Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
March 31, 2011

Forgiving John Hinckley

March 30, 1981 came within an inch of infamy. Thirty years ago yesterday, President Ronald Reagan became the first American president to survive being shot in an assassination attempt.

At 2:27 p.m. Eastern Time, after Mr. Reagan had delivered a luncheon speech to AFL-CIO representatives at the Washington Hilton Hotel, he was near his limousine when John Hinckley fired six shots at him. The first bullet struck White House Press Secretary James Brady in the head, exploding inside his skull. He was left paralyzed on one side with permanent impairment, and is now almost completely blind with spinal stenosis. He will live the rest of his life in a wheelchair and bed.

The second bullet hit DC police officer Thomas Delahanty in his back. He was left with permanent nerve damage. The third hit a building across the street. The fourth struck Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy in the abdomen. The fifth struck the glass in the open side door of the presidential limousine.

The sixth ricocheted off Mr. Reagan’s armored car and struck him in his underarm, grazing a rib and lodging in his lung. It stopped an inch from his heart. The president was rushed to George Washington University Hospital, where emergency surgery saved his life.

His daughter, Patti Davis, wrote an article in the current Time magazine titled, “Freedom Is Too Good for Hinckley.” The would-be assassin was found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined to St. Elizabeths Hospital in southeast Washington. Since 2000, he has been allowed unsupervised visits off hospital grounds. If a court determines that he is now sane and no danger to himself and others, he must be set free.

What is the biblical thing to do? How should you respond to those who injure you?

Jesus taught us to forgive those who sin against us “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Biblical forgiveness is pardon, choosing not to punish. We determine not to seek revenge against those who hurt us.

At the same time, we trust them to the justice of God and society. Paul quoted God: “‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). How? The apostle described the governing authority as “God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

A wise pastor once encouraged a wounded church member to “tell God on them.” Do you need his advice today?

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