I somehow the missed the news of the atrocity in Turkey on April 18th. An event took place in Malatya, a Turkish province 300 miles northeast of Antioch, the city where believers were first called Christians. Ten young men all under 20 years old put into place final arrangements for their ultimate act of faith, living out their love for Allah and hatred of infidels who they felt undermined Islam. The young men got guns, bread knives, ropes and towels ready for their final act of service to Allah. They knew there would be a lot of blood.
On that Wednesday morning a 46 year old German missionary and father of three, Tilman Geske, prepared to go to his office, kissing his wife goodbye taking a moment to hug his son and give him the priceless memory, “Goodbye, son. I love you.”
Tilman rented an office space from Zirve Publishing where he was preparing notes for the new Turkish Study Bible. Zirve was also the location of the Malatya Evangelist Church office. In another area of town, 35 year old Pastor Necati Aydin, father of two, said goodbye to his wife, leaving for the office as well. They had a morning Bible Study and prayer meeting that some other believers in town would also be attending. Ugur Yuksel likewise made his way to the Bible study.
The ten Muslim young men arrived in time for the Bible Study, around 10 o’clock and the Bible study started. After Necati read a chapter from the Bible the assault began. The boys tied Ugur, Necati, and Tilman’s hands and feet to chairs and as they videoed their work on their cellphones, they tortured the Christians for almost three hours.
Tilman was stabbed 156 times, Necati 99 times and Ugur’s stabs were too numerous to count. They were disemboweled, and their intestines sliced up in front of their eyes. They were emasculated and watched as those body parts were destroyed. Fingers were chopped off, their noses and mouths and anuses were sliced open. Possibly the worst part was watching as their brothers were likewise tortured. Finally, their throats were sliced from ear to ear, heads practically decapitated.
Another Christian came to the Bible study but was unable to get in. When he heard strange noises from the room, he phoned the police, and the nearest officer arrived in about five minutes. He pounded on the door, “Police, open up!” Initially the officer thought it was a domestic disturbance. At that point they heard another snarl and a gurgling moan. The police understood that sound as human suffering, prepared the clip in his gun and tried over and over again to burst through the door. One of the frightened assailants unlocked the door for the policeman, who entered to find a grisly scene.
Three assailants in front of the policeman dropped their weapons. Meanwhile there was a sound of yelling in the street. Someone had fallen from their third story office. Running down, they found a man on the ground named Emre Gunaydin. He had massive head trauma. He had tried to climb down the drainpipe to escape, and losing his balance had plummeted to the ground. It seems that he was the main leader of the attackers. Another assailant was found hiding on a lower balcony.
The young men involved in the killing are currently in custody. Today news reported that they would be tried as terrorists, so their age would not affect the strict penalty. Assailant Emre Gunaydin is still in intensive care.
When Susanne Tilman expressed her wish to bury her husband in Malatya, the Governor tried to stop it, and when he realized he could not stop it, a rumor was spread that “it is a sin to dig a grave for a Christian.” In the end the men from the church in Adana (near Tarsus), grabbed shovels and dug a grave for their slain brother in an un-tended hundred year old Armenian graveyard. In an act that hit front pages in the largest newspapers in Turkey, Susanne Tilman in a television interview expressed her forgiveness. She did not want revenge, she told reporters. “Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do,” she said,
In a country where blood-for-blood revenge is as normal as breathing, many many reports have come to the attention of the church of how this comment of Susanne Tilman has changed lives. One columnist wrote of her comment, “She said in one sentence what 1000 missionaries in 1000 years could never do.”
I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately. In another news item Lord Tebbitt was invited on to a radio program to commemorate the Brighton bombing. This happened nearly 23 years ago at the height if the Irish troubles. An IRA bomber planted a bomb at the headquarters hotel at the Tory party conference, killing sveral prominent conservative politicians and maiming several others. Margaret Thatcher was fortunate to escape with her life. Normal Tebbitt's wife was paralysed from the neck down. The bomber was Patrick Magee who was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but was released early in 1999 under the Good Friday agreement.
Tebbitt refused to appear on the radio program because Magee had also been invited to appear. How could Tebbitt be expected to forgive the man who had condemned his wife to be bed-ridden for the past 22 and a half years?
Late at night last week I listened to a sermon preached in London last year by RT Kendall. He preached on Genesis chapter 45, the story of Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers. Yet when he finally confronts his brothers in Egypt he does not condemn them. RT related a story of how he had been terribly hurt by some people at Westminster Chapel, where he was pastor. Not knowing what to do he told the story to Romanian pastor Joseph Ton.
Ton told him, "RT, you must forgive them."
"But you don't realise how badly they have hurt me."
"RT, you must forgive them."
"Perhaps, if they came an apologised and asked forgiveness, I might be able to forgive them."
"RT, you must forgive them anyway. They may not even know that they have hurt you. You need to forgive them, not for their sake, but for your sake. Until you forgive them, your ministry will be worthless."
So RT forgave them and immdiately a great load lifted from his life.
Joseph forgave his brothers. He did it secretly (v 1) so that the brothers' crime was not broadcast (and neither was Joseph's generosity).
He did it gently, so as not to raise feelings of guilt or shame (v 5).
He did it forgetfully. He asked them to bring their father down to Egypt and gave them the very words to say to him so that they would not incriminate themselves (v9). There is a wonderful verse in I Corinthians ch 13 v5. "Love keeps no record of wrongs".
Forgiveness is terribly hard. Evil men deserve punishment. Those who love justice are outraged when the guilty go free. Why should we forgive?
Only because we have been forgiven much more than we are being asked to forgive. While we were still in our sin, Christ died for us. It is not our business to punish sinners. "Vengeance is mine," says the Lord,"I will repay."
When we think of the story of Jonah, don't we think Jonah is being churlish when he gives as his reason for not going to Nineveh the fact that God is likely to forgive them and Jonah doen't want them forgiven? But aren't we like that. There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents, but how do we feel ifthat one sinner is someone who has sinned against us, and now isn't going to burn in Hell fire like we think he ought to? What about those who think we ought to burn in Hell fire?
We think we want justice, but we don't want justice for ourselves; we want mercy.
We forgive because the love of Christ compels us.