Justice and Forgiveness

” Father forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”

by Kurt Ingram

Perhaps the most moving words of forgiveness I have ever heard came from the mother of a murdered son during the Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till was a 14-year-old African American boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1965 by white townsmen angered that the boy had spoken with a white woman.  Till was thrown into a river, where his bloated body was discovered three days later.  Our nation has had a lot of dark moments; there are many things we have yet to repent of.  But this evil that has permeated our nation in the form of Racism may be the worst.

Following his murder, Till’s mother insisted on having an open casket at the memorial service, despite being advised by the authorities to keep it closed.  No one wanted this boy to be a Martyr; no one wanted him to stoke the fires of revolution that were burning.  But his mother was courageous beyond imagination.

She said, “No, this is my only baby … I want the world to see.” And she stepped to a lectern and looked over at her baby, his head was five times the size of his ordinary head. She looked at the cameras and she said, “I don’t have a minute to hate.  I will pursue justice for the rest of my life.”  Later she said, “I would rather be defeated at this moment with my moral integrity than win and be like those who have murdered my baby.”

I get angry at this story, and the millions others like it.  The story of those with power and privilege inflicting evil and violence on those who seem to them to be “other.”  I don’t want to forgive; I want them to have the tables turned on them.  It’s kind of like reading the crucifixion story and always holding out hope that maybe this time Jesus will crush the wrongdoers and be vindicated by what I see as justice.

But my view of justice is bent, and the Jesus I follow invites me not to pursue that kind of justice.  We are called to be a forgiven people so that we can live out the good news that God has forgiven the whole world.  I pray that God would forgive me as I forgive others, and I pray that this forgiveness would look like that of Till’s mother.  A forgiveness that holds out the hope of Justice, that boldly declares the truth, and yet has no room for hate.  I kind of think that is the type of forgiveness we see poured out from the cross.


–  Could you say the words of this mother if you were in the same situation?

–  How is the way you forgive others connected to the way God forgives you?

*I got this story from Dr. Cornell West


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