By Jess Penick
Forgiveness is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian. I’ve received it—through Jesus and from others. I’ve extended it—to myself and to others. I’ve been a follower of Christ for years. I mean, I thought I understood forgiveness. Then I met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Rev. Dr. Bernice King. She has lived a remarkable life riddled with grief and adversity. Yet she champions forgiveness with a surrendered, grace-filled heart that’s dedicated to fulfilling the work her father and mother started decades ago.
Dr. Martin Luther King left a legacy that transcends time and has impacted every generation since his short life was ended on earth. Bernice King was just 5 years old when her father died. Her mother, Coretta Scott King, remained faithful to the call on their family to fight for unity through love and peaceful reconciliation. But it came at a price.
They become a single-parent home.
They lost two other relatives within 6 years of Dr. King’s passing.
Bernice King could have easily chosen bitterness, unforgiveness, and resentment. But she also believed in a different way to live which was modeled by Jesus.
The greatest among you must be a servant. Matthew 23:11 NLT
When I had the privilege to sit down with Bernice King to discuss how Scripture shaped her family, this was the first verse she recited to me; the passage lived out publicly and privately by her parents.
The more I listened to Bernice King share her story, the more I realized that she embodied this passage in James:
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. … James 1:22 NLT
It was remarkable to hear the profound ways Scripture influences how Bernice thinks and the way she lives. Her faith isn’t inherited. She has experienced the grace of God. She leans on the truth of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit to transcend her circumstances and steward her influence.
She had to do the hard work of experiencing God’s forgiveness, learning from her parents’ example, and choosing to set her mind on loving others and bringing unity. She carries her family legacy with humility, empathy, and confidence; yet she does so with a deep understanding of what it means. Once she understood forgiveness and received God’s grace personally, Bernice King experienced a transcending understanding of purpose.
Dr. Bernice King
Bernice King recognizes that everything she has gone through, even her suffering, draws her closer to God and can help others. She trusts in the mysteries of God and that He brings good to all situations. She has a deep conviction to trust God and extend His love through choosing to forgive again and again.
It’s through this heart of surrender and willingness to serve others that God can do His incredible work to bring healing and reconciliation. And her story reminded me that this sort of unwavering hope is available to me, too. Since I met Bernice, I’ve found myself letting go of bitterness more easily. If I follow her example, I won’t choose to take offense over the small stuff—or even the big stuff—but rather to extend mercy and love. I also trust that the mysteries of God are at work even when it’s hard to see good in some situations. I’m aiming my heart in the direction Bernice is aiming. She’s an excellent role model to follow because she’s following close after Jesus.
The YouVersion team is honored to partner with Bernice King in her Bible Plan, Rev. Dr. Bernice A. King: Cultivating A Heart Of Mercy, which unpacks some of her experiences and the Scriptures that have shaped her.