In the wake of the horrific attack on the Manchester Arena, how can you talk about forgiveness? How do families and friends come to terms with their loss? Those hurt, those traumatised, those who have lost so much in so many ways?
It’s almost two years since Dylann Roof sat amongst the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina for an hour, before opening fire and murdering nine of them. The survivors chose to forgive him. Why would they do that? They had discovered that hate just eats you up. It doesn’t harm the person you hate, it harms you. Forgiving doesn’t necessarily help the person you forgive, but it sets you free. Jesus told us to forgive because he knew that, hard as it is, it is the best thing for us.
There is one step further. Matthew 7:1-2 – not to judge.
But what about law courts? I don’t believe Jesus was referring to the civic duties of the legal system, but of our personal response to an individual or group. And he wasn’t talking about helpful correction, as we see from the following passage about taking a speck out of your brother’s eye.
There are good reasons not to judge – you don’t know the whole story; you don’t see it from the other person’s perspective; you should treat others as you would want to be treated; being judgemental is a negative way of thinking… But none of these are the reason Jesus gave.
Judgement, like unforgiveness, is not good for you. It ties you in, and holds you prisoner to your anger. My earlier post Dirty hands, clean hands explains how this happens with unforgiveness, and it’s similar with judgement, only worse. Whilst you hold judgement over someone else, that judgement is over you too. It becomes a bondage; it fastens you to the problem, it binds you to the negative emotions, and holds you back spiritually. Jesus clearly told us not to judge for our good.
That’s why, however difficult it is, we must forgive, we must stop judging.
And that’s why as a body of Christians, we need to come around those who are hurting, to pray for them, minister to them, support them in any way we can, to help them find the peace and freedom that only comes from letting go. And stop judging, ourselves.