There's freedom in forgiving

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Murder almost always dominates headlines in a news cycle. In the world of journalism, there is a morose adage that speaks to this: "If it bleeds, it leads."

Blame the media, if you will, but that which lands above the fold - which is to say grabs the attention of most rapid readers - is the sensational headline.

The sensational headline that has grabbed our attention within the last week is of Steve Stephens, a clearly disturbed individual who recorded himself allegedly shooting and killing Robert Godwin, a 74-year-old man who, as of this printing, had no recorded ties with Stephens. Stephens was mad about his personal life, police records indicate, and took out his frustrations on Godwin.

It is a horrific story made worse by the fact that Stephens broadcasted the shooting live on his personal social media account.

Panic ensued as police tried to track down Stephens, and the headlines followed every step of the manhunt. Finally, on Monday, Stephens was cornered before he took his own life. I read with relief the headlines that detailed the end of the fugitive's run. Then I noticed three or four headlines down was an interview with some of Godwin's children.

Their voices choked and faltered as they spoke of their father, the man, the mechanic, the loving grandfather. Most amazing - more so than the dozens of headlines detailing the killing and manhunt surrounding the case - was their testimony of forgiveness toward their father's killer.

Tonya Godwin-Baines, Godwin's daughter, spoke for the three interviewed.

"The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God ... how to fear God, how to love God and how to forgive. Each one of us forgives the killer."

"You do?" the reporter asked, sounding incredulous.

To be honest, I think that would be my reaction as well. It's hard to fathom a forgiveness that runs deeper than the anger and indignation they must have felt.

I think acts of depravity such as murder will always catch our attention and will always command the day's headlines. The sensational nature of the crime itself seems to overshadow the ground-shaking ability of people to forgive their transgressor.

These acts of forgiveness don't always garner the same attention as the crimes that precede them, but perhaps they should. A spirit of forgiveness is hard won. One does not forgive on a whim. It takes conditioning. And what better conditioning do we have as believers than the example of our forgiving Heavenly Father.

"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." - C.S. Lewis.

We may never be put in the position where we must forgive the murderer of one of our loved ones, but we have the capacity to follow the example of our God, who offers forgiveness to us regardless of our past transgressions.

One last thing: You might be withholding forgiveness to someone who will probably never say, "I'm sorry." There is freedom in forgiving the person. Forgive the person now.

Email Jamie H. Wilson at faithmatterssumter@gmail.com.