Have you ever sat through a church service where the topic of the day was forgiveness?Did your mind drift to the driver of that car who cut you off on the way there? I should forgive that jerk, you thought to yourself. Maybe your thoughts turned to the friend who betrayed you. You might even have considered your mother who walked out on your family when you were a kid, the husband who left you for another woman or the boss who fired you. Did you begin a mental tally of those who had wronged you, in ways big and small?
“This pastor is right, I need to forgive them.”
Perhaps you sat there in the pew and wondered where to begin. The act of forgiveness can only happen when you have been hurt. When you have been wronged. When you have been broken by another. The more you think about forgiving, the more you remember the hurt, the pain, and the suffering you’ve been through.
And when you think of the pain, even the smallest act of forgiveness can feel impossible in light of the wrong done to you.
Now consider this: What if your father was murdered when you were a kid? What if that murder robbed you and your family of decades of memories with him?
What if, before he could watch you graduate college, walk you down the aisle, or hold your first child in his arms, his life was taken in cold blood.
Could you forgive the man who murdered him?
Laurie Coombs faced the man who murdered her father in a courtroom at the dawn of her twenties. She listened as he claimed to be a Christian, even at the time he pointed his gun at her father and took his life. In disbelief, she learned that he was even the worship leader at his church. She watched as he was convicted of murder and taken to jail for the rest of his days. She believed justice was served, and she would never see this man again. But God had another plan.
In her book “Letters to my Father’s Murderer,” Coombs recounts the three-year journey she took with the man who murdered her father.
The Impossible Forgiveness
“I wasn’t a Christian when my dad was murdered, but even so, I knew forgiveness was a good thing. It had been a goal of mine for nearly a decade after his death.”
Coombs set out to forgive Anthony, her father’s murderer, on her own. She even believed she had been successful. Yet she continued to struggle with depression and severe anxiety for nearly a decade following her loss. Increasingly, she found herself dealing with intense anger and bitterness that she couldn’t understand. All these demons remained perplexing, given her belief that she had forgiven Anthony and dealt with her feelings. She went on to marry the man she had been dating when her father was killed, and they started a family.
It wasn’t until Coombs met the Lord just shy of her 30th birthday that things began to change.
“When I became a Christian, I witnessed God do so many incredible things through me to heal my depression and anxiety. I was devouring Scripture and building my trust in Him.”
Then God asked her to do the impossible. This, she sensed, would be the key to healing completely.
“God called me to forgive the man who murdered my father. I was so confused—I thought I already did that.”
Coombs began to get the strong sense that she was supposed to send Anthony a Bible in prison. This seemed like an easy enough task, but as she set out on the process of doing so, she realized she was embarking on a journey much more complex than just impersonally sending a Bible in the mail. Sending something to someone in prison requires several levels of approval, including that of the inmate. And so began her correspondence with her father’s murderer.
The Rocky Road To Forgiveness
Laurie and Anthony began their three-year correspondence, each with their own end-game in mind. Laurie wanted to know every detail that led to the murder of her father. She wanted closure, she wanted Anthony to repent, and she wanted to know why he did it. Anthony wanted forgiveness. It took numerous letters between them for either to get there.
“At some point the letters got extremely heated. After receiving one particularly rough letter, I immediately sat down and drafted a stinging rebuke. I was going to put him in his place and prove that he needed repentance.”
But she never sent that letter.
“As soon as I printed it out, I knew this wasn’t the letter I was supposed to send. So I prayed, and I fasted. It took a long time, but through me, God drafted a beautiful letter of forgiveness, grace and mercy to Anthony. It was nothing like the letter I wanted to send, which made me sure it was from God.” Laurie’s response was to rebuke, but the Lord’s was to give Anthony the grace he needed.
Their correspondence changed drastically from that point on.
“Anthony told me later that when he received my response instead of the rebuke he expected, it showed him more what a relationship with Christ looked like.” Coombs describes watching Anthony go from sorrowful and regretful up to that point, to true repentance and humility.
Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14).
When Laurie truly forgave Anthony, he was able to come to repentance for what he had done. Laurie was able to find the healing and closure she so desperately needed when she forgave out of Jesus’s power instead of her own.
“You can’t forgive,” she says. “When you say ‘I can’t forgive,’ you’re assuming that you have to do it. Jesus is the only way we’re able to forgive. That’s the message at the center of the Gospel. We are forgiven and redeemed, so we can forgive and redeem anyone.”
Even the person who cut you off on the way to church. Even the friend who betrayed you. Even the husband who left you for another woman.
Even the man who murdered your father.