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26 June 2015

God in my hurting

God in my hurting

 This week a friend of mine tweeted the link to a video clip of a message by John Piper absolutely slamming the 'prosperity gospel' that has been so widely preached in some circles. Us having physical wealth and comfort does not make Jesus look beautiful to others. It makes wealth and prosperity look appealing. It values the gift above the giver.

 “I’ll tell you what makes Jesus look beautiful,” said Piper,

 "When you crash your car and your little girl flies through the windscreen and lies dead on the floor, and you say ‘Through the deepest possible pain, God is enough. God is enough. He is good… My flesh and my heart may fail, but You are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.’ That makes God look glorious."

It wasn't a car crash but an equally traumatic event that tested the faith of the families and friends of nine people in South Carolina last week.

I'm sure you've heard the story by now – a young white man attended a Bible study in a black church and, after an hour of fellowship with a dozen people, took out a gun and shot them, killing all but three.

It's a terrible tragedy, but the headlines were quickly taken over by the astonishing response of the relatives. At the preliminary hearing of suspect Dylann Roof, they were given the opportunity to speak to him via a video link, and most spoke words of forgiveness.

“You took something very precious from me, but I forgive you,” the daughter of one victim said, “It hurts me. You hurt a lot of people, but may God forgive you.”

We all know forgiveness is a good thing. It is both commanded by God and acknowledged by psychologists as beneficial. Refusal to forgive does no harm to the person who has wronged you, but great harm to you. Yet who could fail to admire such ready forgiveness so soon after the crime? The members of Emanuel AME Church demonstrated to the whole world that the God they had been learning about was as alive and real and present in their pain as he had been in happier times.

Just two days before the shooting, another American had gone to be with the Lord. She was an elderly lady, but she too, many years earlier, had learned that God was enough and had learned to forgive in challenging circumstances. Her name was Elisabeth Elliot. In 1956 Elisabeth’s husband, Jim, was killed, alongside four companions, by the Native Americans to whom they were trying to take the message of the gospel. Elisabeth forgave this tribe. And not just that, but she, her daughter, and Rachel Saint, one of the other widows, remained in the area and, eventually, were able to move into the very village where their husbands had been killed. Through the forgiveness and love of these women, in their words and deeds, that tribe was introduced to Jesus, and many of them came to know him personally.

Forgiveness doesn’t deny the pain. It doesn’t diminish the sense of loss. But it brings freedom to the forgiver, and it brings glory to God.

South Carolina lost nine of its citizens this month. But through the testimony of this forgiveness, we can expect – and pray – that the Kingdom of God will gain many more.

Jennie Pollock is a freelance writer and editor who lives in central London.