Forgiving Blake VanNest

This morning, I didn’t have to work and I slept in.  After the news went off, the Doctor Phil teaser came on and the show was about bullying.  Being a youth worker, I said to my self, “Self, you probably ought to watch this”.  So, I did.  The lead segment was about a young man who was bullied by some upper classmen.  The kid was 14, had learning disabilities and developmental problems.  4 older boys decided it would be funny to coerce him into getting a tattoo on his butt.  That was bad enough, but the tattoo in question said “Poop d**k” and had a penis above one word and a heart above the other.  The young man said he didn’t want the tattoo but was told he didn’t have a choice, that if he didn’t do it, he’d get beaten up.  The ringleader of this stunt and his mother kept trying to dodge full responsibility for such a despicable act by saying the younger boy wanted the tattoo and several other lame excuses.  They finally fessed up and, on the show at least, accepted the blame for what happened.  The victim’s family didn’t buy it.  I can understand that.  Their child was violated and it’ll take a while for them to get past that.  What I don’t understand is the virulent reaction of commenters on some the posts about this incident.  There were multiple comments that involved the murder and sexual assault of the perpetrators and there families that so were graphic that it almost made me sick.  I understand being upset by this sort of thing; but, damn, people, get a grip!

I’m a little two-faced in what I just said.  That’s because, for just a minute, I agreed with those violent suggestions of what should happen to the guys who did this.  I consider myself a pretty progressive guy and that attitude just doesn’t fit with a progressive mindset.  What pulled me back from the edge, though, was a website I check in on now and then called People of the Second Chance.  Run by Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, POTSC is all about radical grace and forgiveness.   Grace and forgiveness are just what the four young men involved in this terrible act need.  You’ll notice I said “need”, not “deserve”.  Nobody deserves grace or mercy, we deserve justice.  And, justice is a hard thing.  Certainly, Blake VanNest and he friends deserve to pay for they’ve done.  They’ve suffered legal consequences, but those pale in comparison to the scars they left on their victim, a young man who will always carry a piece of that hellish experience within himself for the rest of his life.  True justice for the perpetrators would be just as lasting for them as it is for their victim.  The problem with justice is that, to be just, it has to apply to everyone.  Everyone…, not just the people we don’t like, not just the ones who commit some heinous crime and not some distant, abstract person that we can’t identify with.  Everyone and that includes ourselves.  Like I said, justice is a hard thing.

Justice and thinly veiled hate are much more in line with human nature than grace, mercy and forgiveness.  But, Jesus called us to forgive.  And, not just once, but 77 (or 70 times 7, depending on your translation).  Before, you start ticking off the times you’ve forgiven someone who’s wronged you, you really oughta know that’s not an actual number.  In the Bible, when you see a 7 or a multiple of 7, that means perfection.  So, 77 means perfect forgiveness.  To me, perfect forgiveness is forgiveness that’s extended to everyone in every situation.  That’s what I get from God and that’s what He calls me to extend to everyone else.  Sounds good, huh?  Now if I can just figure out how to do it.