When Terror Hits Home

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Note: I wrote this story for the Shanghai International Fellowship. It was the first speech I gave there after the 9/11 tragedy in the USA.

A few days later, a colleague wrote: "Thanks for your sharing on Sunday. It was probably the most uplifting message I have heard since coming to Shanghai.

My wife said it was the most helpful message she has heard in the last couple of years. Thanks for your extra effort." I hope you find it equally helpful. MK


Responding to Tragedy: Forgiveness vs. Justice
(by Michael Krigline, October 18, 2001)

            Today’s topic is forgiveness and justice in the wake of tragedy.

            It appears that tragedy is becoming a much more common reality these days— especially man-made forms of injustice. They can be small, like my wife having her purse stolen recently, or large like the riots in Africa or the terrible events in New York.

            When we become the victims of tragedy we can be influenced by many emotions and values. Anger, revenge, ethnocentrism, apathy, selflessness, justice, mercy, forgiveness, love… But how should we respond? Is it right to demand justice? Aren't we supposed to forgive? Those can be difficult questions to answer, but I believe the answers are important.

            Jesus often used stories to convey difficult messages. The oldest book in the Bible is the story of how a man—Job—responded in the wake of sudden, demon-inspired tragedy. Today I want to tell a somewhat similar story about Officer Jack—with plenty of scriptures mixed in—to help us contemplate how to respond to tragedy.



When terror hits home
(by Michael Krigline, www.krigline.com, October 18, 2001)  

            Jack Hatten had spent a long day and evening at the office. He was a police sergeant and there always seemed to be one more thing to do at the precinct. At 11:30 p.m., his mind was tired as he drove up his driveway, but he couldn’t help but notice that there were no lights on in or around his house—even though the neighborhood was lit up like normal. “Must have blown a fuse,” he said to himself as he pulled a flashlight out of the map pocket in the front seat. Then he noticed that the side door was also open, and his mental label for the situation turned from “inconvenient” to “dangerous.”

            Jack had not gone 10 steps into his two-story suburban home when he came across the lifeless body of his seven-year-old son. The position of his body indicated that he had fallen—or been pushed—down the stairs. Jack’s mental label changed again to “panic.” Momentarily forgetting everything he knew about entering a crime scene, Jack rushed up the stairs. He just had to get to the bedroom to check on his wife. The door had been forced open, and to his horror he found Janet on the bed in a mass of twisted sheets and ripped clothing. It appeared that she was alive but unconscious, and she had obviously been abused.

            “Who the ______ would do such a thing?” Jack said out loud, suddenly realizing that whoever had done this might still be in the house. His wits immediately returned as he remembered that he was still in his police uniform. He ducked into the nearby bathroom, instinctively drawing his service revolver out of its pocket. Feeling a momentary sense of safety in the little room, he used a cell phone to call the office for backup (and an ambulance). Deciding that the bedroom was “clear,” he covered his wife with a bathrobe, and then cautiously made his way back down the hall to check on their two teenagers. Both were dead—victims of gunshot wounds inflicted by someone who knew where to shoot to kill. Jack’s heart pounded with rage and unspeakable grief. He searched the house, but the criminals had fled. On the way to the fuse box he found his dog, still wearing the chain that had been used to strangle out its life.

            The next few hours blurred together. Help came. Officers took care of the bodies and combed the house for clues as Jack rode in his wife’s ambulance to a nearby hospital. The doctors did what they could, but Janet was in a coma and therefore her life and future were now in Bigger Hands. Physically and mentally exhausted, Jack collapsed in the soft chair beside her electronically monitored bed.


            Hours later, Jack woke up to find that this had not been some horrible dream. His wife’s almost lifeless presence and the officer posted outside the door—a good friend from the office—shocked him back into the land of the living. But for the moment, even more pressing than his physical needs was the war which raged in Jack’s soul. Jack was a born-again Christian, and the Holy Spirit inside him was trying to pour comfort and reason onto the fire of hatred and vengeance that burned in the forefront of his mind.

            Verses he had memorized, sang, and even taught in Sunday School flew at him from every direction:

            Repay no one evil for evil.” (Rom 12:17)

            “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8)

            “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

            "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:19-21)

            “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person.” (Matt 5:38-39)

            “…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.” (Luke 6:27-29)

            “Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?” (1 Cor 6:7)

            “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Lev 19:18)

            My “neighbor”? Jack thought to himself. How could someone THIS evil be my “neighbor!” An FBI memo flashed through his memory. A few days before, a Bureau report said that an extremist group, possibly linked to groups overseas, was planning attacks in a distant part of the country on the families of police officers and community leaders. He had barely noticed the warning at the time—he had seen so many over the years. But now he began to seethe again at the villains who had stolen his children, abused his wife, and shattered his idyllic life.

            “Yea,” Jack mused. “This HAD to be done by some foreigners.”

            But no sooner had the thought crossed his mind when the barrage of Bible verses continued…

            And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Lev 19:33)

            Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings…” (1 Peter 4:12-13)

            “How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:21-22)


            Jack cried out: “Oh, God! HOW? How can I forgive these thugs? This is asking more than I am capable of! Look what they have done! Have you ever seen such an injustice?!”

            The Holy Spirit continued His work:

            “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who…made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil 2:5-8)

            Then (from the cross) Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)


            “OK,” Jack was weeping softly now. “OK. I know you have seen such injustice before…” Almost unconsciously Jack reached out for the Gideon’s Bible sitting beside his wife’s hospital bed. It fell open to Matthew 6. Through his tears, Jack read the words which were printed in blood-red ink:


            “And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

            “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt 6:12-15)


            Jack knew the passage well. He had not only been saying the Lord’s Prayer daily for years, but he had just read that unsettling “PS” to a Christian Businessmen’s breakfast group a week before. He remembered noting to those in attendance, that of all the things in that prayer—the Name of God, His Kingdom, His will, our needs, guidance, deliverance, and even the awesomeness of our God—of all those things, the ONLY thing Jesus felt the necessity to reinforce at the conclusion of this model prayer was our indispensable need to forgive others.

            The Bible had a torn piece of paper at Hebrews 10, so Jack turned there and read:

                “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith.’” (Heb 10:28-38)


            “Lord,” Jack spoke as his heart waged one last campaign against the darkness that had overwhelmed him. “I know what I have to do, and I am willing. But I just can’t—not on my own. I … I don’t know what to say or how to pray about such a thing…”

            A Voice, silent and strong, responded inside his heart: “Open your mouth and I will fill it. You have opened your heart; I will take care of the rest.”



            As Jack got to his knees, his pastor was entering the room. “I thought you might need these,” Pastor Williams said, referring to the coffee and donuts that occupied his left and right hands. “But I see there is something you need more.” The two men knelt beside the bed together and Jack began to pour out his heart to the Lord.

            “Father, You know my thoughts and see my heart. You know my pain, for you, too, lost your Son to murderous, demon-possessed, lost souls. Through the ages, Your bride, the Church, has been abused and left for dead. Yes, You know my pain. Now take my heart. I give it to you afresh. Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. Father, forgive the people who committed this heinous crime, for they know not what they do. Ensnare them with your love and forgiveness, even as you have ensnared me. Do not let them die in their sin. I forgive them and ask that you do not hold their sin against them. And as for me, Jesus I remain completely Yours. For to whom else can I go? You have the words of eternal life. I have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I once again give you my battered life. Take this horror that Satan meant for evil, and use it for good. For no matter what happens here below, THINE is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever."

           (Scriptures in Jack’s prayer: Psalm 139:23, Job 1:21, Luke 23:34, John 6:68-69, Genesis 50:20, Matt 6:13)

            Waves of peace and comfort flooded the room. Pastor Williams continued to pray, pleading the blood of Jesus on behalf of Jack’s wife, and asking for a release of Heaven’s resources to heal her in every way. After several more minutes, this sacred moment came to a close. The two men—brothers in this hour of fiery trial—rose to embrace each other.


            Jack’s boss, precinct commander Brent Spears, had been waiting outside the door for some time, sensitive enough not to interrupt the men in prayer. He now entered. There was determination in his eyes as he brought everyone’s attention back to the scene of the crime.

            “They were professional, all right, but they also made some mistakes.” Jack picked up a donut as the commander continued. Jack wasn’t so sure he wanted to listen, but he really had no choice. “Someone walking her dog wrote down the license tag of a car parked outside the home of a neighbor on vacation. Sanitation workers found a gun in the trash a few blocks away. We are working on the smudged fingerprints. We also found some DNA samples in the bedroom and down near your dog—he didn’t go without a fight. The team is still looking, but to continue we need you to sign this form. As you know, our response options are legally limited if no one presses charges. Here’s a pen.”

            The room grew awkwardly silent for a moment. The commander had not expected any hesitation. The whole precinct was mad as hell, and there was a voracious appetite for the blood of the people who would so violently attack the defenseless family members of one of the City’s Finest.

            “I… I can’t sign it.” Jack said.

            Commander Spears stared in disbelief, and shouted, “What?”

            “Don’t ask me to sign it. I can’t”

            “Why the _______ not?!” 

            “Look; a few hours ago I wanted nothing more than to see those thugs dead—no, tortured to death! But that attitude was wrong. To want evil repaid by evil makes us just like them. I have been sitting here, sweating and struggling to hear from God on this. I have to do the right thing, not the logical thing, and the right thing is to forgive my enemies just as God has forgiven me. That’s what we were doing just now on our knees. I have forgiven them for this evil. I’ve asked God not to hold this sin against them. Pressing charges is impossible—they have been forgiven.”

            The commander couldn’t believe his ears. His face was hot and red. “What on earth are you talking about? Your children are dead, Jack! And just look at your wife! They have destroyed your life. I’m all for your religion, but these men are criminals. Don’t give me some religious forgiveness bull…”

            Jack turned to his pastor for support. “Pastor, you explain it. I have to use the restroom.” Jack disappeared and the other two men stepped out of the room to talk.


            Jack was finishing the coffee and donuts when his pastor returned.

            “Jack, take a look with me at Romans 13:1-4,” Pastor Williams was already flipping the pages of his Bible. The text said:

            Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:1-4).

            “Jack,” Pastor Williams continued, “you have done the right thing by forgiving these men. This is God’s will for those who have been wronged, and it isn’t primarily because they need forgiveness; it’s because YOU need to let go. Unforgiveness is like a cancer. In time, it will consume you. This is why David wrote  “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret—it only causes harm” (Psalm 37:8). But Jack, this is only one part of an appropriate response.”

            “Individuals are called to administer forgiveness; but God has also instituted governments (and their agents, like armies and police officers) to administer justice—insofar as it is humanly possible. Even in the Church, human leaders are called to administer justice. Look at Paul, and the times he had to “deliver such a one to Satan” or call Believers not to associate with a wayward brother (1 Cor 5:5ff, 1 Tim 1:20). I think this is part of what Jesus was getting at when he told the Apostles: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). He knew they would have to corporately administer justice, while personally granting forgiveness.

            “Justice is a common theme in Job and the Psalms. Deuteronomy 17:4 instructs the community leaders to ‘inquire diligently’ into an alleged crime, and if someone is found guilty there were specific punishments to be enforced. In 1 Kings 10:9 the Queen (i.e. government) of Sheba says to King Solomon: “Because the Lord has loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” And as we just read, one of the purposes of government is to ‘execute God’s wrath on him who practices evil.’ (Rom 13:4) This is why 1 Timothy 2:1 tells us to pray for those in authority over us. They are called to do work which is beyond the calling of mere men.

            “Jack, you are an officer of the law. Had the criminals still been in your house last night, you would have had to arrest them, forgiveness or no forgiveness. If they had resisted arrest, because of that uniform and badge, you would have had to use force. It is your job to protect others, and if possible to keep this from happening again. If nothing else, think of the families of other officers who will be affected if these people strike again. Remember the verse you had inscribed on the back of your police badge? Psalm 82:3-4 says: ‘Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; Free them from the hand of the wicked.’

            “Sin has eternal consequences. You know that God only forgives those who ask for forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. Hell is populated with the unforgiven. And even after someone is forgiven by God, the consequences of sin can endure. For example, forgiven alcoholics or drug addicts may still die from liver disease or AIDS. Likewise, the forgiven pregnant teenager still brings a baby into the world. If this is true for the Redeemed, how much more is the unrepentant criminal to be held accountable for his crime?

            “And unlike personal forgiveness, which is to be given unconditionally, governments can only extend forgiveness after a debt has been paid. In heaven, ‘according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission’ (Heb 9:22). On earth, a prisoner must finish serving his time before certain rights are returned. Japan and Germany had to be defeated in World War II, at the cost of multiplied thousands of military and civilian lives. But within a generation after Pearl Harbor, a forgiven Japan and Germany had become two of America’s most important friends.

            “Jack, forgiveness is the only legitimate personal response to this tragedy, but civil authorities have a different response because they have a different responsibility. Finding these criminals is not your personal task, but you are obligated to cooperate with the authorities who are ordained to that task. If anything, only AFTER a man has forgiven his enemies can he be used by God to administer justice. Perhaps that’s part of the point of Proverbs 29:2: ‘When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan.’ And if you think forgiveness was difficult, just wait until you see how difficult it will be in the weeks ahead. Many of the officers around you will be acting in a spirit of revenge. You, and Believers like you, must be the voice of reason in administering righteous justice. It won’t be easy, but the same Holy Spirit who has given you the ability to forgive will give you the strength to fulfill your other responsibilities.”


            This time there was no silent Voice, but God had already spoken clearly through His servant and His Word. Jack slowly reached for his pen. Again, he knew what he must do.


© 2001 Michael Krigline. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print or copy this article, or link to it, for personal or class use.

 (see Website Standards and Use Policy)

Scriptures quoted are primarily from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

This story about “Officer Jack” was created by Michael Krigline; any similarity to the life of a real person is purely coincidental.


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