Hellish grudges can kill

The helicopters kept making circles in the air so that the cameramen could keep showing the dairy farms and country roads, the bonnets and wide-brimmed straw hats, the horse-drawn buggies and the one-room schoolhouse framed in yellow police tape.

Soon the facts started going in circles as police recited a litany about 600 rounds of ammunition, a shotgun, a semiautomatic pistol, a stun gun, explosives and, later, the killer's sick collection of chains, clamps, hardware and sexual aids. Witnesses said Charles Carl Roberts IV was angry with God, angry with himself, haunted by guilt, fed up with life and driven by a hellish grudge.

Then journalists began asking questions that went in circles, the questions that nag clergy as well as state troopers. Why? Why the Amish? How could God let this happen? How can justice be done now that the killer is dead?

"Like everyone else, I could not believe what I was seeing on my television," said Johann Christoph Arnold, senior elder of the Bruderhof communes. While sharing many beliefs with the Amish and Mennonites, the Bruderhof ("place of the brothers") embrace some modern technology. Still, these movements share European roots in pacifism, simple living and an emphasis on the sanctity of human life.

"The Amish are our cousins so I know some of what they must be feeling," said Arnold, in his thick German accent. "I know these parents are hurting, I know they are asking questions, but I know that they know the answer is forgiveness. ... Tragedy and pain can soften our hearts until they break. But if we trust God this will help us to feel compassion."

The gunman's stunned wife released a media statement that showed her understanding of her Amish neighbors and their beliefs. She knew she could appeal for prayers and forgiveness, even though outsiders might find her words hard to fathom.

"Our hearts are broken, our lives are shattered, and we grieve for the innocence and lives that were lost today," said Marie Roberts. "Above all, please, pray for the families who lost children and, please, pray, too, for our family and children."

Some of the Amish went even further. One woman told the Los Angeles Times: "I am very thankful that I was raised to believe you don't fight back. You should forgive."

To grasp the Amish point of view, it's crucial to understand that they truly believe God desires justice, but also shows mercy and "they believe that these are not contradictory things," said Arnold. "They know that God said, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.' The Amish certainly believe that this killer will not go without punishment, but they also believe that his punishment is in God's hands."

These are hard words in an age when many Americans hold one of two competing beliefs about eternity and God's judgment.

Millions of believers -- lukewarm and fervent alike -- assume that the really bad sinners are the people who commit the really bad sins, those spectacular sins tied to violence, drugs and sex. These really bad people are easy to condemn to hell.

Meanwhile, many other people believe that all people are automatically going to heaven, no matter what they believe or what they do. According to this point of view, the massacre inside the West Nickel Mines Amish School will have no impact on the eternal destiny of Charles Carl Roberts IV.

Once again, the Amish believe that God knows all and that God, and only God, can judge. What the Amish emphasize, stressed Arnold, is that forgiveness is the only way that humans can break a cycle of violence and sin.

In this case, the gunman left suicide notes that showed that he was driven by guilt and a grudge that he would not surrender. It appears that Roberts could not forgive God and could not forgive himself.

In the end, this killed him and through him this grudge killed others.

"If you hold a grudge, it will live on in your heart until it leads to violence of some kind," said Arnold. "If you do not forgive, then you cannot be healed. Forgiveness can heal the forgiver as well as the one who is forgiven. This is what the Amish believe. It will be hard and it will take time, but this is what they now must strive to live out for all the world to see."