When writing The Living Cross, I was moved by the extraordinary stories of people who were able to forgive those who murdered someone close to them. After reading several of these accounts, I attributed this special grace to not only God’s working in their lives, but the way their character had been formed over years of forgiving the everyday slights and faults. As we ponder the horrible atrocities that seem to come thick and fast in our world – such as the killing of many young people at the concert in Manchester – we can find encouragement and hope in the stories of forgiveness.
The family of Robert Godwin Sr. exhibited God’s love and forgiveness to the murderer of their dad. (In a shocking move, the man who shot Mr. Godwin posted the murder on Facebook.) Two of Mr. Godwin’s daughters, Debbie Godwin and Tonya Godwin Baines, were interviewed on CNN by Anderson Cooper before the murderer was located by the police. They shared how their father was a peaceable man; “a loving, kind man who loved his family and who was very giving – he’d give the shirt off of his back.” He was the father of five daughters.
Cooper asked her about her father’s killer. “If this person is out there listening, what do you want them to know? Obviously, you want them to turn themselves in, but what do you want to say to them?”
“I would say turn yourself in, that would be number one,” Debbie Godwin said. “I mean because although I do believe in forgiveness, I do believe in the law… when you break the law, there’s a penalty for breaking the law. And this man broke the law by taking my father’s life.
“And so although I forgive him, there is still a penalty that he must pay for what he did to my dad. And so I would want him to turn himself in.”
In the interview we see some of the strength and depth of her character, for she said, “And you know what, I believe that God would give me the grace to even embrace this man. And hug him.
“…It’s just the way my heart is; it’s the right thing to do. And so, I just would want him to know that even in his worst state, he’s loved … by God, that God loves him, even in the bad stuff that he did to my dad. That he’s still loved. And that he has some worth … in him. And as long as there’s life in him, there is hope for him too.”
Tonya Godwin Baines added, “The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God. How to fear God. How to love God. And how to forgive. Each one of us forgives the killer. The murderer.”
“You do?” Cooper asked.
Debbie said, “We absolutely do. I honestly can say right now that I hold no animosity in my heart against this man. Because I know that he’s a sick individual…
“If I didn’t know Him as my God and my savior, I could not forgive that man. And I feel no animosity against him at all. Actually, I feel sadness for him.”
Tonya added, “We’ve lost our dad, but this mother lost her son…”
Cooper commented that it was incredible that they could think of others even in their time of grief.
“It’s just what our parents taught,” she responded. “It’s not just that they taught us, they did it. They lived it.
“My dad would be really proud of us, and … he would say, ‘Tonya, forgive him, because they know not what they do.’”