The video of a South Carolina police officer shooting Walter Scott in the back as he ran away opens a closed door to problems in the North Charleston police department. Emotions are running high. The Scott family has been advised to file a civil lawsuit to stop what has been revealed as a pattern of abuse. Hopefully, this will keep similar incidents from occurring in the future.
In the middle of the tornado of media coverage, bitter accusations and threats of retaliation, one light is growing brighter.
Walter Scott’s mother, Judy, told Anderson Cooper of CNN what she thinks of, Michael Slager, the officer who killed her son. She said, “Because of the love of God in me, I feel forgiveness for him.”
Most news sources ignored her comments or cut them short because, while forgiving is a courageous act, attributing it to God is embarrassing.
In popular culture, feeling guilt and offering forgiveness are horizontal emotions and acts that must be overcome or at least treated as social karma.
George Bernard Shaw explores the reality of guilt and the craving for forgiveness in his comedy, Major Barbara. The character, Bill Walker, is angry that his girl has rejected him and taken up with a wrestler who had converted to Christ. Walker accosts, Jenny, a Christian worker, whom he blames for his girl’s decision to leave him, grabs her hair and punches her in the face. Stricken by guilt and ridiculed for his actions, he announces that he will spit in the face of the wrestler and let himself get punched. But when he does so, the big man refuses to retaliate because he had become a Christian. This only angers Bill Walker further, and he attempts to find some way to make up for his actions. Even when Jenny tells him that his punch didn’t hurt that much, he flies into a rage. Any forgiveness falls on deaf ears. He must somehow pay. There is no answer for his guilt.
But Judy Scott found that she had to forgive because God has forgiven her.
She has tapped into a beautifully unsettling truth that Jesus taught when he explained how we are to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). In other words, we asking God to treat us the same way we treat others.
Professionals who deal with guilt – counselors, psychiatrists, philosophers – try to assuage the guilt-plagued without reference to God. From the secular worldview, we are, after all, merely highly developed animals. Murder and rape occur regularly in the animal world. No one complains and there is no guilt suffered by the perpetrators.
Not so for us who are created in God’s image, who are accountable to Him.
The Christ-centered worldview describes all sin as an affront to God; even when we sin against others. King David’s adultery and murder destroyed the lives of people he was responsible to protect. He prays, “against you, you only, have I sinned and done this evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4).
This does not mean there are no consequences for despicable acts. In spite of God’s forgiveness and his attempt at restitution, David’s life fell into an accelerating downward spiral. He died forgiven but broken and humbled.
Maybe the adage is true: To err is human, to forgive is divine.
Judy Scott’s bold statement of forgiveness shows not only courage and grace but it shows she has experienced what true forgiveness is. Amidst the din of protests and the bright lights of cameras, she is passing on what Christ has done in her life.
This is what Christians do.