Brandt Jean chose mercy over vengeance when he spoke in a Dallas courtroom to the woman who shot and killed his brother: “I forgive you, and I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.”
Jean’s public and powerful forgiveness casts a refreshing beam of light into a culture that is increasingly dark with hatred, contempt and bitterness.
It’s also a rebuke to all of us whose default responses to much, much lesser hurts are bitterness and an inability to forgive.
The gospel, put in action by an 18-year-old man grieving his brother’s murder, declares to us that forgiveness is a costly echo of God’s love for those who offend him.
More on that later.
Botham Jean was murdered in his Dallas apartment by a former police officer who said she thought she was in her own apartment and that Jean was an intruder. The 27-year-old man lived on a different floor than Amber Guyger in the same building.
Guyger was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison and will be eligible for parole in five years.
The case has seasoned a national conversation around policing and violence against people of color. And the sentence drew shouts from demonstrators who took to the streets of Dallas to decry justice’s soft touch toward a white police officer who killed an unarmed black man in his own home.
That’s what makes Brandt Jean’s words and actions so astounding: “I don’t even want you to go to jail,” he told Guyger, 31, in court. “I want the best for you.”
He then asked, and was granted, permission to hug his brother’s killer.
Note the contrast: angry chants of “No justice, no peace!” overwhelmed by a strong, confident, “I forgive you.”
For a day or two last week, forgiveness fetched bigger headlines than hate. And rightly so.
True forgiveness does not ignore an offense, nor pretend that it does not matter. In fact, justice matters to people, because it first matters to God.
That brings us back to the gospel.
The gospel is invaluably good news precisely because it reconciles God’s justice with his love for those who repeatedly offend him – people like us. At Calvary’s cross, God poured out his justice upon Jesus, so that our offenses could be punished in him.
To believe in the love of God is not to believe he dismisses offenses or does not care about them. No, it is to cling confidently by faith to the wonder that Jesus endured God’s fierce justice for your sin, despite his perfection, so that you might be forgiven and credited with his holiness.
“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ,” says 2 Corinthians 5:21.
That’s quite an exchange, don’t you think?
Back on the Dallas streets, those chants of “No justice, no peace!” are understandable and unsurprising. But frankly they’re not quite right – not when exposed to the light of true forgiveness.
Brandt Jean’s selflessness last week suggests this corrective: “No forgiveness, no peace.”
It’s through God’s forgiveness that we have peace with him. And it is peace with God that allows formerly dark hearts to share the light of forgiveness with others.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger,” says Ephesians 4:32, “… instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
It may never be known whether Guyger acted as a racially prejudiced person, or as a public servant who made an inexplicably poor decision.
But thanks to an 18-year-old man with courage and faith in Christ, many people know more fully the power of forgiveness.
Steve Massey is pastor of Hayden Bible Church. He can be reached at (208) 772-2511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.