Forgiveness is costly - Hope 103.2

Forgiveness is costly

Morning Devotions is for those curious about the Christian faith and who want to explore Christian issues that relate to their daily life.

By Chris WittsSunday 29 Dec 2013Morning Devotions with Chris WittsFaithReading Time: 0 minutes


 It was back in November 2002 that a dreadful murder took place in Lebanon. Husband and wife missionaries Gary & Bonnie Witherall had left the United States to serve God and the people of Lebanon. Bonnie had given herself fully to the loving care of  the Palestinian women who were poor and impoverished at a refugee clinic in Sidon. There she worked and ministered until she was tragically gunned down.  Tensions were running high because of events elsewhere in the Middle East,and Americans in general and missionaries in particular had been warned of potential danger. Bonnie and her husband Gary,both graduates of Moody Bible Institute,had come to Lebanon with a burden to share Christ in the Muslim world. For several years they had been studying Arabic so they could communicate with the people they hoped to reach with the gospel.

At approximately 8:00 a.m. Bonnie answered a knock at the clinic door. Authorities can only surmise what happened next. Evidently a man hit her in the face and chest,and then shot her three times in the head,killing her instantly. When Gary heard the news,he ran to the clinic. By this time the police had come and the gunman was nowhere to be found. He tried to fight his way into the room where his wife lay in a pool of blood but the police wouldn’t let him enter. In one of the cruel ironies of our modern world,someone took a picture of Bonnie after she died,and that gruesome picture has been seen across the Internet.

The next day the London Times carried a report on the murder of Bonnie  Witherall. It quoted Gary Witherall as saying that he had forgiven his wife’s killers: “God led us to Lebanon and we knew that we might die. … It’s a costly forgiveness. … It cost my wife.” On the long flight home while accompanying his wife’s body to America,he came to a simple conclusion: “God said there’s a seed that’s been planted in your heart. You either hate and be angry,or you forgive. I said I have to forgive. In February of that same year,Bonnie had written this in her prayer journal.. “God,You are the Lord of our circumstances. We did not come to Lebanon by accident- we are exactly where You meant us to be. Lord,I want to worship You in the place where You’ve put me today. Help me to remember these four words: ‘This is My doing.’

What a remarkable story. You can read about it in a book called “Total Abandon”.
Whenever tragedy strikes,two enormous questions loom before us: “Why did this happen?” and “Where is God in all of this?” Many times the second question is harder than the first. Most of us instinctively know that we’ll never have a final answer to the “Why?” question this side of heaven. We don’t ever fully know why things happen the way they do. The answer to that question remains in the heart and mind of God.  Life is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. And we are like children trying to put the puzzle together with only a handful of pieces and someone took the box that has the picture on the cover. So we’re left trying to fit our little handful of pieces together and trying to figure out the big picture at the same time. No wonder we struggle to figure out what life is all about. As the years pass we pick up more pieces to the puzzle and things that once troubled us now seem to fit into place. And we have a new appreciation for the wisdom of God because nothing is ever wasted. Everything “fits” somewhere.

Or we are like ants crawling across a painting by Rembrandt. When we come to the darker colours,it seems as if the entire painting is dark,sombre,forbidding. Everything around us is dark brown or dark blue or midnight black. But if we could only stand back from the painting,we would see that the darker hues are offset by lighter colours-red,green,yellow,blue and orange. It is the darkness of the darker hues that makes the brighter colours stand out so vividly. So it is with life itself. We may spend days or weeks or years in the dark tones of life. Sickness,heartache,tragedy,mistreatment and betrayal may cause us to think that there are no lighter tones. But God is painting a masterpiece in your life and before he is finished,he will use every colour on his palette. If you do not see the final product on earth,you will see it clearly in heaven.

How can we live like this in a world where tragedy is never far away? The answer is simple though not easy to put into practice. We live this way by faith. We choose to believe that God is at work in everything that happens to us. And we choose to believe that even when we see nothing at all that makes sense to us.
On Sunday,November 24,Gary Witherall spoke at a memorial service for his wife held at the church building that adjoined the clinic where she was murdered three days earlier. Addressing the 400 mourners who packed the chapel (and others who stood outside in the rain),he explained again why they had come to Lebanon and how he felt about what had happened:

“So many people think my wife’s death was a waste … but we believe that coming here with the message of Jesus would never be a waste. It is a message worth laying our lives down for,” he said. Sobbing,he added,”Whoever did this crime,I forgive them. It’s not easy. It took everything that I have but I can forgive these people because God has forgiven me.” (From World magazine,December 7,2002).

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Forgiveness is never easy. In a situation like this,it would appear to be impossible. But Gary Witherall has discovered the truth of the sovereignty of God. Good theology has rescued his soul in a moment when most of us would give in to despair and bitterness. The road of forgiveness will seem like weakness to those who don’t believe in God,but as hard it is,it is far better than giving in to bitterness that corrodes the heart and destroys the soul. Those who believe in God’s sovereignty can overcome bitterness through the costly act of forgiveness