I’m writing this about 5 minutes drive away from a tragic event that happened here in Sydney on Saturday evening.
Around 8pm a drunk driver, apparently more than 3 times over the legal limit, veered off the road, mounted the footpath and ploughed into a family out walking to get an ice cream at the end of a very hot Sydney day.
His reckless action left 4 kids dead. Four children – three siblings of a family of 6 children and one of their cousins. Another is still in critical condition in hospital.
I can’t imagine how I would respond if that happened to my children. I know how I would like to respond now, with all the clarity of a ring-fenced third party but to be in the middle of that? What would you say?
But something remarkable has happened. On Sunday all the news was, understandably, about the sheer horror of this event, the speed with which it happened, the traumatic scene encountered by the first responders. Online comments on news stories were full of expressions of outrage and a flurry of condemnation.
Lock him up and throw away the key
Let him burn in hell.
And then yesterday there was a shift. There was a new story. The mother of those 3 precious lives stood up in front of the cameras and said this:
Did you catch that? Wasn’t that amazing! Here are her words from 1m45s in:
So, what have you all know [sic.] about Christianity and you all know about how Jesus died on the Cross and you all know that on Good Friday it’s Stations of the Cross. And right now what I feel, I feel I’m walking the Stations of the Cross.
I know nothing happens unless God wants it to happen. I know the guy; he was drunk, driving on these streets.
Right now I can’t hate him. I don’t want to see him, I don’t hate him.
I think in my heart to forgive him, but I want the court to be fair. It’s all about fairness. I’m not going to hate him, because that’s not who we are.
The protestant in me might have said things a little differently but there is no doubt that Leila Abdallah and I share the same basic way of looking at the world. And that basic view is what Leila states upfront:
you all know about Christianity and you all know about how Jesus died on the Cross
The death of Jesus is what produces in Leila an entirely supernatural response to the death of her dear children. She sees in the Cross companionship, control and compassion.
In Jesus’ death, she sees companionship. As she puts it “I’m walking the Stations of the Cross”. There is no suffering that the Christian will suffer that God does not know, that we do not see in Jesus. His walk to the Cross is an example for everyone that follows him, the one that empathises with all our weaknesses (Heb 4:15).
In the cross there is control. Again, Leila:
I know nothing happens unless God wants it to happen.
Very true, and once more a profound verity seen most clearly at the Cross. At the Cross, we see that God is control of everything, even the most barbaric crimes (Acts 4:27-28). The Cross shows us that God is also more than capable of using the most terrible evil and tragedy to his own very good purposes.
Simplistic views of God capsize when faced with a storm like this; they cannot understand how God would not just seek the removal of suffering everywhere. Simplistic views of God don’t include the Cross where God used a great suffering to bring about a wonderful outcome. He is not impotent in these things, we just need to see how he will use them (although I suspect one of the answers to that question is being revealed even in Abdallah’s response.
Finally, and most striking of all, the Cross brings compassion.
I don’t hate him. I think in my heart to forgive him … that’s who we are
That’s amazing. That’s quite incredible. She has every reason to pour out every foul word and cry upon the drunk driver. He was, it appears, more than 3 times over the legal limit. Who could have a good word to say about that? And yet from the lips of the person most justified in demanding vengeance, there is forgiveness. More than that, there is the struggle to forgive, the desire to forgive, the yearning to be defined by forgiveness.
Of course, at the same time, Abdallah calls for justice. For things to be fair. Again, this is entirely Biblical. In his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul, marvelling at the mercy displayed at the Cross (Rom. 12:1O) urges those who are defined by the Cross to forgive those who harm them. (Rom. 12:17). There is no place for personal revenge in a mind shaped by the mercy of the cross. There is no desire for someone to burn in hell when we understand how we can be rescued from those flames.
There is, however, a place for justice. But let someone else worry about that. God will sort it all out one day (Rom. 12:19) and, in the meantime, he has established governments with their own judicial systems to provide a temporal solution (Rom. 13:4). There is still the space for us, as Leila Abdallah puts it, to be fair while still pursuing personal forgiveness. There is a place for locking someone up but not throwing away the key.
Companionship, control, compassion. 3 entirely strange ways to respond. Unless your mind is shaped by the Cross of Jesus.
Which leaves me with one niggling thought. Abdallah began her impromptu apologia with these words,
…you all know about how Jesus died on the Cross…
I think that’s the one thing she said that wasn’t quite true. We don’t all know about how Jesus died on the Cross. As a culture, we have pushed Jesus and his Cross aside. We don’t know about the companionship of the Cross in suffering. We don’t know about the control of the Cross where we see God is in charge of everything. Most of all we don’t know about the compassion of the Cross. We live in such a brutal unforgiving time.
Lock him up and throw away the key?
Let him burn in hell?
Not if our mind is shaped by the Cross. The Christian worldview changes everything.