General,  Spiritual Growth,  Trial,  Unity

Forgiving the Devil in Pew Number Seven…What I’m Reading

Forgiveness…what does that word conjure up for you? Forgiving a child or spouse for hurting you? Forgiving a driver who cut you off? Forgiving a predator or abuser? Forgiving a church member or minister for betrayal?

When I think of the things for which I’ve forgiven others, I must say they seem small and petty compared to the reasons why Rebecca Nichols Alonzo and her brother had to forgive their mother’s murderer as well as the man who wreaked havoc in their lives for years.

I just finished reading, in tears, The Devil in Pew Number Seven by best selling author Rebecca Alonzo. I have never seen a more beautiful picture of biblical forgiveness than what I read in this true story of the a pastor’s family. When I think of the measly reasons I’ve ever offered forgiveness to others, I am embarrassed.

This is a story of harassment like none I’ve ever seen. You can watch a clip here.

The fact that the attack was against a pastor and his family only makes it even more horrific. I am so glad the author stated at the very beginning that every single thing in this story is true. If she hadn’t, I think I’d have doubted all the way through that this kind of terror could be possible.

Having never read anything quite like this, I literally could not put it down from the beginning to the very end. As I closed the last page, I was in tears.

Rebecca and her brother Daniel appeared on the Dr. Phil show, meeting the murderer of her mother face to face for the first time since his trial. Seeing this kind of forgiveness in action was humbling, and yet, shows the power of the Gospel in the hearts of the children who witnessed the murder of their mother and shooting of their dad.

The murder was the culmination of years of harassment that included drive by shootings, bombs being detonated in their yard, and various other attacks. I can’t help but ask, how could these children make it through such an experience and still forgive, not one, but two, men who were involved in it all. One man was “the devil in pew number seven”. True evil in a human body.

Not all questions about this situation will ever be answered on earth…like, why God called a pastor to a church to serve, and then allowed such horror to terrorize and forever change their family, as well as many others in their community? Why did these men live and receive little punishment, while their own parents suffered so, one dying at the scene of the murder, another who died a few years later having never fully recovered physically and emotionally? How could this pastor continue to forgive and love his attackers over and over? How could Rebecca and Daniel both be living lives today that honor God and testify to His ability to cause one to forgive even the worst offender? How? Why?

Then, I have to answer: ONLY God can do the impossible. Only He can cause us to breathe again after such pain and loss. He gave these children precious parents, who taught them to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and to forgive, with no strings attached, the unforgivable acts of evil men. Only God could bring hope to others through the testimony of these now grown children.

As Rebecca wrote “Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling” and that choice not only let her perpetrators out of the prison of unforgiveness, she herself was released.

God has forgiven us so much and brought us life eternal through His Son who also suffered so much pain. He calls us to “conform” to His Son’s image (Romans 8:28-30) as we live on earth and He promises to glorify us in heaven one day. That’s why. That’s how.

Thank you, Rebecca, for writing this story to touch, convict and give hope to many.

Banner photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

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