In the valley of the shadow of death

Published 8:43 am Friday, June 26, 2015

by R.E. Spears

So much pain. So much sorrow. So much sadness as Charleston, S.C., and the rest of the nation attempt to understand the evil that stalked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday, sat through a Bible study and then coldly, callously and calculatedly murdered nine worshippers “guilty” of nothing more than the color of their skin.

Once again we are reminded that evil lurks in the hearts of men. Once again we taste the rotten and poisonous fruit of self-worship. Once again we are confronted by the twisted visage of hatred.

And yet, none of those things is new. Evil lurked in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve put themselves before God when they broke His single commandment there. Cain hated his brother and spilled innocent blood for the first time in human history.

What’s new — or at least what’s exceedingly unusual in the arc of human history — are the grace and mercy and even love shown by the grieving families of those to whom Dylann Roof showed no such mercy.

“You took something very precious from me,” Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old victim Ethel Lance, said to Roof during a video bond hearing on Friday. “I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

“(We) are the family that love built,” said the sister of victim DePayne Middleton-Doctor. “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”

These are not human pronouncements. There is no place in the human condition to serve as a wellspring of such mercy. Such grace is divine in origin and springs from the overflow of the Living Water that refreshes the souls of these blessed, mourning families.

The grace to pray for this murderer’s soul comes only through the recognition of the abounding, amazing grace that God already lavished through the death of His innocent son, Jesus Christ.

Such grace is shocking in its selflessness. It’s the very antithesis of self-worship, it’s irreconcilable with hatred, it’s good triumphing over evil — even in the valley of the shadow of death.

Even before Cain killed Abel, God knew their hearts. He warned Cain that sin was “crouching at the door.” Cain’s problem was that he loved himself more than he loved God. The manifestations of that problem were his worthless offering, his anger when God confronted him about it and the murder he committed in his anger.

The same thing is true today, thousands of years later. We are commanded to love God and to love one another, yet we love ourselves more. Racism and murder are among the most heinous of consequences for failing to follow those commandments. Broken families, greed, pornography and all of the many sins we commit against God and man are among the more pervasive.

What the grieving families in Charleston taught us this week is that the answer for and the answer to all of those sins is the same: God’s grace and love displayed to and through the faith of those He has redeemed.

Racism, hatred and murder are but evidence of man’s sinful nature. They will endure as long as there are those who reject God’s grace. But we have a powerful weapon against them in the meantime: Love. That’s what the families in Charleston showed us on Friday.

“Three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

R.E. Spears III is the editor of the Suffolk News-Herald, where this column first appeared. His email address is