The following is an excerpt of my new book, Letters from My Father’s Murderer.
I spent most of the night in prayer, asking Jesus for grace. I desperately needed His grace to trust and follow Him where He was leading. I prayed for Him to grow my faith. To allow me to see as I ought.
And as Dr. Graham’s words came to mind once again—about how Jesus loved and prayed for His enemies, even as He hung on that cross—I thought, what is Jesus really asking me to do, anyway? Then it hit me. He was simply asking me to give that which I had already received. That night, I began to see and understand the gospel more fully. I began to see that, prior to coming to faith in Jesus, I was in fact an enemy of God. Yet while I was still far from God, He loved me, He pursued me, and He died for me—even in my rebellion.
God loves His enemies.
I understood more deeply that Jesus’s death brought me life. Life I did not deserve. Jesus died so we could be forgiven and reconciled to the Father. He died to atone or to pay for our sins. You see, Jesus’s death was necessary. There was no other way. We are sinners, and the penalty of sin is death—or eternal separation from God—but God couldn’t let that happen. His love for us demanded that He do something to bring us back to Himself, to the only place we will ever find true life. The only place we will ever be whole. So it was Jesus who, in our place, paid the cost for our sins. And it was Jesus, God incarnate, who loved His enemies unto death that He might call us friend.
Jesus’s death made forgiveness possible. I have been forgiven, just as each and every follower of Christ has been. Scripture tells us that we “were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 7:23). Who am I to withhold forgiveness and love from my enemy, I thought, when it has been so graciously given to me? I think C. S. Lewis said it well: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”*
I look to Jesus dying on the cross, hands and feet pierced only moments before, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), and I continue to be amazed by His ability to forgive those who were in the process of murdering Him. It is this example we must follow. This is our motivation to forgive. And as Christ followers, we’re given the power to forgive as Christ does, through the Holy Spirit.
But ultimately, forgiveness is not an option. It’s a command.
That may seem harsh, but it’s certainly not intended to be. Any command given by God is ultimately motivated by love. God is not just loving but, as the Bible says, God is love (1 John 4:8). That’s who He is. It’s part of His character. He is the complete embodiment of love. And with that in mind, we can infer that any command He gives or any action He takes comes from a place of love—regardless of whether it appears to be so. God knows what is best for us, and this command to forgive is for our good and His glory.
As these truths swirled around in my mind, I was given grace to follow Jesus and embark on a journey toward forgiveness and healing. I wouldn’t be able to forgive on my own. I knew that much. So I needed to lay down my pride and allow God to give me strength and grace enough to forgive. It was His work that needed to be done. I simply needed to obey.
Now, I understood my need to forgive, and I knew forgiving Anthony would bring me to a better place. I wanted to forgive. The thing that I did not want to do was love my enemy. The word love in the same sentence as enemy didn’t seem to make sense to me. What’s more, the word love in reference to Anthony was repulsive.
But this is what the Bible tells us to do. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). I didn’t quite understand it. I wasn’t sure what prayer would do. But according to this verse, I needed to pray. So out of obedience, I began to pray for Anthony. I prayed good things for him, though it was counterintuitive to all that was inside me. While I did not hate Anthony at this point, as I once did, a lot of negative feelings were still associated with him. Even saying his name felt vile. But I prayed nonetheless. I prayed that God would change him. I prayed that God would heal him. I prayed that God would bring him to complete repentance. And I even prayed that Anthony would be transformed by the gospel to the extent that he would be motivated to live to the glory of God in prison, bringing many prisoners to know and serve Jesus.
It felt wrong, praying for Anthony—as if I was betraying my dad. But I knew the ways of God are always right, regardless of how we feel.
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*C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: Harper Collins e-books, 1980; originally published 1949), 238.