Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Atonement (Part 1 of ?)

(So. I didn't get this done in advance, as planned/hoped. Apologies. I will therefore put up the linky deal later today and will keep it up for more than just a day, and will repeat it. Okay?)

I know someone who was murdered. Considering the murder rate, it seems like everyone ought to know someone who was murdered, and yet, when this (rarely) happens to come up, people are shocked and appalled---most people seem not to know anyone who was murdered.

The victim is someone who was close to us. So is the murderer. The murder was brutal.

I expect all murder is always brutal, but because I know this one, it seems especially so. Since it happened---and it's been a few years now---I've had a lot of thoughts. Initially, I had frequent thoughts and feelings about it---including anger, especially anger, along with disbelief, horror, sadness, and more---but as is typical, with time, it's slowed down, until something happens that brings it back up. That happens less and less now.

Even though I know the people, and even though it affected (affects) me, it is still somehow, not my story. There are people closer to it than I. That's why I won't go into any great detail.

After all this time---the murder itself, the police investigation, the trap, the capture, the trial, and the imprisonment of the murderer---I still don't believe in any part of the murder on some level. Part of my brain is still reeling, shocked. How could this happen? This couldn't have happened! This can't be. It's so wrong. There must be some mistake.

If---when---I think about the murderer, my thoughts are equally disbelieving and disjointed. In the end, my disbelief, my inability to suspend my disbelief, my inability to grasp that Person A did this, and what's more did it to Person B, and did it like makes me shake my head and look for some sort of disease. The murderer must be mad, insane, has anyone checked for a brain tumor?

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I think this. Despite the coldness, the planning, the rational behavior before and after a totally irrational act, and the clean bill of health...I think this.

It does not compute.

I wish---and oh how many times and ways I've tried to---I had the ability to write movingly, poetically, about this. But it is my way, in times of great emotional upheaval, in times when things defy my world framework, to turn to logic and analysis. It makes me sound cold, and few people understand. It also prevents me from presenting it in a way that is relatable, with some insight.

I regret that.

I think it is why this post has not been done. I keep trying to find the way, the words, to convey all that this is.

The reason this story came up again recently is because of a letter. If we were to tier people who had ties to this murder it would be:

Tier 1: Immediate Family

Tier 2: Very close friends

Tier 3: Friends, people who knew the people well

Tier 4: People who were daily acquaintances

Tier 5: People who brushed by

I suppose I am Tier 3. Someone from Tier 2 told me that (s)he recently received a letter from the murderer. In the letter the murderer wrote, more or less, that (s)he had made peace with what had happened and knew God had forgiven him/her.

I was surprised by the rush of fury I felt over this.

The murder was not something that happened. The murderer committed the murder. Horribly. Coldly. Brutally. Unnecessarily.

The letter made it clear to me that the murderer was still rationalizing the murder. The horror of what the murderer did had not at all struck him/her. Anybody with an engaged conscience should, I think, be in a state of shock and horror when they finally grasp the dreadful enormity of what they did. I should think that were this to strike a person, it would suck the very air from their lungs, maybe nearly forever.

But maybe that's what is missing, to have done such a thing in such a way in the first place.

Additionally, I care deeply about the Tier 2 person. It infuriated me that the murderer was reaching out and attempting to victimize yet another person---and oh, during the investigation and trial, the people the murderer hurt, on top of the pain already of the murder itself, but the brutality didn't end there---and what's worse, expecting a reply, one that said---I don't know----that said it was okay. I don't think the murderer was asking for forgiveness. I think the murderer wants validation, to have the act condoned. "Yes, we understand, and it's okay."

It's not okay. It will never, ever be okay. People will become okay. But the murder? Never okay.

The murderer still has no remorse, no sympathy for the victims---yes, plural, because it's not just the murder victim.

In my humble opinion...without remorse, there can be no atonement. Not on any level, human or divine.

The idea of atonement on the human level is that after some wrong, there is reparation, satisfaction. On the divine level, it means that God and man are reconciled.

Perhaps it is the limitation of my doctrine, but I have always been taught that remorse is a necessary component of reconciliation. God may love you, may even forgive you (because of atonement, because of the sacrifice of Jesus), but you don't get forgiveness until you display remorse. I think it must be true remorse, remorse from the marrow of your bones, where you form a new neural pathway or something in your brain because you so deeply understand that what you did was wrong. And through this, can be trusted to not do it again.

Harsh? Maybe.

And I know all too well how many times some of us must make the same mistakes, even ones we do deeply regret, before learning a new way.

But this story, these thoughts, they are about murder, not being terrible about remembering birthdays or being snappish when stressed.

I want to have sympathy for the murderer, and on some level, I do. This doesn't mean I condone what the murderer did, or like the murderer, please don't mistake it. But I feel sorry (?) that this person is such a destructive person. Sorry that this person's path, with so many lessons to learn, is so harmful to others, and believe it or not, to him/herself.

This is the thing that allows me to have forgiveness that enables me to move on.

However, on other levels, there is that disbelief, and with that, a lack of extended forgiveness.

So, perhaps, I am overlaying my own personal feelings on top of the two levels of atonement. Perhaps correctly, perhaps erroneously. Or perhaps a combination of both, in that sort of growing and developing sort of way.

What do you think? What is atonement? And how do we define it, achieve it, receive it?

Feel free to comment here, or on your own blog. If you've read something about atonement that you like, feel free to put the links into your post, and add your blog link into the Mr. Link (which I'll put up later). Make sure to link here, too.

Note: I'd like to discuss the concept of atonement, but this post had to come first, to explain why it is on my mind.


Mr. Linky added in:

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Robert said...
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Robert said...
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Robert said...

I am not sure I know anyone who was murdered in the sense that it was planned or intended, but I know someone who was victim of a manslaughter. It went unpunished, largely because of the nature of the crime and the investigator involved at the time. My brother, the night before Thanksgiving, ran into the back of an unlit log truck. The driver, who probably only noticed a few miles later that there was a car hanging off his truck, smashed up the light that was supposed to hang there and put it in the car, fooling a rookie cop working a garbage shift on the holiday. We didn't know that detail until about four years later, and the wound from it, which I thought had healed, was freshly reopened.

I tell that story to say I completely understand what you mean about how the grief, anger, disturbance, disconnect... whatever the feeling is, can come out of nowhere and well up again. I used to passionately hate log trucks, and even considered (in my darkest thoughts) doing things like taking a chainsaw onto a log yard and tearing the place up. The reaction to death so unnatural, so wrong, is visceral. The feeling of disgust and hate can easily overwhelm.

So with all of that said, my explanation of atonement here is not necessarily the one desired, but it is the one I understand. I agree with you that the sinner (in this case, the murderer) must show true remorse to receive forgiveness of his sin(s), which is a scriptural explanation of how it works. But to the offended party, forgiveness is not only good but necessary. I am not saying that as one Christian to another, nor am I simply reminding you of the commandment that all sins must be forgiven by man because it is God's place to judge sinners. No, I am saying it is necessary to forgive to avoid the cancer of hate overpowering you. I have come very close to letting that happen in my own life. Forgiveness, in this sense, has almost nothing to do with the offending party and everything to do with removing the deep-seated anger and hate from your own heart. It is by no means easy, but it is the best way to move forward and survive with any positivity intact.

For the first several years after my brother's death, all of my first assignments in writing classes involved that event. The required subject was almost always "tell me something about yourself" and that event did so much to shape me that I had to share it. I can definitely understand how inadequately words can explain the pain and shock of such a death.

I feel for you, in the end. I hope you read my post, which I put up in the wee hours to make sure I got in on the subject first.

Andrea said...

Just my luck that this week's topic is one I have so much to say about, if only I weren't legally prevented from doing so.

I'll see what I can come up with.

I'm sorry about that situation with your friend. I can't imagine how difficult that must be to deal with.

Andrea said...

And then I stumbled across this.

paul maurice martin said...

It seems to me that if God forgave only those who show remorse, God would have a lot of pent up resentment that would make God - well, not so Godly.

Even people are well advised to forgive whether or not the wrongdoer shows remorse. A whole lot of wrongdoers never do, and we'd be left simmering in the juices of our own grudges for a lifetime.

thailandchani said...

I've had a similar experience, having known both the victim and the murderer. In the case I am familiar with, there was no redemption on any level for anyone. The murderer was executed.

At any rate, I'm a big believer in redemption and forgiveness. At what point does someone determine that another person can't choose to change?

Sometimes these things are hard to "logic out" because there is no way we can possibly understand all the dynamics that took place. Reason isn't the answer to everything. What I do know is that forgiveness isn't the same as absolution. That is how so many get hung up, unable to let it go because they carry the misconception that forgiving means saying it's okay.

We humans don't control everything - and that includes someone else's spiritual reality. From what you've written, I gather the murderer had one of those jailhouse conversions during which he or she has tried to assuage his or her own guilt without doing any internal work, without attempting to make merit for the murder (making merit is a spiritual concept that I'll tell you another time if you like.. but it is not the way it sounds), to do something to give back to the community, even if it's the prison community.

But how do we discern something like that?

While I believe everyone has the opportunity to be redeemed, I don't believe everyone chooses it.

thailandchani said...

Forgot to mention, I'll keep coming back for other people's comments.. and yours. Interesting topic!

Robert said...

To Paul,

God extends forgiveness to all who wish to receive it, but lack of remorse means no desire to be forgiven. God does not force anyone to do anything, which is one of the greatest things about God. If someone wants to be evil, wants to be remorseless, then they have that right, whether we like it or not.

Robert said...

I agree with Chani, that not everyone chooses redemption, and (fortunately) it is not really our place to decide if someone else has truly changed or not. Harboring hate for someone does the injured party no good and much harm. It also rarely impacts the injurer. Revenge always looks really sweet in movies, but it very often has quite the opposite effect desired, and instead further embitters the person who got revenge.

Just some more thoughts on this huge topic.

Julie Pippert said...

I'm glad I read all the way through because Robert and Chani caught two of my main points I feared were being missed/were not communicated clearly.

I think forgiveness is multi-faceted, and this is the way I am able to---as I said in the post---make peace with a lot of things.

I don't think we ought to solely consider forgiveness something to be bestowed. That only considers it from our own angle.

I can forgive---and the best other way to put that I can think of is "make peace with"---but that's only one facet.

What I was trying to distinguish in this post is a difference between the facets of forgiveness.

When I said "I forgive, but I think without remorse this person hasn't got forgiveness" I was talking about another angle: that of forgiving oneself for one's own actions, begging forgiveness, repenting, and a desire to make amends.

Make sense?

The only thing I have control over is my own personal "making peace with" angle. The rest? Is beyond me. And accepting that is a big part of the "making peace with."

However, I can sit on the outside and view in and think that the other person hasn't got forgiveness especially when said person purports to have and demand it with absolution (thanks for the word Chani, it eluded me) from others.

You know, because I'm human. :)

Julie Pippert said...

Chani, you wrote:

"From what you've written, I gather the murderer had one of those jailhouse conversions during which he or she has tried to assuage his or her own guilt without doing any internal work, without attempting to make merit for the murder (making merit is a spiritual concept that I'll tell you another time if you like.. but it is not the way it sounds), to do something to give back to the community, even if it's the prison community.

But how do we discern something like that?

While I believe everyone has the opportunity to be redeemed, I don't believe everyone chooses it."

Your whole comment was good but this part I felt asked something of me.

Your last line: ABSOLUTELY.

The part about jailhouse conversion and no real work? More or less, yes.

I discerned it by what was written and how it was said.

The whole thing was very..."what I did is okay in God's eyes because He forgave me and you can too," which to me asked for absolution, and did not demonstrate remorse.

Among other things.

The murderer maintained last I heard that the victim simply had to die, there was no other way.


Just can't take space to touch that point here.

Suffice it to say, despite what happened, even though it's a state with capital punishment, I'm glad the death penalty wasn't imposed.

That's how much I DO NOT think killing is the answer.

Please, yes, write about the merit thing.

Julie Pippert said...

Robert, your reply to Paul...yes. That's it exactly.

Thank you.

Karen said...

I find atonement to be a very distinct concept from forgiveness. On Yom Kippur, the feast of Atonement one's sins against God are dealt with in the soul - sins against neighbors are to be atoned for on Erev Yom Kippur - the day before, Yom Kippur eve - so, I think a murderer is in a bit of a dilemma there. As a Christian I have faith that Jesus does our atoning for us - that he paid, so I don't have to go around paying everyone, including God, back - but that is quite a literally interpretation -when one considers murder and other sins that can never be made right, well, I'm nos sure how anyone who has lost someone can forgive, except in the way they can try to move on with life, celebrate the person they miss, and not seek revenge. I don't think we are spiritually mandated to like everyone (by which I mean have a working relationship with them)- only to agree in our hearts with God that they are worth saving, worth helping, worth blessing. It may be someone else's job to do that though, not those grieving, mmm?

le35 said...

I'm about to write my own post on the subject and connect it to Mr. Linky. So my comment here won't be all encompasing, but here's my thoughts on this.

I think that one thing is that people often think of forgiveness as synonymous with forgetting the action. God will forget the actions when we sin, but he doesn't ask us to completely forget something. We can forgive someone without setting ourselves up to get hurt by that person again. If we know that someone's a known sex offender, can we forgive that person completely without taking our children around him/her? I think that you can and, from what I've read, have forgiven the murderer. But at the same time, you don't have to forget what happened. You can celebrate the person who's gone, but you don't have to put yourself in danger.

Robert said...


I think it is absolutely necessary for the grieving injured to forgive, but again, for their own sake. That does not mean immediately (though I heard a beautiful story of how the Amish invited the wife of the man who killed all those children at their school to come to the funerals), but it does mean eventually. Otherwise grief turns to hate and it kills the soul in many way. I definitely agree, though, that forgiveness and atonement are two different but intertwined concepts.

Ria said...

These are stream of consciousness thoughts, that I don't want to rationalize. If I don't post them here and try to write an entire post, I will in the end fully rational this thought and still might, but here it's feelings and intuition in control.

Atonement is internal. It is personal and selfish and about me, not "The Other". I choose how I achieve atonement in my mind, through my future actions based on the ideas of remorse, regret, understanding, compassion and finally... I reach the atonement I need to live with myself, spiritually and physically. You can't give it to me. I have no right to expect it from you.

I do believe sincerity is required if we believe we must ask others to offer their atonement to us. I just don't believe sincerely asking is necessary, because others cannot offer you atonement. No one outside of ourselves can offer that.

I'm not very schooled in the ideas of forgiveness and atonement as mentioned in religions or scripture. I just know that yes, forgiveness and atonement are different. I can forgive others their actions against me, which says that I have chosen not to hold that grudge any longer, or spend my life seeking vengence or holding feelings and emotions of hate.

It does not mean that the murderer has any right to my forgiveness because my forgiveness is not for him/her. My forgiveness is so that I do not inadvertently or purposely pass my hate on to others.

thailandchani said...

Julie, here's something on merit.. just to begin with..

As for the rest, I need to give it some thought. Sometimes these things are difficult to articulate. :)

Robert said...


It sounds to me like your concept of atonement and forgiveness are very in line with Christian values, despite your lack of familiarity. I don't agree that atonement does not come from an external source in some cases, but I respect your right to believe what you do because the internal element is the most crucial part of atoning anyway. Great comments.

liv said...

I don't know. I don't want to even bring religion into it. It's happened in my life, and I don't even want to discuss on what tier. It's awful. Simply awful--and I don't know about atonement, even 8 years later.

Jeff said...

I haven't wrote about it at all, because it's just too personal to discuss on my blog, but my brother's wife was murdered last fall. It's been a horrific sequence of events but we all banded together to help him and his 4 kids out as best we could. Then, while the investigation was in progress, the murderer committed suicide. Now he's left with no answers, no justice, no wife and no mother to his children. I can't even begin to imagine what atonement means to him.

flutter said...

I think there are some things that you simply cannot atone for.

jennifer h said...

I was just getting ready to write my response when I saw flutter's. And I agree with her.

The concepts of forgiveness and atonement are murky to me. I've heard several definitions of forgiveness, and none of them has ever touched me. The only way any of it translates for me is to make that other person irrelevant in my life. To remove her. Them.

There are things that cannot be understood, so how can they be forgiven, even if those words are spoken and meant? Why put ourselves through that? Why make ourselves strive to forgive? The work is not for us to do. Whatever happens beyond this world is already outside of our influence.

That said, there are other ways for a person who is wronged to move on, and some of them involve therapy. Others involve running ten miles a day or hiking a mountain. Or writing a book. Time and perspective also make a decent substitute for forgiveness, in my opinion.

Robert said...

The later opinions sadden me somewhat, I must say. I've been through horrible grief, and I have seen the value in my own life for forgiveness when no remorse was ever shown, no atonement ever made by the offending party. I know how hard it is to let go of the pain and the anger, but it's so much more difficult to live while holding on to it. I feel for those responders, truly, because I've been there. Not exactly where they are, but in a similar enough place, and I know how much it harmed me to harbor bitterness.

Karen said...

it is still Wednesday and I managed to post about this and link. Thanks Julie for an excellent discussion.

Melissa said...

Well, after my snippy comment yesterday, I figured I HAD to post. And I did, just barely. Both in content and time. :)

Everyone has made some great comments. But I wasted all of my effort on my "post" and I have nothing left to add.

jen said...

i don't feel like i have a place commenting here, b/c i thankfully have not had to experience this in the way you and some of your commenters have but i am honored to be reading the discussion.

painted maypole said...

i am so sorry for your loss - no matter how old. I have a friend whose best friend was murdered 20 or so years ago, and we've spent a lot of time recently on the issue of forgiveness. I linked to a post i wrote last fall that seems to fit the theme. in fact, I've been meaning to come back and write further on the issue, and haven't. maybe this will light the fire i need to do it!

jennifer h said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jennifer h said...

I don't normally respond to comments, but Robert, I just wanted to address your last one. First, though, please accept my condolences for your loss. I can't imagine it.

I would say that I don't hold on to pain and anger. There are painful memories, absolutely. But I don't carry the anger around with me.

I've moved past it. But that's different from the intellectual or emotional concept of forgiveness. What I've done is separate from that concept, I think. It's possible to create a good and full life without subscribing to the concept of forgiveness.

jeanie said...

It is no longer Wednesday here and I haven't been personally affected by anything as brutal as a preconceived murder.

However, I have a friend whose husband was killed by a drunk driver - and left her with 15 month old twins and an unborn child.

She spoke to me of his wish to contact her to speak to her of forgiveness, and at the time her anger and pain was too great to consider that.

Today, 3 years later, she has discovered she has given some forgiveness as she no longer allows the act to cloud every day of her life.

As to him atoning for his crime? I think one must pay for the life of another. Not "an eye for an eye" but to do enough good in the life that you have to pay back for the life you have taken.

Robert said...

Jennifer H,

I am glad to hear that you don't carry it around. Such pain and anger is like a millstone around one's neck when it is maintained. Thanks for clarifying. That is the main thing I was focused on, letting go.

Kyla said...

Good discussion here...I don't think I can say anything that hasn't already been covered, though.

Andrea said...

This has been such an interesting conversation to read, even if I couldn't play along.

I don't know if you read the comment on my site, but I'd love to do a week on fate sometime.

we_be_toys said...

Wow - I don't know what to say, this was really intense.
I did witness a murder once, from a distance, and woke to discover the body next to our house, but it wasn't someone I knew, and it wasn't someone I felt any grief over, since they had stirred up the trouble to begin with. I do agree with you about forgiveness; you actually have to be sorry to be forgiven, both here and hereafter. I'm concerned for your friend who is in contact with the killer. It doesn't sound like he/she has any remorse, which could be indicative of the kind of anti-social personality that never rehabilitates.
You really creeped me out, girl!

Aliki2006 said...

You know, I personally believe that there really are some things, as flutter said, that can't be atoned for, and that there are some things for which forgiveness can not be offered. I firmly believe this HAS to be the case, otherwise too many things will be allowed to happen in this world, to many "escape valves" opened for too many people.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

Wow.....very interesting concept and incredibly sad story!

My preacher once said, "If you cannot understand how God could forgive a person like Jeffrey don't understand the concept of grace." I found this concept to be very perplexing, at first, but I do believe anyone can be forgiven....if they open their hearts and truly seek it.

The lack of remorse would bother me VERY MUCH....if I'm totally honest!

Kathryn said...

I agree with you and the thought that remorse needs to be present for forgiveness. But then again, I am not God. The comment above strikes a chord in me.
Great post.
I am so sorry for your loss.

a. beaverhausen said...

My great-grandfather shot his wife and then shot himself. I never knew them. Neither did my father. The murderer punished himself before the law could. Or maybe he was really just taking himself out of the mix before consequences could be meted out.

A woman who was in my high school graduating class was one of the victims of a serial killer while she was a college student. The murderer died of cancer last year before he could pay for those deaths with his own life. There are many unsolved murders that may or may not be his victims.

Forgiveness is not available for those who aren't sorry. At least...that's the way it seems to me.

niobe said...

I've dealt with very few murderers and a few more murderer wannabes. The only thing they were sorry about was that they got caught.

Robert said...

I know it is several days removed, but today I heard a wonderful talk about atonement and abuse, and it really struck a chord with this posting stream. If you'd like me to locate the written form of it when it comes out, I'd love to share it. It's all about how Jesus's atonement helps us heal from terrible pain. It was truly wonderful.

Christine said...

ok--not reading any other comments. and what i want to say is simple: i am so sorry that this horror was dealt upon you and the family of the deceased. what a horrible thing to have to bear!

about forgiveness, atonement--it is hard for me to conceptualize these things coming from god as i still have no idea if i believe in god. but it can come from us, people, humans. as to whether this person deserves forgiveness is another story. . .