What the Amish School Shooting Can Teach Us About Forgiveness

June 15, 2012

In a small community called Nickel Mines, PA, there is an empty, quiet field next to a country lane. It wasn’t always empty, and it wasn’t always quiet.

On a chilly October day in 2006, recess had just ended and 20 Amish children were gathering back into their small one-room schoolhouse.

A local milk truck driver named Charles Roberts (non-Amish) pulled up in front of the school and went inside. After letting the adults and boys go, he lined the remaining ten little girls up in front of the chalkboard and shot them.

In the days that followed, it wasn’t the hate of the killer, but the forgiveness of the victim’s families that became the center of the story.

America was shocked and inspired that these gentle people could offer forgiveness when their children and grandchildren had been murdered.

  • The Grandfather of one of the victims said, “We must not think evil of this man.”
  • Another Amish father noted, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.”
  • An Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them.
  • The Amish visited and comforted the shooter’s widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms for almost an hour to comfort him.
  • The Amish set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter.

The West Nickel Mines School was demolished the following week. The site was left as a quiet pasture.

“Forgiveness is the scent the rose leaves on the heel that crushed it.”

1. True forgiveness is a choice. You may not have experienced as brutal and tragic a loss as those Amish families, but if you have been alive for any length of time, you’ve been hurt by other people. It’s just part of life. Someone has lied to you, abandoned you, neglected you, misunderstood you, deceived you, or criticized you.

Hurting is not a choice; but hating is. When don’t get to choose how people treat us. But we do get to choose how we respond.

Nazi prison camp survivor Corrie ten Boom recognized that forgiveness was a choice. After being abused, paraded, stripped of clothes, cursed at, and made to stand for hours in the snow, she chose to forgive her prison guards. “Forgiveness is an act of the will, & the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart,” she said.

The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. And the first to forget is the happiest.

2. True forgiveness is given whether asked for or not.
The hardest forgiveness to give is the forgiveness that is not asked for. It’s a lot easier to forgive someone who realizes what they’ve done and are very sorry for it. But true forgiveness is when you truly forgive them in your heart, even if they don’t even realize what they’ve done.

3. True forgiveness is a continual process.
Forgiveness is not a one-time choice; it is an on-going decision. Some people feel guilty when feelings of anger or bitterness toward someone begin to arise after they have already forgiven them. “I thought I had forgiven them…I guess I haven’t.”

The opportunity to hold a grudge, or harbor hatred or bitterness toward someone is a temptation. These feelings don’t mean you didn’t forgive them; it means you are simply being tempted with that same temptation again. Don’t feel guilty; just resist the temptation by renewing your forgiveness.

The Bible teaches us that love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5). So the question is: do we have a record? Do we have a mental list of the wrongs others have done to us?

Who’s on your list? Whose name, when you hear it, makes your blood pressure rise? Whose face, when you see it, makes your heart harden?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”Psalm 139:23-24

Let’s choose forgiveness today. Let’s commit to keeping no record of wrongs.

You’ll be amazed at the joy and peace that will flood your heart.