Dylann Roof claimed he wanted to start a race war but Jesus completely defeated his efforts through the blood and tears of his faithful people.
I have to admit, I was too cynical about life to expect this. But it is obvious now that God has decided to bless the world with a witness about his grace and love. What I read in this New York Times story about the confrontation between the killer and the relatives of his victims blows me away.
“You took something very precious away from me,” said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, her voice rising in anguish. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
Unbelievable. And the New York Time writers acknowledge how amazing it was:
The occasion was a bond hearing, the first court appearance of the accused killer, Dylann Storm Roof, for the murders, apparently racially motivated, of nine black men and women in a Bible study session at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night.
But it was as if the Bible study had never ended, as one after another, victims’ family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief. They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God.
We live in a time right now when almost every day it seems the media is smearing Christianity as nothing but a hate crime. Roof committed a despicable act. But because Jesus still has faithful servants, what he intended for evil God is using for good. No one expected the killer to get this kind of response from those he bereaved. But they, by God’s grace, rose to the occasion.
“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” said Felicia Sanders, the mother of 26-year old Tywanza Sanders, a poet who died after trying to save his aunt, who was also killed.
“You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know,” she said in a quivering voice. “Every fiber in my body hurts and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders is my son but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.”
There is no question in my mind that the nine people shot to death are Christian martyrs. From the details of the story it seems clear that their words and actions at that Bible study enraged Roof. They were Abel and he took the part of Cain.
The word martyr means “witness.” In a sense those who related to the killed, their parents and siblings and others, are also martyrs. They are martyrs both because they have suffered a loss that ends their lives as they knew them and because they have borne faithful and true testimony before the nation, the courts, and the criminal.
The Bible describes the power of this kind of loyalty to Jesus in the face of adversity in the book of Revelation:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (12:10-11 ESV).
May God remember and comfort and bless these saints who testified to his grace, power, and justice yesterday.