Jonathan Ferrell was “one of the most magnificent individuals I ever came in contact with,” according to his brother. The former Florida A&M football player was working two jobs to put himself back in school and was engaged to be married. Early Saturday morning, he sought help at a woman’s home after his car crashed. Frightened, she called 911. Officer Randall Kerrick, one of the responding policemen, shot Ferrell 10 times, killing him. Officer Kerrick has been arrested and charged with voluntary manslaughter.
Georgia Ferrell later spoke at a news conference while clutching a Winnie the Pooh bear beloved by her son. She said, “You caused a great loss to my heart. You took a piece of my heart that never can be put back, but I do forgive you. I truly forgive you and wish you the best with your life and turning it over to God.”
Reading this story, I asked myself: If someone killed one of our sons, could I say the same? Why would I?
The families of 12 people killed by Aaron Alexis at the Washington Navy Yard are facing the same question this morning. They are dealing with the most senseless of crimes, their lives shattered by indescribable grief. I cannot imagine the anger they must feel toward the man who murdered their loved one. To suggest that they forgive him would seem insensitive and naïve in the extreme. Even though he died in the shootout, they would feel justified in harboring their bitterness toward him for the rest of their lives.
However, such a choice would only make their pain even worse. Their anger toward Aaron Alexis will obviously not harm him, but it will poison them. Bitterness rents a room in the soul to the one we hate. Ethicist Lewis Smedes: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Forgiving is not forgetting the crime, excusing it, or pretending that its pain is not horrific. Forgiving is pardoning—choosing not to punish. It is giving up your right to hurt the one who hurt you. It is saying with Georgia Ferrell, “I wish you the best with your life and turning it over to God.” It is something we do for the sake of the one who hurt us, and even more for ourselves.
Why is this topic personal for you today? Is there unpardoned pain in your heart this morning? You can ask God to forgive the one who hurt you, and ask him to help you do the same. And you will learn with George Macdonald that “forgiveness is the giving, and so the receiving, of life.”