Wednesday, December 26, 2012

27 Bells?

Last Friday I was asked to do a television interview for a local news station (ABC news, KRDO) regarding First Presbyterian Church's decision to ring the bells in our church bell tower 26 times, one for every child and teacher that was killed in the Newtown school disaster, one week before.  When the Connecticut governor requested that downtown churches peel their bells for this commemoration, First Pres was happy to oblige.  The interviewer asked me the usual questions that get asked at such moments, "How could God allow such things to happen?" "What is the local church's response?" "How are local groups guarding themselves from similar calamities?"  However, one question that the interviewer asked caught be by surprise, and has been ringing (so to speak) in my own ear and heart ever since, "Why aren't you ringing 27 bells?"

What the interviewer was asking is why isn't there a bell being rung for the death of the killer himself?  It's an intriguing question, and deeply theological question.  The immediate simple response is that we were only requested to ring 26 bells by the Connecticut government office.  However, the deeper question is, "When is it appropriate to grieve and remember the loss of someone who acted completely against the will of God?"  "When is a good time to forgive?"  "When is a good time to recognize that all people are made in the image of God, even fallen murders?"  

One of the things that the Bible seems to be very clear about is that forgiveness is a mandate for the human soul, not simply a request.  When Jesus said we should forgive our brothers who have wronged us, "7 X 77" he meant it.  However, another strong Biblical notion is the concept of time and the power of the Holy Spirit to work within us to help us to accomplish things that we could not do on our own.  


Forgiveness should be enacted by primary parties, in the primary stages of any wrongdoing.  For example, it would be very wrong for me as a Caucasian Scottish American to offer forgiveness to those who committed atrocities in slavery in the 19th century in America.  That sort of forgiveness must be offered by those who were actually enslaved.  Equally, it is the families of those who lost children and loved ones in the Newtown tragedy which must be the primary agents of offering forgiveness in this crisis.  


One of the most poignant examples of the long process of forgiveness in the Bible involves the character of Joseph in the Old Testament, who is sold into slavery by his own brothers.  Joseph is sold into indentured servitude, wrongfully accused of lechery, sent to prison for many years, made to work in Pharaoh's government, and then, many years later, he is faced with the question of whether to forgive his brothers, who come to him for help.  The tables are turned!  Interestingly, even when the brothers approach the Pharaohnic throne, Joseph seems to take his time in forgiving them.  He sends for his youngest brother, Benjamin.  Joseph talks to his brothers at length, toys with them, interacts with them, all processes in the process of forgiveness.  It is only after Joseph, at long length, reveals himself to his brothers as their long estranged brother that reconciliation occurs.  

How would this process even begin to work in the case of families who will never get loved ones back again, and a killer who is no longer alive?  God only knows!  Really, God ONLY KNOWS.  Which is why this interviewee did not glibly offer a simple solution to a very complex occurrence of wrongdoing, whilst ringing the bells on a cold Friday morning in December.

All For Now,


1 comment:

  1. That was an excellent question. As an atheist, even without instruction from a God to forgive, it is difficult to wrap your brain around. The boy was sick in some way. And part of me is glad he is gone, and feels such anger. But part of me wonders if he had been hurting himself for too long. Of course there are also sociopaths, who I feel no need to forgive.