On the evening of June 17, in Charleston, South Carolina, a terrible evil met the incomprehensible grace of God. In the aftermath of that bloody encounter, nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church lay dead and the grace of God was again revealed.
Witness: Saul’s delusional persecution of the early Christians set him on a collision course with God. After his Damascus Road experience and subsequent conversion, Paul expressed his new-found conviction in Romans 8: 38-39 this way: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Witness: John Newton, an English Atlantic slave trader, was caught in a violent storm at sea in 1748 that threatened to sink his vessel and end his life. In fear for his life, this atheist and slave trader called on the name of God. He survived and, although he didn’t quit the slave trading business immediately, he did find his faith and became an Anglican priest in 1764. In 1773, he wrote Amazing Grace, one of the most beloved hymns/spirituals of all time.
Witness: Despite his many trials and tribulations as a civil rights leader and Baptist Minister in the race-segregated Deep South of North America, Martin Luther King Jr. persevered. His perseverance resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his assassination in 1968. As a beneficiary of the grace of God, he wrote the following in an essay titled Loving Your Enemies: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
Witness: When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold committed unbelievable evil against their classmates in Columbine, Colorado, one of the gunmen asked one of the students who had already been wounded by a gunshot whether she believed in God. In the face of what looked like certain death if she replied in the affirmative, that student replied, “Yes!” The shooter walked away.
Witness: Growing up in a large, poor family in Saint Lucia, I never knew the secret of how my parents could find the means to feed, clothe, and generally care for themselves, my siblings, and I. Until the grace of God revealed it to me. In response, I wrote the following in a story titled A Mother’s Prayer: ” ‘Bò mwen la gwas Papa…’ She was asking for the ultimate gift of GOD. She was praying for the grace to serenely accept her station in life, and the infinite challenges posed by that rugged life. I did not understand that then, and I puzzled over it. To a small boy’s mind, this was not something tangible or digestible; it was not even something I could take in context and give an English connotation. But, in that simple, heart-rending plea lay the secret of my mother’s strength—for in our house, where hardship lived and prospered, the power of an omniscient GOD was unleashed!
“Many years later, I finally understood. I finally understood the remarkable resilience and unflinching perseverance of a woman besieged. In the glaring inequity of life and the anguished plea of an embattled soul something wondrous had moved. A prayer rooted in a simple faith had evoked the mercy and compassion of GOD resulting in an unseen and uncelebrated miracle! So each new day, each new circumstance, each new challenge was met with an unearthly resolve that transcended mere courage or maternal instinct. And even when things were at their most dismal, the grace of GOD shone through.”
When a heinous act so representative of a primal evil is countered by the almost instantaneous coming together of an entire city; when the surviving relatives of the slain family members, in spite of their grief, can forgive the perpetrator of this horrific deed; when lawmakers on both sides of a political divide can subsequently begin a dialogue seeking to right some of the still-existing wrongs associated with slavery in the American South’s past, surely this must be a sign of the grace of God at work.
Somewhere in a lonely cell in Charleston, a shooter awaits his fate. His blog postings, his empty bravado, his espousing of the hate-inspired ideology that drove him to his current location now seem so very far away. Not too far away, though, for another miracle to unfold. Maybe, just maybe, the grace of God will find him there.
Author’s note: The preceding was written in honor of the people of South Carolina and for those who still struggle with their faith.