Startling forgiveness

The Standard October 9, 2019

Botham Jean, a 26-year-old from Saint Lucia in the eastern Caribbean, was serious about his Christian faith from a young age. Part of a family that was active in church, Jean asked at eight years old to be baptized and asked again at age nine. After he turned 10 his parents allowed it. Jean loved to sing and wanted to use his musical gifts at a Christian college so he attended Harding University in Arkansas.  After graduating with a degree in accounting Jean worked in Dallas as a risk assurance associate for PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the Big Four consulting/professional services firms. One night in September of 2018 just before 10:00 Jean was watching the television and eating a bowl of ice cream. Amber Guyger, a Dallas police officer who had just gotten off a 13.5-hour shift, entered Jean’s apartment and began yelling for him to show his hands. She fatally shot him in the chest. Guyger had put her keys in the door but said it was ajar so she believed the person with the large silhouette was an intruder. Guyger later testified that she had accidentally parked on the fourth floor of their parking garage instead of the third floor and mistakenly had entered the apartment one floor directly above hers.

Needless to say, the Jean family and their friends were devastated. Jean left quite a positive impact on those who knew him. This tragic event garnered national media attention. Last week a jury convicted Guyger of murder. Botham Jean’s 18-year-old brother gave a victim-impact statement. Brandt Jean addressed the former Dallas police officer saying, “I hope you go to God with all of the guilt, all of the bad things you may have done in the past. Each and every one of us may have done something that we are not supposed to do. If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. And I don’t think anyone can say it – again I’m speaking for myself and not even on behalf of my family – but I love you just like anyone else. And I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you. And I wasn’t going to ever say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do. And the best would be, give your life to Christ. I’m not going to say anything else. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do. Again, I love you as a person. And I don’t wish anything bad on you. I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please? Please?”

The judge allowed Botham to go over to Guyger and their powerful embrace portrayed the radical mercy of Jesus Christ in a tangible way. Forgiveness does not wipe out the consequences of wrongs that have been done or the pain of an incredible loss. Mercy does not give us an excuse to sin. When we feel compelled to offer forgiveness and mercy it is the right time to offer them. It is always the right time to do the right thing, regardless of what the national debate about forgiveness between races sparked by Brandt Jean’s words might indicate.

Jesus’ words while hanging on the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” (Luke 23:34) From a human standpoint that plea by someone who had been beaten, mocked and crucified made little sense. Like Brandt Jean’s statement, these words of startling forgiveness were foreign or even upsetting to some people.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)


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