A recent event is burned into the memory of Americans and even the world. They were horrified at the senseless killing of innocent people. The attack was completely unprovoked. Five little girls died. I’m talking about the Nickel Mines School shooting in October of 2006. A man entered a one room schoolhouse for Amish children. He let the boys go and barricaded himself in with the girls. He bound them with zip ties. His plan didn’t go as he wanted when police arrived on the scene within a few minutes. Outside, the police heard shots. They stormed the schoolhouse to find ten girls shot and the gunman killed by his own pistol. Five girls died at the scene or in hospitals within a day. Information from his suicide notes revealed that he was angry at God. His plan was to punish God by hurting those Christian girls.
The shooting is only the beginning of the story. Immediately following the tragedy the media closed in on the small community. The Amish are known for horses and buggies and no electricity. They choose not to use technology and instead focus their lives on following the teachings of The Bible as closely as possible. To the outside world this community appeared like innocents who where in no way prepared for an assault from the evil outside. And then the Amish families shocked everyone else. They expressed forgiveness to the shooter and reached out to his widow and children. Members of the Amish community speaking under anonymity made it clear that no-one got together with a plan to forgive the murderer and his family. It was just done. It is their nature.
Inevitably, the shooting drew comparisons to the tragedy of September 11th 2001 with an unprovoked attack and innocent victims. Editorials spouted how if the Americans had been this forgiving then we wouldn’t be at war and there wouldn’t be more lives being lost.
I’m not going to try to go there. I cannot condemn or defend the United State’s response to the attacks. I’m not that knowledgeable to say if the following wars have been worth it or if we are safer today. I just don’t know. What we all know is that ten years ago everyone’s world changed forever. Nothing was ever the same and we had to find what is called a new normal.
When people learned of the Amish school shooting a common reaction was that this poor community was isolated and innocent. Focusing on Bible teachings and a simple lifestyle how could they comprehend a gunman with zip-ties murdering their children execution style? There were even some people who shook their heads at the grace the Amish community extended to the shooter and the family, as much as to say: “That’s not how you’re supposed to react when you’re wronged like that.”
But I’m here to stand up and say something today. The Amish families still grieved for their lost. They just included the shooter in their grief. They demolished the schoolhouse where the shooting took place. They did not want a concrete reminder of the tragedy. Their reaction was not one of naïve people. And it was one of people not dutiful to any worldly notions about how to live and respond to evil. They acted out in obedience to God.
The grace and forgiveness of the Amish in the wake of the school shooting is certainly something we can try to emulate. But can we extend absolute grace and forgive those who hurt us? What are we afraid of?
There is already so much fear out there. We can only do so much to fortify our boarders and airplanes and buildings and infrastructure. But our hearts can be adhered to God and His teaching. We don’t have to live in fear because no matter what we lose we know that we are children of the most high God. I don’t know if I personally can always live this way. But it is my prayer. If we all could live without fear then the war on terror would be won.
There are a lot of “if’s” in today’s entry. But the noise of a building falling and thousands of people dieing and the sound of a shotgun blast in a little schoolhouse all mean that there is evil in the world that we will never be able to completely predict or avoid. But five years ago a small group of people showed us what God’s love and grace is like. They showed us how God extends to us forgiveness. And when I see the heart of Jesus in their lives, that brightness does something to me. And the fear begins to fade away.