I hear today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews as a challenge when it talks about forgiveness. What makes words of forgiving and asking for forgiveness so formidable and forbidding? Is it maybe that these words are a divine thing as in "to err is human and to forgive is divine?" That cliché may help to put forgiveness into an understandable context. And indeed I do think that it is precisely difficult because to forgive does make us like God in some way.
Recently I had the privilege to hear Bud Welch talk to a group of people on the subject of the death penalty around the time of a yet-another execution in the state of Nebraska. Bud’s story is unique. He had opposed the death penalty until he lost a twenty-three-year-old daughter in the infamous bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. As he spoke of his beautiful and talented daughter tears welled up in his eyes. She was one of the many who were killed that day as the bomb Timothy McVeigh allegedly set off did its dirty work.
Welch confessed that after that loss he would easily have killed Timothy McVeigh "with his bare hands." He lived with that insanity ("I wanted to see him fry") until one day he saw Timothy McVeigh’s father, Bill, on television. Welch noted something in McVeigh’s dad that looked like suffering. Intrigued, Welch contacted Bill McVeigh and went to visit him. What he found was a father, like him, grieving his son’s actions that brought such pain into the lives of so many. He concluded that Timothy McVeigh’s death would not bring back his beloved daughter. Since then Bud Welch has spoken to groups about the death penalty. Despite the loss of his daughter, he has given up the desire to inflict violence on the violent.
Today’s reading reminds us of God’s desire for forgiveness ("for I will forgive their evil doing and remember their sins no more"). When we forgive we act like God acts towards us. Bud Welch strikes me as god-like in his forgiveness of his daughter’s killer. He models forgiveness for those of us who find it difficult to forgive or to ask for forgiveness. May we all follow Bud’s example.
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