

June 29, 2015
Weekly Columns

Often when faced with heartbreaking circumstances or when tested by crisis, Americans come together to lend support and offer sympathy to their fellow Americans. That spirit of unity was recently demonstrated nationwide in the wake and aftermath of the deadly, racially-charged attack on church members at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Since that fateful day that claimed nine innocent lives at the historically black church’s Wednesday night Bible study, our country has come together in shock and extreme sorrow. Most notably, both the church members who survived the massacre and loved ones of those taken have instructed us through their unbelievable example to reject hate with love and forgiveness. This unlikely and unexpected testimony is one that reflects strength in faith.

Undoubtedly, the horrific act was committed in the name of evil by the shooter, and it has certainly served as an unfortunate reminder that we live in a fallen world that will always be tainted by evil. But instead of encouraging greater hate or causing others to lash out in similar acts of violence, the tragedy has stretched and strengthened people of faith and served as a remarkable demonstration of forgiveness. 

The response hasn’t ended with the church members. As images and information has surfaced on the shooter, including his embrace of white supremacism, government officials and business leaders have united in a common rejection of violence, racism and hate. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley asked for the Confederate flag, which flies on the grounds of the State Capitol, to be removed to a museum.  I believe this is an appropriate action. Even General Robert E. Lee himself wrote in a letter not long after the conclusion of the Civil War, “I think it wisest not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the example of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”  

Predictably, the recent massacre has also reignited the tired old calls to increase regulations on law-abiding gun owners. However, I contend that tighter gun control would not have prevented the evil in the shooter’s soul nor his murderous intentions. Further, as the nation has noticed in other similar tragedies, sometimes the issue has more to do with mental instability, which is something that can be identified and treated. I wish that had been the case in Charleston, but to claim that gun use and ownership should be further limited is a hasty judgment call to make and punishes countless law-abiding citizens in the process. Most Americans understand that guns are tools that must be used responsibly and for self-protection of our own loved ones. Even more importantly, the language of the Second Amendment is clear and unambiguous, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Circumstances like these don’t make sense and can never be explained. But certainly, the congregation and entire community in Charleston have risen to confront hate with love and evil with grace. In the midst of this terrible tragedy, I can’t help but remember a passage in Scripture that seems to reflect the mood and same strength of those hurting in Charleston. In Genesis 50:20, after Joseph was reunited with his brothers who intended only evil for his life, he responded with the same resolution, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.” It is difficult to understand how anything good can come from the unspeakable act of terror committed by a truly evil man. Remarkably, however, those closest to the tragedy itself are the ones who give us a glimmer of hope that it will.