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He Was A Believing Man, But He Couldn't Forgive Himself For The Killings

Years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing a wonderful man for my novel. He was a member of my local church and had gone to Washington to help save the Buffalo River. I'll use the initials O. H. as I share this story of him.



As I met with he and his wife at their home and we went over all the newspaper clippings, I sat, enthralled with all the tales he told me, taking copious amounts of notes and enjoying every minute. At some point, though, the subject turned to O.H.'s time in the military and the comment that has never left me - that he has never been able to forgive himself for the killings.


It gives me pause now just writing this. It does whenever I think of it (which is probably more so now because it's Veteran's Day week). It hurts my heart. I knew this man; I saw him every week in study and worship. He was a lovely man, but he had this torment going on within himself and it just broke my heart.


O.H. was a Christian. He believed in God's love and forgiveness. He loved and forgave others - he just couldn't forgive himself. So, what could make him struggle so with this? He clearly loved his country. He fought for the freedom of the people during the war and afterward for his local home when they were going to lose their homes. He cared deeply and was a doer. Perhaps it was PTSD and he had never really dealt with it. Perhaps there was a particular incident that didn't sit well with him. I never knew the details of it.


The Bible says in 1 John 1:9 that, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." O. H. knew this. Perhaps, though, believing in God's forgiveness is easy. He's our Father after all. He is good and kind and loves everyone. Seeing that in ourselves always seems to be harder. If only we could dismiss our faults like God does, but we have that way about us that tends to see the worst most often.


What if we saw someone else feeling this way? Wouldn't we want them to forgive themselves? Wouldn't we try to encourage them with God's Word, shower them with love, comfort them with understanding? We would hope they could forgive themselves and be happy. We would pray for them. We would want them to be filled with God's love and peace. Why not give that to ourselves as well? We're somebody too! We deserve that same treatment!


Perhaps, though, it's not forgiving ourselves that we are really talking about. Maybe it's the guilt or shame that we still feel. David felt guilt about his sins and when he confessed them to God and received forgiveness from God, he felt freed from his guilt. God's forgiveness indeed releases us from that guilt.


O. H. passed away years ago. I don't know if he ever forgave himself, or lost any feelings of guilt or shame, but I sincerely hope he did. I have never had to fight in a war. I've never had to kill anyone, and I am thankful for that. I am also thankful to those who have been there when they were called on and did what was needed. I don't believe killing in wartime is the same as shooting someone randomly on the street or in a school. I think it is a separate thing that God has included when He says to obey governing authorities. People fight for their countries. It's been that way forever, and even God has gotten involved. Maybe I am wrong. Regardless, O. H. was forgiven. We are forgiven by God when we repent if we're His children. God's love knows no boundaries. We can have that same care for ourselves.


In the Bible it says Paul did a lot of horrible things to other humans as Saul. God forgave him. Yes, of course, Paul always remembered what he had done, but his way of dealing with it was to get busy. He served God by sharing salvation through Jesus Christ with everyone. Keeping busy and finding purpose in our life is important. We must be active and not let the quiet voice berate us. When we feel the guilt and shame start to creep up, we need to pray to God and refocus. Satan is the father of lies. Shame and guilt, after we've been forgiven, is pleasing only to Satan because the further down we go, the further from God we are. It's a lie. We can't fall for it.


There will always be something we feel guilt or shame about or feel we can't ever forgive ourselves for. We are so hard on ourselves! We needn't be. We shouldn't be. If we did something, we need to pray for God to forgive us, then accept it and get on with life. A child of God has that promise of forgiveness.


Acts 2:36-38 says what the people asked when they felt guilt for murdering Jesus Christ: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."


If we obey God and become His child of our own free will and desire, according to His plan for salvation, we will always have His forgiveness. We will always mess up and sin, but He is faithful to forgive us when we repent. I really do pray that O. H. let go of any guilt or shame he felt. I pray one day I'll see him again that beautiful glorious day when Jesus comes again to take us home!


All my love!


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