I’ve been very caught up in the idea of forgiveness lately as a result of the Boston bombing. As everybody knows I am an atheist so when I see the many “prayers” go out to victims and their families I try to simply see it as people wishing good things for people.
What one never sees however is prayers for the person who committed the horrific act. In many ways you can sympathize with this. As human we feel anger, outrage, hurt. There are many reasons not to forgive. However, what’s interesting to me is that if you believe in the power of prayer, then the perpetrator is just as worthy of prayer as any of the victims if not more so. The victims likely have support of friends and loved ones, whereas the perpetrator is likely quite alone. Again, I’m not saying that perhaps we can be morally okay with feeling that way, I’m simply saying that, especially as Christians, if you believe in prayer, you believe in miracles, and you believe in redemption then there is no one who needs redemption more than the person guilty of great crimes against his or her fellow man. If what MLK said is true, that only light can drive out the darkness, then there is nobody with more darkness in their soul than someone who could try to murder a large group of people. Does not the divine light drive out darkness even better?
It brings up the more important question. Can any of us be saved? Many Christians talking about how they felt saved by giving their heart to Jesus, but can we ever truly believe in someone like the Boston Marathon bomber’s true repentance or any other person who commits a horrible crime for that matter? Most people call for the person’s death, the hate is strong as you watch comments on social media. Is there a certain level of violence that we can tolerate and still believe that person can be redeemed and do good in this world? Is it the nature of a crime? What I thought was interesting was thinking about the question, “Well what if it was someone who was dealing drugs?” I have in fact heard testimony (in the Christian sense) from drug dealers who turned their life around by becoming Christian. Everybody feels inspired. However it may be quite likely that drug dealer was responsible for many more deaths from people who overdosed on drugs he or she sold. How inspired would anybody be by the Boston bomber if he said he found Jesus, cried, and got down on his knees and prayed? Even if he was completely repentanthow many people would buy it? Christian or non-Christian?
I was watching the news yesterday and they addressed this topic to a certain degree and had two pastors on the news (as if pastors know the most about forgiveness) and asked them what do you do to comfort people in these times? How do you get them not to abandon God when these things happen? Not surprisingly they said well you have to make peace of the situation by becoming closer to God because that is where your loved ones who were killed are now. With God. (Of course they could be in hell but ignore that). But he also said that forgiveness was important. When the news anchor asked “How do you forgive in a situation like this, because I struggle with this”? Both pastors responded that by forgiving you let go of the anger, and that you should forgive for your own benefit not for anybody else.
This struck me as odd. In the Christian doctrine forgiveness is big. Forgiveness represents compassion as well, which is also big. If they are going to argue that getting closer to God is the answer in these times because your deceased loved ones are with God, then shouldn’t another way of getting closer to God be by being merciful and forgiving as God (or Jesus does…well they are one in the same…I think). But more than that forgiveness is not supposed to be just for you. When you say “I forgive you”…YOU are forgiving someone else. Thus the act of forgiving must truly benefit both. Someone has caused you harm and you let go of your anger and they have the benefit of your compassion. And it’s possible by your compassion they are shown the true beauty of humanity (and if you’re religious… God’s grace) and will mend their ways. That is the hope, and a hope that does happen even if it is rare.
If you want to know what this atheist believes, then it is that we can change, we can learn and grow. It may take a long time, but you are more likely to make the world a more peaceful place with forgiveness and compassion to all creatures that walk upon it than you are through violence and hate. As I’ve stated before, this is the only existence we can be sure of, and to erase somebody from existence is a very serious measure, especially when it is our hate and anger that has ruled our hearts.
To quote a Genesis song we “kill what we fear, and we fear what we don’t understand”. This is human nature perhaps. When these things happen it is so hard to understand, we feel fearful, and so killing is what many people feel is the best way to deal with it. I think there are other solutions however than killing, even when people would try to kill us. Finding compassion in the darkest of moments is one of the hardest things in life, but I think it is a worthy goal.