Everyone needs compassion
A love that’s never failing
Let mercy fall on me
Everyone needs forgiveness
The kindness of a Savior
The hope of nations
The lyrics above are the first stanza to a song written by award-winning lyricist and contemporary Christian vocalist Laura Story. The song is titled Mighty To Save.Listening today to the statements of family members in South Carolina addressing the young man who murdered their loved ones during a Wednesday evening Bible study, I heard these people express willing forgiveness for the murderer and a steadfast refusal to be consumed with the kind of hate the perpetrator’s deed demonstrated.
It’s not that these people have stopped grieving. The funerals or memorial services for their loved ones have yet to occur. Their feelings are still raw and their emotions were evident as they spoke during a court hearing today. It is their genuine faith that allows them to offer forgiveness to the individual who so recently snuffed out the lives of their family members.
I was reminded of a sonnet by John Milton (1608-1674) that so palpably reflects the tortured grief one feels at such a time. I won’t reproduce the poem in this post but you can find it here. The poem begins by mentioning “the late massacre in Piedmont.” Milton penned this sonnet about 1655.
The massacre to which Milton refers happened in April 1655 when a group of Protestants known as the Waldensians were living in northern Italy, a predominantly Roman Catholic area. Milton became aware of this slaughter of innocents and composed his sonnet.
Avenge O Lord, thy slaughter’d saints, Milton begins. They were the ones, Milton asserts, who kept thy truth so pure … don’t forget them! (I’m paraphrasing here.) Record their groans in Your book. They were Your sheep and were slain … and their martyr’d blood has spilled and their ashes are strewn across Italian fields.
Milton’s words reflect intense anguish but there’s a progression through the sonnet. At the beginning of the first quatrain, Milton demands vengeance – Avenge them, Lord! He starts the second quatrain saying to the Lord, Forget not. Finally, he asks that their groans be recorded in God’s book.
The final lines of the sonnet remind that even though their blood has been spilt and their ashes have been scattered, God has the ability to bring good from this atrocity. Despite the evil of the “triple tyrant” (death, Hell and the Devil), a-hundred-fold growth may result. The faith of the Waldensians will be an example to others who have learnt thy way.
In Charleston, South Carolina, nine saints of God have sadly died. The community’s grief is beyond imagining. But in the midst of their sorrow, we witness supernatural forgiveness and inexplicable love that can only well up from the Lover of our Souls.
John 13:35 tells us “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Today, the people of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC are demonstrating that truth and proving our God is mighty to save.