The Peach State prepares for a political frenzy as a pair of January runoffs determine the balance of the Senate—and the shape of the presidency
In October of 2006 when I heard on the radio of the Nickel Mines, Pa., schoolhouse shooting in the Amish community, and in the same week of the Amish forgiveness of it, I was not much impressed by forgiveness quickly tendered. Perhaps God was not much impressed with my lack of being impressed, for he brought the incident to my attention again nine years later, long after the news vans had moved on, and set me straight.
The speaker at a luncheon I was invited to happened to be Terri Roberts, mother of the 33-year-old driver of a milk truck servicing Amish farms, who on one ordinary day in autumn parked his delivery vehicle, walked into a schoolhouse, and inexplicably unloaded his shotgun on the room, killing five little Amish girls and wounding others, then turning the weapon on himself.
Terri, a Christian woman eating lunch outdoors at Sight & Sound theater with a colleague at that very hour, heard the sirens, saw the helicopter, and stopped to pray for whoever it was that was in trouble. She and her husband had raised four Christian sons of good repute, and to this day still knows not why her firstborn made a fearful choice, and why the God she had faithfully prayed to for her boys allowed it:
“… [I]f we never met the dark, and the road that leads nowhither, and the question to which no answer is imaginable, we should have in our minds no likeness of the Abyss of the Father, into which if a creature drop down his thoughts forever he shall hear no echo return to him. Blessed, blessed, blessed be He!” (C.S. Lewis, Perelandra).
What is known by Terri amid all the unknowable is her own faith’s growth.
God makes no apologies, He gives no explanations. Colossians 1:9-14, which Terri had numberless times prayed over each son by name to make a mother’s heart requests, comes to her mind again after months of grief, and she tries to resist it but finds her hand stuck to the Bible. “In my heart and soul, I heard God commanding me, ‘Pray that Scripture right now for the three sons you still have with you.’ … I cried out, ‘No, God, that is too hard!’ Again, I felt a gentle, loving nudge: ‘Pray that prayer right now.’”
What is known by Terri amid all the unknowable, and recounted in her book Forgiven, is her own faith’s growth, like flint polished seven times in the coarse grit in a rotary tumbler. We also learn of the gem-making of other principals in the incident, each with their separate stories known only to themselves and to God. This is the strange expanding of the Kingdom, “the Great Dance, … woven out of the intertwining undulation of many cords or bands of light, leaping over and under one another and mutually embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties” (Perelandra).
There is her son Zach, refusing to attend the funeral of his brother, until an Amish man, laying aside his distaste for technology, picks up a telephone and calls New York and bids him come. There is the phalanx of 30 black-clad Amish in tall black hats and white bonnets appearing at the funeral, shoulder to shoulder providing a human wall between the Roberts gravesite and the road where media cameras craned. It was to the Robertses as when “the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17).
There is the survivors’ hard-won learning that “forgiveness is a choice”; and the perfection of God-ward yielding where there are no quid pro quos; and the divine “intertwining undulation” by which an Amish family of Lancaster, which never had much commerce with the “English,” brought a wooden doll bed they handcrafted to the grandchild of the woman whose son had killed their children. There is—to this present day—Terri Roberts paying regular therapy visits to the home of the 6-year-old wheel-chaired victim and now teenage Rosanna.
“All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans than it looked for. … There seems no plan because it is all plan: there seems no centre because it is all centre. Blessed be He!” (Perelandra).