On Easter Sunday, a videotaped murder was visible on Facebook for about two hours. My title, though, is not referencing that video, but recorded interview segments with adult children of the shooting victim.
As anyone would expect, the family is deeply grieved from learning that their 74-year-old father was murdered shortly after their Easter celebration. Interviewed prior to the killer’s suicide two days later, a son expressed that he is angry and hurt and wants the killer to be brought to justice. A daughter who was given the chance to speak a message to the killer said, “Turn yourself in…when you break the law, there’s a penalty for breaking the law. And this man broke the law by taking my father’s life.”
What took the news anchor and, I suspect, many people by surprise was the additional statement made by all of the children interviewed, “I forgive him.” The son who also said, “A boy needs his father, and I’ve lost mine”, went on to say, “I forgive him because we’re all sinners and we need the shed blood of Jesus Christ to save us, and I’m so grateful for that. Turn yourself in.” A daughter stated that if presented with the opportunity, “God would give me the grace to embrace this man…I would want him to know that even in his worst state, he’s loved, you know, by God.”
How can this be? One said, and the others agreed, that they have no animosity in their hearts, but sadness for a man who was overtaken by evil and sympathy for his family. This attitude is a testimony to the legacy that the deceased father and grandfather left behind. As they were growing up, the children were taught by word and example to forgive those who do you wrong. A daughter admitted that she could not do that now if she didn’t know God as her savior. Even in this tragedy, she believes that her dad would quote Jesus, saying, “Tonya, forgive them because they know not what they do.” The Godwin family has made the choice to not merely listen to God’s word, but to do it. They have chosen to live as their father did and, more importantly, to model Jesus.
In a world where evil and pain are prevalent and violence can be instantly viewed by the world via social media and news agencies, one can become fearful and love can grow cold. Last night, as my husband and I were walking to our vehicle in a parking lot, a white car slowly approached and passed us. We admitted to each other that the thought crossed our minds, “We could be shot.”
But as I watched the interviews with the Godwin children today and considered their sincere words of forgiveness even as they grieve over the sudden and violent death of their dad, I have a sense of happiness for them. The days ahead will be hard for all of them, but their hearts will be free from hatred and a poisonous desire for revenge. They know and believe Jesus and are, no doubt, passing along the legacy of their father to his grandchildren. Tonya told the world via CNN, “The thing I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God…how to fear God, how to love God, and how to forgive.”
The wisest man on earth penned, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) We fear God because he is holy and just, the judge who is “able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12). We love God because he loved us first and gave his son Jesus as a ransom to set us free from sin and death. When random crimes are committed, we are, as we should be, angered. Many seek revenge. However, God, through Jesus, has taught and shown that forgiveness is his way. His grace makes it possible, and forgiveness is rewarded with a peacefulness that transcends all understanding. I believe the Godwins are experiencing that peace as they sadly bid their father farewell.
Tragically, the killer gave way to the evil desires that reside in each human heart and came to his ruin. Regarding wisdom, the writer of Proverbs also said, “For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:35-36)
I believe that, in an instant, Mr. Godwin left this world of sin and pain and was ushered into the presence of his Lord and Savior. What a glorious ending to his Easter celebration on earth! My hope is that the firm faith displayed by his family will inspire many in their city and all over the world to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Psalm 116:15