That is the headline in an article on the BBC this morning (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/my_brothers_killer_is_now_my_friend). I had been intending to blog about something else, but my attention was snatched as I glanced at the news.
It is the account of how Denise Taylor, with her father Jim, had fought for the parole of her brother's killer, Ronnie Fields. How they had come to forgive the man who had gunned down someone they loved. Bo had been buying drugs and Fields had decided to take his money, but not hand over the pot. There was no plan to kill him. But he did.
When you see forgiveness like this you are moved to ask the questions: "Why?" and "How?". I suspected that the gospel must be behind it somewhere. That such love and forgiveness had to have it's source in Christ. About two thirds of the way through I found what I was looking for:
"Jim wrote to Fields about his Christian faith and his religious belief in redemption. Still, the first time he saw Fields, the emotion that flooded him was anger. But it wasn’t anger at Fields. It was anger at the parole board. For Fields, Jim felt compassion."
Not that forgiveness came easy to Jim Taylor. For many years he had been judgemental as a Christian. He looked down on those who didn't believe. He even condemned other churches. His harsh attitude bore fruit. As with many self-righteous people, his private life in no way matched the demands he made on others in public. Denise remembers her childhood being littered by her father's anger. Damaged by her parents divorce. Jim had to go through a 12 step recovery programme. And when Fields was brought to trial, forgiveness was the last thing on Jim's mind.
" He wanted the death penalty for Fields. He fantasised about bringing a gun to court and shooting the man who killed his only son."
Sometimes God has to do as much business with the victims of crime as with the criminals. And as he worked on Jim Taylor's heart he brought him to be a man of grace. A man who could offer undeserved love to another. A man who, with his daughter, could fight to free his son's murderer.
I think one of the most challenging verses in the Bible is Colossians 3:13 "Forgive as the Lord forgave you." In context it's talking about relationships within the church. But I don't think forgiveness stops there.
How can I rejoice in being forgiven by the God who has paid the price for my sin. The price of the suffering and death of his one and only Son, Jesus. The God who took the initiative in finding me. Who changed my heart to know his love. Who continues with me faithfully, despite my regular failure to love him in return. How can I assume all that for myself and then not forgive other human beings?
If you read the article you get the sense that Ronnie Fields is not a completely changed man. There is still anger. Impatience. Even the odd attempt to play down his crime. But the Taylors are determined to keep loving him. And God is determined to keep loving me.