My favorite television show right now is Bad Sisters on Apple TV. It’s got everything: Irish sisters, romance, family dinners, the beach, and a nemesis, who – in this case – is the worst, most heinous character ever created for a television show. John Paul, the brother-in-law of four of the sisters is abusive and vile. And we learn in the first episode that he’s dead. Did someone murder him? Did he die of natural causes? Did God strike him dead because even God couldn’t take him anymore?
The show is clever and twisted and wonderful. Even I want to kill this man. But of course, this is not my call, nor is it anybody’s call to take a human life under most circumstances.
Yes, there is just war. There is compassionate death. There is self-defense.
Even the saint Dietrich Bonhoeffer plotted to assassinate Hitler for the sake of humanity, although he was captured and hanged on April 25, 1945 the day before his POW camp was liberated. His last words: “This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.”
My very favorite book is also about this theme:
Crime and Punishment is the story of a broken man named Raskolnikov who plots to murder his miserable and hateful landlady both because she is a terrible human being and because he believes he can help himself and others with her corrupt wealth. It drives him crazy.
Hate will drive us crazy. I think about the January 6th mobs that threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence over political disagreements. That was insane.
I think about people who have such irreparably broken relationships with their family members, their exes, their bosses, their neighbors that they act out in ways that could best be described as unhinged. Or maybe I should say we. We act out in ways that will never be confused with Jesus’ behavior even on that toss-over-the-tables day. I confess before you and God, I’ve felt angry enough to kill someone. I didn’t come close to doing it, of course, but the feelings were fierce and real.
I attended an inspiring funeral last weekend for a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly – Price Gwynn – and all three of his fine sons spoke. One said that Price once revealed the secret of life to him. “I can express it in a single word,” the father had said to his son: “Forgiveness.“
How do we forgive those who have deeply hurt us? How do we forgive those whose lives have been spent destroying people either by falsehoods or physical blows or emotional abuse or taking what doesn’t belong to them?
I can only point to the Holy Spirit here. Yes, the peace that passes all understanding is possible but it takes supernatural power for it to be real and lasting. One message I hope we in the Church can share both in words and actions is that forgiveness is possible with holy assistance.
It’s terrifying to forgive someone who has hurt us because we don’t trust they will not do it again. There is always that possibility. And even if the worst happens, we cling to Bonhoeffer’s words: “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”
I can’t wait to find out if it’s possible to forgive John Paul.