Editor’s Note: Our readers responded strongly to this story when it originally ran; we’re reposting it here in case you missed it.
The average person familiar with the tragic story of 7-year-old Athena Strand might feel that the family has a right to be angry and even hate the man who authorities say kidnapped and murdered her.
However, at least one member of the girl’s family is doing his very best to fight off hatred and prevent it from taking root in his soul.
Sheriff Lane Akin of Wise County, Texas, just northwest of Fort Worth, said 31-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner confessed to killing Athena, KDFW-TV reported Dec. 4.
Akin said Horner, an independent contractor delivering packages for FedEx, was at the girl’s house to deliver a package on Nov. 30, according to the station. Her body was found two days later.
Horner now faces capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges.
Mark Strand no doubt loves his granddaughter beyond words. And so the intense pain, desire for revenge and the racing thoughts and question of “why” may well be flooding his soul.
In the midst of all that, however, his faith in God also shines through like a brilliant white light, even as he wrestles with the pain of grief.
Strand said in a powerful Facebook post on Dec. 3 that hate will consume a person, and his decision to forgive the man who killed his beloved granddaughter is not for the sake of her murderer, but for his family’s sake, his own sake and to honor God.
“This flesh, this man that I am, is angry and I want 5 minutes alone in a cell with the psycho that took our Athena away from us, but there’s a soft gentle voice in the back of my head telling me I need to forgive him,” he wrote. “This flesh man, wants that psycho to burn in hell for all eternity, yet that gentle voice continues to tell me, I need to forgive him.”
Strand said the Holy Spirit was reminding him not only that Jesus “willingly laid Himself on a cross and died in my place to reconcile me to God the Father, but also that He did that for All of Us, even this man that my flesh so Hates at this very moment.”
“There’s not one ounce of my flesh that wants to do this or say this, but my spirit has heard God’s voice and right now, while tears flood my eyes, I declare publicly that I forgive this man!”
He also said he was choosing forgiveness for the sake of Athena, who “knew no hate.”
Strand’s wisdom as a man of God also showed itself in his stated refusal to allow the killer to have “any real estate to live in my brain.”
Instead, he said, he is choosing to trust that the person who took the life of his precious granddaughter “belongs to God and God’s justice will be done.”
Back in the days before the conversion of Saul (who later became the Apostle Paul), there must have been many Christians who lost loved ones under his murderous hand. Perhaps the way they felt about him was very similar to the way that Athena’s grandfather feels.
God certainly exacted His vengeance when Saul had that Damascus road experience of being knocked to the ground by the Lord’s brilliant light and power and struck blind in Acts 9.
Then, in God’s own mysterious way of redeeming the ugliness of life with his beautiful plans and purposes, Saul responded to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and repented, and God used him in mighty ways to help build the foundation of the Christian faith.
Mark Strand’s vulnerable and raw Facebook post made no attempt to hide his emotional pain and desire for vengeance and justice. At the same time, his bold choice to trust God with all this was like a beautifully bright beacon.
Please keep the Strand family in prayer, especially that God’s justice would prevail and that they would feel his peace and comfort in the midst of all they are going through.
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