A great debate will probably be reignited today as we look back in time to what happened at Virginia Tech one year ago. Anti-gun folk will begin their argument about gun control and how we need more of it to prevent these events from happening. Pro-gun folk will argue that students should be allowed to carry on campus, thus minimizing the damage caused by these types of events, because prevention is not possible.
You know my mind on the subject so I won’t bring it up here. What I do have to say is that my thoughts and prayers are with the familys for whom this day is dark and cloudy. Thirty-three families lost loved ones that day. “Thirty-three,” you say? “Cho killed thirty-two people.” Yes, but he also killed himself and that makes thirty-three families who lost loved ones that day.
I don’t blame the system. I don’t blame gun manufacturers. I don’t blame the gun shop where the guns were purchased. Only one person is responsible for what happened and that’s Cho. In time I hope that the grieving families will be able to forgive him for what he did. Ultimately, forgiveness brings relief and healing. Holding on to hatred and anger only makes one fester inside.
James E. Faust, former Second Counselor in the First Presidency, who died last year, gve a wonderful sermon in the April 2007 General Conference called The Healing Power of Forgiveness. His talk begins –
My dear brothers and sisters and friends, I come before you humbly and prayerfully. I wish to speak on the healing power of forgiveness.
In the beautiful hills of Pennsylvania, a devout group of Christian people live a simple life without automobiles, electricity, or modern machinery. They work hard and live quiet, peaceful lives separate from the world. Most of their food comes from their own farms. The women sew and knit and weave their clothing, which is modest and plain. They are known as the Amish people.
A 32-year-old milk truck driver lived with his family in their Nickel Mines community. He was not Amish, but his pickup route took him to many Amish dairy farms, where he became known as the quiet milkman. Last October he suddenly lost all reason and control. In his tormented mind he blamed God for the death of his first child and some unsubstantiated memories. He stormed into the Amish school without any provocation, released the boys and adults, and tied up the 10 girls. He shot the girls, killing five and wounding five. Then he took his own life.
This shocking violence caused great anguish among the Amish but no anger. There was hurt but no hate. Their forgiveness was immediate. Collectively they began to reach out to the milkman’s suffering family. As the milkman’s family gathered in his home the day after the shootings, an Amish neighbor came over, wrapped his arms around the father of the dead gunman, and said, “We will forgive you.” Amish leaders visited the milkman’s wife and children to extend their sympathy, their forgiveness, their help, and their love. About half of the mourners at the milkman’s funeral were Amish. In turn, the Amish invited the milkman’s family to attend the funeral services of the girls who had been killed. A remarkable peace settled on the Amish as their faith sustained them during this crisis.
One local resident very eloquently summed up the aftermath of this tragedy when he said, “We were all speaking the same language, and not just English, but a language of caring, a language of community, [and] a language of service. And, yes, a language of forgiveness.” It was an amazing outpouring of their complete faith in the Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”
The family of the milkman who killed the five girls released the following statement to the public:
“To our Amish friends, neighbors, and local community:
“Our family wants each of you to know that we are overwhelmed by the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that you’ve extended to us. Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. The prayers, flowers, cards, and gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.
“Please know that our hearts have been broken by all that has happened. We are filled with sorrow for all of our Amish neighbors whom we have loved and continue to love. We know that there are many hard days ahead for all the families who lost loved ones, and so we will continue to put our hope and trust in the God of all comfort, as we all seek to rebuild our lives.”
How could the whole Amish group manifest such an expression of forgiveness? It was because of their faith in God and trust in His word, which is part of their inner beings. They see themselves as disciples of Christ and want to follow His example.
I hope that we can all do the same as we continue to heal the wounds of 4/16.