Faith, God and Family: Orlando, Finding Meaning, Long Process to Forgive


By Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist—
Fyodor Dostoevsky, the Nineteenth Century novelist, wrote in the “Brothers Karamazov”: “Every sin can be forgiven because God’s love is infinite.” The Orlando killer, possibly a self-hating gay man, who murdered 49 people and injured dozens of others last month will benefit from the Creator’s forgiveness, not mine. At least not yet.

Spiritually, intellectually, and philosophically, I understand the healing nature of compassion for those who harm others. It is necessary to let go of pain and anger toward those who hurt and abuse. We should all forgive the sinner, but I’m not the clergyman to tell you the best way to do it. Nor am I an example to tell you how to love your enemy. It’s another area I fall short. This isn’t to suggest I don’t try to love my enemy and to forgive; I’m just not always good at it.

There’s a basic human need to ask “why” horrible tragedies occur. Pain, suffering, injustice, violence are part of daily life. Sometimes we’ve become desensitized to them more out of a need to survive than as a reflection of not caring. And then, there are sudden events like Orlando that jolt us.

There are no answers as to why bad things happen to good people. We can speculate. We can over-think. We can comfort ourselves by believing there are answers, known only to some higher power. Hopefully, by the grace of the Creator we eventually let go and live our lives, never forgetting, but getting on with life’s bitter-sweet journey.

Rather than over-think the “why” or struggle with forgiveness, let me share modest observations about giving meaning to tragedy. I need to process this tragedy by making sure the 49 who were taken are not victims, but martyrs. Only by convincing myself that their lives were not taken in vain, however, can I approach the possibility of forgiving the gunman.

Before their lives were cut short the individuals had meaning and purpose. The manner in which they were taken challenges us to find even greater meaning to their lives.

Personalize Orlando by making the loss timeless. Don’t let them become victims. Experience each individual loss as a sacrifice that will bring about a better world.

Every time Congress or a state legislature votes down or refuses to consider legislation that would ban discrimination in housing or employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as one example, chant “Remember Orlando.” Caution them that when discrimination is permitted they’re sanctioning injustice. People who are marginalized for being different become less worthy, less human. In the extreme, discrimination escalates and becomes Orlando.

Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox (R-Utah) shared his thoughts about Orlando at a vigil. He said, “I am speaking now to the straight community. How did you feel when you heard that 49 people had been gunned down by a self-proclaimed terrorist? That’s the easy question. Here is the hard one: Did that feeling change when you found out the shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning? If that feeling changed, then we are doing something wrong.”

Let this tragedy be a painful, unwanted opportunity to change the attitudes of Americans uncomfortable with the LGBTQ community. Use this tragedy to educate them on what may happen when those who seem different are rejected as part of the fabric of this country. If rejection occurs, those who do it become untrue to their Creation as the Creator intended and don’t live up to what it should mean to be an American.

*Paul is a corporate chaplain, seminary trained priest, and attorney in greater Albany, NY. Reach him through

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