The Pain and Blessing of Forgiveness

by Barbie Trent
Forgiveness toward someone who has wronged you is not a natural or easy act. Sometimes it seems quite impossible! True forgiveness must first be learned from our Teacher, Jesus.  

I’ve struggled with forgiveness on a number of levels and have always failed in my own effort. How can we forgive someone who hurts us? On many occasions I’ve been faced with having to forgive a wrong thing said or overlook an offense against me, but one of my most emotional moments came with the forgiving of Timothy McVeigh, the man who killed my parents.

My parents, Dr. Charles and Jean Hurlburt were visiting the Murrah Building in OKC on that early morning of April 19, 1995.  My mom was checking on her social security benefits and dad was running the errand with her.  In a moment their lives were taken along with the other 166 innocent people who died that day.

My parents were so dear to me and losing them tore my heart to pieces.  God’s requirement that I forgive the very man who took my precious parents away was impossible for me. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. Why forgive the man who by his own words said those who got in the way of his agenda were just collateral? They got in the way of his bitter mission! My parents were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or so I thought.

In reflection of my life over the past twenty years, I’ve thought a lot about how God has helped me to forgive those who have hurt me, including Timothy McVeigh. How can we forgive someone who hurts us? Why must we forgive?  God says we must forgive. Matthew 6:15 says, “If you don’t forgive others your Father will not forgive you.” But, this is easier said than done.

Initially, I didn’t see Timothy McVeigh as my enemy but only a man guilty of a horrendous crime. I hadn’t had a real issue of anger up to this point because I couldn’t link what he did in my head as directed towards me personally but somehow more detached. I knew him from afar and he had no clue who I was. My bitterness didn’t show itself until I watched an interview he gave on television one night. I had only seen Timothy McVeigh as a man always being led in chains across the TV screen and never speaking, but now, he had a chance to speak. He spoke, laughed and carried on normal conversation with an indifference and coldness about what he had done that reached down into my inner being!!!! Now I had a target. Now I was furious!!!  He looked like a normal guy but the words coming out of his mouth had no feeling. He didn’t care if innocent babies, everyday citizens, MY PARENTS got in the way!  I was enraged!

After the interview that night I was restless. I was in so much pain and thoughts of the interview kept going through my head. I was a Christian and raised in a Christian home. I knew what the Bible said about forgiveness of your enemies but I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. Forgiveness is always a choice and the choice I was making was wrong, and I knew it. The emotional struggle was overwhelming until I cried out on my bed to Jesus.  I told him I didn’t know how to forgive, and didn’t want to either.  I remember distinctly saying, “ If I don’t forgive Timothy McVeigh You will be mad at me.”  In that very moment two beautiful verses came to mind. Romans 8:38-39 says: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Wow!  God could love me even in my disobedience!  All of a sudden, I was overwhelmed with the love of God.  I didn’t care about anything else that night. Bitterness melted away.  My Heavenly Father loved me when I was unlovely.  I could forgive because my Lord had loved and forgiven me first.

It was the year of Timothy McVeigh’s execution which stirred up intense emotions, not only for me but everyone watching the news. I felt God prompting me to pray for Timothy’s salvation. Even if I forgave him, why was God asking me to pray for his salvation? He didn’t deserve salvation!  But deep down, I knew I didn’t deserve it either. The task of praying for the man who purposefully murdered my parents and so many others, was difficult to say the least. After continued prompting from God, I relented and prayed. For some reason or other, his execution was delayed. I can’t remember the politics of this decision but I knew in my heart that God was using the delay to give Timothy an opportunity to turn to Him.  Did he turn to God? No. His final words were that “ he was the captain of his own ship.....”  

Timothy McVeigh died with a cold heart toward God. So why had God prompted me to pray? I may not know all His reasons, but in praying for Timothy God showed me something greater. Much greater!!  He showed me His amazing love!  Out of love I believe God caused me to pray for Timothy McVeigh. He used this act of difficult obedience on my part to show ME the great love He has for all who will turn to Him. He showed me His long-suffering and patience toward not only an evil man, but me too. 2 Peter says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

Go ahead and forgive!!  God’s blessing will be many times greater than the offense!