Last October, Brandt Jean was thrust into the national spotlight when he offered true forgiveness. Brandt’s brother, Botham, was shot to death by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who entered his apartment after mistakenly thinking it was hers. Guyger received a 10-year prison sentence.
In his three-minute victim impact statement in court, Brandt set the world on fire by telling Guyger he forgave her and desired only the best for her, which included giving her life to Christ. He concluded his statement by asking Judge Tammy Kemp’s permission to hug Guyger, an embrace that lasted nearly a minute.
I cried as I watched his speech because I knew God showed up, giving the world a demonstration of what true forgiveness looks like.
The judge cried as well, and after the court adjourned, she retrieved her own personal Bible from her office and gave it to Guyger with instructions to read John 3:16. Guyger had commented that she didn’t have a Bible.
A nationally known pastor went on social media and wrote these unfortunate words: “I can’t hold my peace! We are witnessing the last vestige of slave religion. Forgiveness doesn’t replace justice. I’m afraid African Americans have contracted Stockholm Syndrome in the sanctuary.”
I was flabbergasted, shocked and disappointed that a pastor could miss God like this and write the things he wrote. In my grief for this pastor and others, I turned to Scripture for clarity.
“I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied” (Jeremiah 23:21).
Sadly, this pastor does not understand the difference between forgiveness, reconciliation and consequences.
Forgiveness is a command. Even if the person who offends us never says he or she is sorry or asks for our forgiveness, we are commanded to forgive. We forgive not because we want to, but because we are all commanded by God to do so.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).
It is not easy to forgive. Many times it will push you to the limit. Still, we must keep forgiving because if we don’t, we will only affect ourselves. As the saying goes, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.”
Quoting the late theologian Lewis Smedes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” We forgive not only to walk in obedience to God but also to free ourselves from the bondage of carrying around the weight of this deadly poison. Forgiveness is easier when there is behavior modification; without such, it becomes more difficult, but even so, we still need to do it.
If we forgive, does that mean we overlook consequences? Are we being asked to live a life where no matter what the other person does—lies, steals, cheats—there are no consequences for their actions because they are forgiven? Does forgiveness mean people can walk over us all day and we just keep smiling and forgiving them?
The answer is no, no, no.
So, what does true forgiveness look like?
True forgiveness happens internally and results in an outward expression that the person has been forgiven. Reconciliation is possible if the offender is repentant and if we believe their behavior has changed. If they are truly sorry for what they did, they will take steps to demonstrate how contrite they are.
But a person can forgive without reconciliation taking place. A few years ago, I met Oklahoman Brooks Douglas at a church in California. His story is worth studying in order to understand true forgiveness.
Two men entered his home, shot and killed his parents, assaulted his sister and shot him. He and his sister miraculously survived. Eventually, one of the attackers was given the death penalty and the other life in prison. Brooks witnessed the first killer’s execution, and a few years later he visited the other felon in prison. The inmate apologized profusely, saying he committed the crimes while on drugs.
Brooks accepted his apology and before he left the prison, he sensed the Lord saying, “There is something you need to do.” Brooks extended his hand to the man and uttered these words: “I forgive you.” Immediately, he started to cry uncontrollably and felt like poison was leaving his body. Suddenly, the constant pain he had felt in his chest for years was gone.
I was intrigued by his story. This man was shot, his sister assaulted and his parents killed. And by offering the perpetrator of the crime true forgiveness, he was healed. Many people are talking about justice, which is important, but they are missing the point.
Brooks got justice. His parents’ killer was executed, and the second assailant imprisoned for life. But Brooks still had no peace. Instead, he had an unrelenting pain in his chest. Relief finally came when he offered true forgiveness.
And by God’s grace, a young man in Texas had the courage to offer true forgiveness. Brandt Jean and Judge Tammy Kemp showed a convicted murderer and the world how to forgive. ©2019 Huntley Brown
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.
Huntley Brown is an ordained minister.