My son often says to me “You got to think out of the box Dad. Think out of the box”
Well I quite like thinking inside the box and even have a boxy car to help me, but during a recent viral illness I read a book called ‘Forgiven’ a book written by Terri Roberts who was the mother of the man who was involved in the Amish School Shooting in 2006 known as the Nickel Mines shooting.
Her son Charlie walked into an Amish schoolroom in Pennsylvania on 2nd October 2006 shooting ten girls, killing five and then finally taking his own life. The book is about her journey from despair and agony to a position of acceptance – and it wasn’t easy!
Of course she is totally traumatised by the events of 2nd October as they unfolded. She says at one point “I was – always will be – his mother. Surely if anyone could spot signs of trouble it would be the woman who gave birth to him. At what point did bitterness begin to seethe beneath the surface contentment? Or hate tug harder at the mind and heart than love?”.
Later in the book she asks “Why does he permit in the lives of his children rain and drought, blue skies and tsunamis. If answered prayer brings strengthened faith, why does he not always respond to the heart cry of his children? How is it that our heavenly Father does indeed appear at times to give a poisonous reptile instead of a succulent fish a cold hard stone to fill an empty stomach instead of bread?” Why indeed? And if you read the book you won’t find the answer to those questions – instead you will see how Terri’s faith grows through it all as she learns to trust God.
The most amazing thing of all and the thing that enables Terri to come through is the reaction of the Amish community who not only forgave her family – which included her son’s wife Marie and three young daughters – but also rallied around to protect them from the press at Charlie’s funeral. To hear that described in the book is truly moving. Terri ends up caring on a regular basis for one of the girls who survived the shooting but was seriously damaged for life.
This is what I took away from the book. If God can take an incident like Nickel Mines and use it demonstrate grace and forgiveness and if the mother of Charlie with no real answers to the question ‘Why?’ can still find peace and acceptance surely I can begin to see with the eyes of faith that God is at work through all the conundrums and mysteries of God’s dealings with me and with those I love.
Who would have though that a group of anachronistic German speaking Amish would model in their community the kind of forgiveness and tender grace we are called to show and which brought Terri to a clearer more real faith as she testifies. Well, I wouldn’t but I tend to think inside the box, to stay within the claustrophobic confines of my own little world and forget the wonderful truths about God that we saw on Sunday morning. Life may be more complicated than we know or often think but “God is far more powerful than we can ever imagine.” In some ways I wish I could hard-wire those truths into my DNA instead of needing to be constantly reminded of them.
At the end of the book Terri gives just a hint of an answer to the question ‘why?’ when she describes ‘a magnificence image of God’s redemptive grace, of the beauty our heavenly Father alone can bring from the ugliness of human sin and tragedy’ – but you would have to read the book to find out what that image is.
Written by Stephen Nicholls
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