...But for the Grace of God
My Rosie went to college in Boston, and often ran through its streets. She has scads of friends up there. My dear young friend Carrie is in school there now, and was actually at the Marathon. My first thought on Monday was, “Is everybody OK?” Miraculously, our friends seem to be fine, physically if not emotionally. But a gaping wound was opened with those two explosions, and it will take a lot of time for that city to really heal. Who will be held accountable for this tragedy? A 19 year old boy. Even if he lives to be brought to justice, the lost cannot be returned. There are no do-overs when evil strikes. Nothing can be undone.
Last week at Sunday School gathering, I talked with the kids about forgiveness, Christ’s mandate for us to pardon one another “seventy times seven” times, no matter what. The past Sunday, we had the opportunity to put our words into action. I gave the children pens and paper, and asked them to write two notes. One will go to Jeff Bauman, a double-amputee and the hero who helped identify the suspects for the police. Predictably, the children wrote letters of praise and encouragement to Jeff, and I know he will be cheered by reading them. The other? The other will be sent to the hospital where a young man named Dzhokhar Tsarnaev fights for his life. He is responsible for three deaths and scores of serious injuries, all possibly in the name of some hideously twisted view of the Muslim religion. His brother, by many accounts his mentor and the mastermind behind this heinous crime, is dead. So what do you write to a murderer?
Here’s what they wrote: Jesus still loves you. You did a horrible thing, but God forgives you. Change your ways. Get well. I’m praying for you. Who knows if he will ever see these notes, and, if so, what effect could they possibly have?
Maybe, just maybe, these notes and others like them (my Lutheran colleague Rich Melheim came up with the idea and I hope many other churches will follow) will create a chink in his armored heart. Perhaps the seeds of reconciliation will be sown, and he will become, as Rich puts it, “the most loving person in prison.” But even if he doesn’t…
I hope the kids came to understand, even a little bit, that “there but for the grace of God go I”—go us. Any of us could have a child who turns to violence, a brother, a friend. Tsarnaev could BE us, given different circumstances—let’s not kid ourselves about that. We are a hair’s breadth away from the living nightmare we cause for each other, we dreadfully flawed human beings.
Today I will mail both sets of letters, with prayers for both young men—the injurer and the injured. And I will continue to believe that no one, no one, is beyond redemption. With the grace of our endlessly loving God.