Guest Writer: Caleb Colley

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Forgiveness: Columbine and Calvary

I remember vividly the day of the Columbine massacre because it was unthinkable, but also because Columbine was my first knowledge of school violence. Being home schooled, I never worried very much about school security, so watching the news reports about the two troubled teenagers who went on a shooting rampage, killing 13 plus themselves, and wounding 23 others, was quite a revelation to me. I was among millions of other Americans with limited knowledge of psychopathology who all were asking, “Why would two young people do something so horrible?”
My bewilderment at this was interrupted momentarily by a TV camera’s shot of a banner that was flying from the top of one of the large buildings on the Colorado high school’s campus. The TV news reporter said that some of the killers’ classmates had put the banner there. It read: “Eric and Dylan: We forgive you.” Forgive? Eric and Dylan were the two killers, who just hours earlier, had mercilessly blown away their classmates, themselves, and a teacher. Blood was on their hands—probably literally. They had totally disregarded all respect for God and the human life that He created in His image. We forgive you?
Here’s another scenario. In the first century, envious, self-righteous Jewish religious leaders did everything within their power to have Jesus Christ killed. The Israelite mob even called for Barabbas to be released instead of our Lord, denying Pilate his last chance to acquit our innocent Lord, without actually standing up for Him. That Jewish mob was responsible for every blow of the hammer that drove the nails through our Savior’s hands. Despite their smug self-righteousness, Christ’s blood was definitely on their hands. They were murderers all right, blind to their own sinfulness.
Then came the first Pentecost after Jesus rose from the dead. On that occasion, the apostle Peter preached a powerful, convicting lesson about the deity of Christ. At the climax of the sermon, Peter spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and said this: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the company of killers heard that, they were cut to their hearts, and asked the apostles, “What shall we do?” They got it. They believed in the Lord and therefore wanted to be absolved of their guilt. Peter answered simply: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” They were baptized, and having their sins washed away by the blood of Christ, received forgiveness.
Two sets of killers, separated by about 2,000 years. Eric and Dylan were guilty, and the Jews who had Jesus killed were guilty. We’re analyzing forgiveness, and you’ve probably already recognized the fundamental difference between the forgiveness that the classmates offered to Eric and Dylan, and the forgiveness that Peter offered the Jews on behalf of Christ. The Jews asked for forgiveness. Eric and Dylan did not. I appreciate the conciliatory motives that caused the students to pronounce Eric and Dylan “forgiven,” but I would add that that pronouncement was not Christian forgiveness.
Jesus told his disciples, “If your brother sins against you…and repents, forgive him,” Luke chapter 17, verse 3. Our hearts must always be ready to forgive, but that forgiveness is contingent on repentance on the part of the offender. If this pattern sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because this is precisely God’s arrangement for saving people this very day, as it was 2,000 years ago. Luke chapter 13 and verse 3 says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” God will not forgive or save us unless we admit that we’ve been wrong and are willing to change. After we become Christians, we still must be penitent about our wrongdoing in order for God to forgive us. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us.”
And when God forgives, he really forgives. He does not hold grudges. Psalm 103 and verse 12 says that God has removed our sins from us as far as east is from west. That’s an infinite distance. When God forgives, he wipes our slates clean, because the sacrifice for us was absolutely perfect. God wanted to forgives us so much that He sacrificed His son. Micah chapter seven and verse nine says that God hurls all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. That’s the kind of forgiveness I want. In fact, that’s the forgiveness I owe those who sin against me.
Paul emphasizes in Ephesians chapter four and verse 32 that our forgiveness should mirror God’s: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as in Christ God forgave you.” We all do wrong, and these mistakes often hurt our relationships, just as our sin hurts our relationship with God. But if we’ve repented and been baptized into Christ, then we’ve repaired our relationship with God. Our relationships with other people can be healthy and successful when we are desperately eager to fully forgive when people repent. In light of what God has done for us through Christ, how could we do otherwise?
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