Dallas, Texas — Oct. 2, 2019
Amber Guyger has just pleaded guilty to shooting and killing Botham Jean in his apartment and is awaiting sentencing.
Sentencing hearings are the most challenging, emotional, and painful court appearances in the practice of law. In over 90% of cases that end up with a client facing the judgment of the court, the victim or his/her family will make a victim impact statement that describes their suffering. They will almost always ask the judge to sentence the defendant harshly.
However, there are those rare exceptions.
This day, Brandt Jean chooses mercy over vengeance as he speaks 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. I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you.”
He then asks the judge for permission to hug his brother’s killer. The request is granted.
The 18-year-old man, who is grieving the death of his brother at the hands of another person, brings tears to the eyes of those in the courtroom.
Guyger knows that she is going to prison despite Jean’s expression of grace and forgiveness. She is sentenced to 10 years.
Jean’s public and powerful display of forgiveness casts a refreshing beam of light into a culture that is increasingly dark with hatred, contempt, and bitterness.
It also sends a powerful message to all of us whose default responses to much lesser trespasses are bitterness and an inability to forgive.
Recently, my friend led a Bible study. He is not an ordained minister nor has any formal religious training. He is an imperfect Christian who seeks God’s will. But, his lay message inspired the group and the writing of this column.
His lesson focused on the most difficult, yet powerful human act; forgiving others.
True forgiveness does not ignore an offense, pretend that it does not matter. Condone the act, accept the behavior, or forget the harm. Forgiveness is about rooting out the bitterness and anger that enslaves a person to a life of misery. A man I once knew told me that refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison and hoping that the poison harms the person he refuses to forgive.
My friend, who loves to read Paul’s letters from jail when he was in Rome, pointed out that Paul told the Romans that oftentimes God allows others to harm us for His purpose and our ultimate good. While this may sound counterintuitive, consider the story of when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. He could have become a very bitter young man. Instead, he chose to forgive his brothers. After their father died, they feared that now he would use his position of power to get revenge. But, Joseph acknowledged God’s sovereignty and goodness when he said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
He also illustrated the greatest act of forgiveness in history: the execution of Jesus Christ.
Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion by Pontious Pilate who was the Roman Governor of the province of Judea. Crucifixion is one of the cruelest ways that humans have created to kill a person.
As Jesus suffered on the cross, he did not curse his Roman executioners. Instead, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).
This serves as a reminder that we should not wish for or pray for God to judge those who have harmed us. We should pray for them. If they do not repent, they will face God’s justice. We reap what we sow. and vengeance belongs to the Lord so that we are free to forgive. (Romans 12:19).
Lastly, my friend reminded the group that we have harmed others throughout our lives and will likely do so again. We are human. But, when we have wronged another, we must make amends by asking that person and God for forgiveness.
By forgiving and asking for forgiveness, God will always provide the peace that has no price.
Thank you, Mr. Jean. You are a very young man. But, your courage and faith showed people of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs the awesome power of forgiveness.