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Watch 2022 online sermons » John Bradshaw » John Bradshaw - Radical Forgiveness

John Bradshaw - Radical Forgiveness

John Bradshaw - Radical Forgiveness
John Bradshaw - Radical Forgiveness
TOPICS: Forgiveness

This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. In an age of shocking crimes, in an age where, where mass shootings just don't really surprise us anymore, in an age of unhinged people committing heinous acts, this one was really very shocking. Charleston, South Carolina, was founded in 1670. It's situated right on the Atlantic coast and was named in honor of the English monarch at the time, King Charles II. A city with roots that deep is clearly a place with some interesting history. And, given the time periods involved, colonization, slavery, the Revolution, the Civil War, some of that history is painful.

Just a few days before summer began in 2015, a 21-year-old South Carolina man traveled to Charleston with malice on his mind. The young man who came to Charleston that day possessed a sickened mind and a gun. A combustible mixture. He came here to Emmanuel AME Church fully intending to do harm, or more to the point, fully intending to take life. Motivated by racial hatred, he mingled with worshipers at the mid-week Bible study, biding his time until he fired almost 80 shots and took nine lives. He murdered six women and three men. He was arrested the next day almost 250 miles away. It's not easy to imagine the impact of an event like this. Think of it this way.

In September of 1989, at least two dozen South Carolinians died when Hurricane Hugo battered parts of the state. Now, of course, a tragedy is a tragedy, but this was nature; things happen. Earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes are to be expected. But what happened in June of 2015 was different, very different, in fact. When a person dies in a natural disaster, for example, there are some survival mechanisms, some psychological mechanisms survivors or those affected by the tragedy can default to. In spite of, "This isn't fair". In spite of, "Why did this happen to us"? In spite of, "Life is rough right now". In spite of a sense of helplessness and anger, what we know is that natural disasters happen.

We know that cancer, for example, heart disease, strokes, they occur. It was terribly sad that Grandma died, but, after all, people do die. But how do you wrestle with something like that? Nine people didn't simply die here in Charleston that night. They had their lives snatched away due to a deliberate, thought-out, planned act of hatred. Children were left without parents. Parents lost their children. Siblings and friends and neighbors and colleagues, all had to wrestle with a radically altered existence, one that contained now some very big holes. People went to church that night, to church, to worship, to pray, to study the Word of God. This was hideous. We know how God feels about murder.

The sixth commandment is probably best expressed when it's translated, "Thou shalt not murder". This is truly disastrous. So how do you go on when somebody you love is murdered in circumstances like these, by a person who sought out innocent people for the purpose of doing something ultimately hateful? Well, we're about to find out. Myra Thompson was there that night at the church often referred to as "Mother Emmanuel". She was among the nine people murdered. Her husband Anthony has made the remarkable decision to forgive the man who killed not only his wife, but eight others. Thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it greatly. It was June 17, 2015. What happened?

Anthony Thompson: Someone called me from the church... not from the church, it was a member of Emmanuel AME Church called me and, and told me that shooting was going on at the church, and somebody was shooting outside. That's, at least, I thought it was outside. So I took off out of my house. I drove down, found out that shooting was taking place inside the church, not outside the church. Then I was told that family members had been moved from the church to a hotel. So I thought everything was okay, until I got there, found out that ambulances were parked outside. Nine. So I thought, had to be more to it than what I had been told. And once I searched, trying to find my wife, frantically searching, trying to find her, and trying to get into Emmanuel AME Church, I discovered...I lost my best friend, the one I love the most. And, uh, it kind of took everything out of me.

John Bradshaw: You made a remarkable decision, however. This was a crime intentionally perpetrated by a hate-filled man bent on causing pain, perpetrating violence, and, and starting a race war.

Anthony Thompson: Mm-hmm.

John Bradshaw: But you didn't take the bait. And somehow you and others made a decision to forgive, a decision I'm sure some people would think is crazy. Let's get to that in a moment, but I want to ask you, how were you able to make the decision to forgive, and why?

Anthony Thompson: Well, the decision to forgive Dylann came easy. Not for me, but easy in a way that God stepped in and, and made it possible, because He put me in a place in the bond hearing, a place where I didn't want to be. Then when I got there, He had me to say something that I had no idea I was going to say. And that was to forgive him. And so, that's what I mean when I say it was easy. But know, after thinking about it for some time after actually doing it, I realized that He had been preparing me for that moment for a long time.

John Bradshaw: Why do you think it was that you chose to forgive when so easily you could have said, "I'm not going to forgive," and you, you could have stood up in that hearing and said all manner of unkind things? Why did you make that choice?

Anthony Thompson: Well... first, I didn't want Dylann to have control over my life. I didn't want him to have control over my children's life. I wanted to just be rid of him. And one way of being rid of him was to forgive him so that then his intentions of starting a race war wouldn't, wouldn't happen. And, if I'd gone the opposite way, well, I would have gave in to him, and he would have been in control. And so forgiveness was a way of releasing myself from his control.

John Bradshaw: And clearly that's what you've done. You've released yourself from the control of the person who committed this terrible act of violence. I wonder if some people would say you let him off the hook.

Anthony Thompson: Yes. Some people have said that. Some people said that they don't see how I could forgive him because it's like saying, I don't want anything to happen to him; I don't want him to be punished. And, um, my answer was, "No, it was letting me off the hook". Dylann is being punished. Dylann is in jail, nine, nine counts of, uh, the death sentence. And so I'm not letting him off the hook; I'm letting myself off the hook, you know, from having him have control, from, from me being angry, and from me hating him and just making my life miserable. Because if I had not forgiven Dylann, you know, the anger and harboring anger and hate in my heart for him would only destroy my life.

John Bradshaw: What sort of man would you be today if you'd not made the choice to forgive?

Anthony Thompson: I probably wouldn't be at this church. Because, first thing came to my mind was, what, what am I going to do? I have no more purpose. And I was thinking, well, does that mean leaving the church? So, I probably wouldn't be here. Could have just continued to pity myself and pity myself. I don't think it would have been good. My life probably would have changed drastically. You know, I probably would have gone from God to not depending on Him, depending on myself. Could have led to drinking, drugs, uh, I don't know. You know, it could have gone quite the opposite.

John Bradshaw: Here's another unknown, although people have speculated on this. Your decision to forgive, the decision made by you and others, to forgive a murderer had a very powerful effect on a city.

Anthony Thompson: Mmm.

John Bradshaw: Tell me about that, how the city of Charleston was impacted by forgiveness.

Anthony Thompson: Well, the city of Charleston was not looking for forgiveness. They were looking for us to start a riot, to start the race war like Dylann wanted. And from that not happening, it just put everybody in awe, gave them time to think, what just happened? You know, why? What was that? You know. And, and then immediately everybody just hold hands and hugged, cried together, you know, uh, brought flowers and put them in front of the church together. And spent days, I mean, the city of Charleston was crowded; the downtown area was so crowded traffic couldn't even move because the people wouldn't move. The people just wanted to be attached to somebody. And it didn't matter what your race was or what your color or your culture was or how different you spoke. You know, we, we just wanted to communicate. We, we, you know, it was like, it was like we all had a sense of family 'cause somebody came and just destroyed and killed some people in our family, like brothers and sisters, and so we came together like brothers and sisters, like, you know, "Oh my God," you know, you know, "Myra's gone". You know, "Tywanza, he's gone". You know, just like you, like they lost somebody, too. And so it gave everybody a sense of just wanting to be together, being a, being a family, and that's what we're trying to work on now.

John Bradshaw: There's power in forgiveness. There is power in forgiveness. Looking forward to talking more with Pastor Anthony Thompson about this in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. My very special guest is Pastor Anthony Thompson, whose book, "Called to Forgive," recounts the terrible tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 and its aftermath. Uh, tell me about the process of writing that book. It had to be painful, therapeutic. How was that for you?

Anthony Thompson: Well, initially, I didn't want to write immediately because...we had people coming at us from all different kind of directions, and didn't have time to mourn, barely had time to think about what had happened. And I didn't want to re-live that, you know, not at the time. And so, um, I gave it some prayer, with the help of other people praying with me. And then, eventually, I started speaking, started speaking to different crowds, different churches, organizations, and as I spoke, it was like venting, and I could feel myself being relieved day by day. But then after a while, after realizing the real purpose, that God wanted this to be a mission and spread the gospel of forgiveness, is when I heard the people seeking, seeking something, some kind of peace, wanting to know how, "What is forgiveness"? "How does it work"? You know, "What can I do"? And then it kicked in. You know what, yeah, I need to write this book.

John Bradshaw: It's interesting, as a minister of the gospel, forgiveness is your thing; it's what you talk about. It, the, the gospel is about forgiveness. A sinful world, we need reconciliation with God. So talk to me about your understanding, your experience in God's forgiveness towards us. How do you understand that more differently or more completely, now that you've been called to forgive in a very real, very raw sort of a way?

Anthony Thompson: Before this actually happened, before God know, I didn't give forgiveness a real thought, a real deep thought. All I knew was that I was a forgiven person, and some of the things that I experienced in my life from my childhood, I went through some things that, uh, some people who offended me, you know, I forgave them in the past. And, but never really experienced the kind of peace that I experienced when I forgave Dylann at the bond hearing that day, you know, because what he did to my wife, it was completely different. Um, and so, I saw forgiveness then as, well, something I'm supposed to do, you know. And I knew that it, if I did it, something good would come out of it. But then when I forgave Dylann, it was more than something good came out of it. It was, I received a peace, you know, I mean, a calmness, a more sense of letting God have control, knowing that I could trust Him, you know, because of what He brought into my life, where He gave me new purpose. And so it was that, that, it was different... at the tragedy than it was prior to the tragedy.

John Bradshaw: Undoubtedly there are many people watching us right now who are struggling to forgive, refusing to forgive. "I know I should forgive, but I won't. It hurts too much". This and that. What would you say to that person that's wrestling with forgiveness? How does someone go about forgiving another person?

Anthony Thompson: I would say, right now, I know you're hurting. You know, I know somebody did something to offend you, and, and it hurts you, and you probably want to get them back. You know, you probably hate the person. You're probably angry at that person. And you feel you've got to do that because it's going to make you feel better. Well, I'm going to let you know now: It won't make you feel better. It'll make you feel worse. Because harboring anger and harboring hate, it affects your health; it affects your mind; you know, it just affects your soul. And you just get deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper until, till, till wanting to do something bad. But forgiveness is, it may be hard to do, but God can help you. All you need to do is to ask God to forgive you; then ask God to help you forgive the person you can't seem to forgive. And that's all He'll require of you, and He will help you do it. You will do it. And when you do it, I guarantee you 100 percent that He will give you that peace that you've been trying to find through other means of being angry and revenge.

John Bradshaw: How about, though, though, someone's going to say, "Yeah, my neighbor backed into my car and then lied about it. Cost me $1,100". But that's that. But what about the big things? And you're qualified to speak about this 'cause you went through the biggest thing. Help someone get over that hump. 'Cause I can just imagine somebody saying, "Yeah, I, I understand that, but you don't know what I've been through". How do we address that with the really difficult things?

Anthony Thompson: We can make things difficult, because we, we, we define sin as small sin, as big sin. We look at lying as something small. "Well, I can do that. I can forgive them". Then we look at murders. "Oh, that's, that's just too, that's just too much. I can't forgive him". But sin is a sin. You know, wrong is wrong; bad is bad. There's no greater; there's no lesser; they're all the same. So, you've got to take a look at that first. You know, then you've got to take a look at your own life. You've got to examine yourself and say to yourself, "Who have I done wrong to? Who have I lied to"? What, you know, you know, was it, was it a big sin, or was it a small sin? There's no, no greater. And then if you can see yourself as a person who's done somebody wrong or said something wrong, then it makes it a little easier for you to see the person that did you wrong, no matter how big, how small you may see it to be. But there's no bigger sin, and there's no smaller sin. Sin is sin.

John Bradshaw: And if we look at the Bible, we understand that Jesus died, not because of your sin; He died because of my sin. So, I'm responsible for the death of the Son of God, and surely that ought to motivate me somehow to exercise forgiveness. Jesus said, didn't He, "Father, forgive them". "Father, forgive them". As a minister of the gospel, what does that example of forgiveness exercised or demonstrated by Jesus mean to you, and how do you share that and relate that to others?

Anthony Thompson: It means a lot to me, 'cause first of all, the pain and the suffering that He took. I mean, He, He was, He, He was beaten as He walked to Calvary. You know, He, He, they, they took a whip with, tied with bones and, and, and, and like glass, like metal on the end of the tips of it, just tore Him, ripped His body. Then they put crowns of thorns on His head. Then they took, set the spear in His side, you know, where the blood and the water surrounding His, His heart, you know, just came down His body. And then, they nailed Him to the cross, hands and feet. I mean, that's real pain and suffering. But He didn't have to do it. He did it for you and me. And He said, "Father, forgive them". So, if He can do all that for me and do all that for you, then we should be able to forgive someone who does, who's done something so small to us. You know, I mean, for God's sake, you know, forgive that person.

John Bradshaw: "Called to Forgive". If anybody knows something about forgiveness, it's Pastor Anthony Thompson. We'll have a little more in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. As we talk about forgiveness, let me ask you. You preach about it; you've written about it. Forgiveness in the Bible, where do we see it?

Anthony Thompson: The two servants. There was a servant who owed his, his master. In today's money, it'd be like a million or more dollars. And the master was ready to collect, and the servant said, "Well, you know, Lord, I don't have it". You know, and he begged for mercy, you know, said, "Hey, look, I'll pay you later, you know. I'll pay you as soon as I can". He said, "But just have mercy on me". And he had mercy on him. And he relinquished his servant's debt. I mean, he didn't even have to pay him back. In other words, he forgave him. And then that same servant, he was master to a servant, and his servant owed him maybe a few bucks. And he told the man, "I'm going to throw you in jail until you pay me". Now, the ridiculous part is that, well, while he's in jail, he can't pay him. So it means that he was never going to pay him, so he was always going to be in jail. Then the master who forgave him found out that he had thrown his servant into jail, and then he said, "You know, I forgave you, and you could not forgive your servant"? He says, "So now I'm going to throw you in jail, and you're going to stay there, you know, until you can pay me back". Meaning that, you know, it was over for him. And so, the story is that, you know, God is saying, "If you want me to forgive you, then you have to forgive the person who did you wrong".

John Bradshaw: Forgiveness is so fundamental to the gospel, but we wrestle with it. Forgiveness sometimes seems so very hard, but as you know, unforgiveness is much harder.

Anthony Thompson: Much harder.

John Bradshaw: Tell me about your wife, Myra. What was she like?

Anthony Thompson: Mmm. Myra was a beautiful woman. Uh, very extraordinary woman, very loving. She wasn't a stranger to anybody. She was a giver. Everybody loved Myra. Myra loved everybody.

John Bradshaw: What do you think she'd say to somebody wrestling with a decision to forgive or otherwise?

Anthony Thompson: Mmm. She would tell them, "I don't know why you drank that poison, think it's going to kill somebody else. You need to go ahead and forgive them". You know, you just need to go ahead and forgive them. Because that, you, you, you drinking the poison not going to kill them, you know. You holding hate in your heart or anger in your heart, that's not going to do anything to them. It's going to make your life miserable. You're going to die from the poison, not them. So, don't drink the poison. Forgive.

John Bradshaw: Thanks so very much. I appreciate you taking your time.

Anthony Thompson: Amen. God bless you.

John Bradshaw: God bless you.

Anthony Thompson: Thank you for taking the time to come.

John Bradshaw: Sure.

Anthony Thompson: I appreciate it.

John Bradshaw: Thank you. What we know is that life is going to challenge you. Most of the time, those challenges, relatively small. Sometimes big, occasionally massive. The question is, how do you respond? In this case, hate would serve no purpose. It's certainly not going to bring anyone back. A man has been sentenced to die. His execution won't raise the dead. The living will still have to go on through life without people that they love the most. Regardless of the wrong, irrespective of the issue involved, forgiveness matters. Forgiveness sets the forgiver free. Forgiveness is God's way.

Now, I understand; sometimes the pain just seems way too great. Sometimes the wrong just seems way too wrong. But forgiveness was given by God so that you can be made whole. Anthony Thompson shows us that we don't have to go through life hanging on to anger and hate. We don't have to carry with us the weight of unforgiveness. So how's that working out for you? It seems that most everybody has something to forgive. Which might just mean that most everybody is hanging on to something that they might ought to let go.

Most people are far less whole than they ought to be simply because they're choosing not to forgive. Think about the big picture. As sinners, God has forgiven us. God has forgiven us so much. Jesus died for our sins, and when we confess our sins, the Bible says, "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins". Further, "to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". After what God has done for you, can you extend that same forgiveness to another? And through exercising the kind of forgiveness that God has exercised towards you, you can experience the peace that Anthony Thompson experiences, the peace that God wants you to have now and forever.
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