How would you feel if your brother or sister or any close family member whom you loved was unjustly taken from you? A slew of emotions would flood you, among which would be sadness, grief, shock, perhaps anger. These are the emotions that Botham Jean’s family likely went through after September 6th, 2018, when the young black man was shot and killed inside his own apartment by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who entered his apartment, mistaking it for her own and believing Botham to have been an intruder.
Roughly a year and a month after the tragic shooting, Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison on the charge of manslaughter. Many believe the sentence should be considerably more, with some believing it to have been a premeditated killing simply due to the racial differences between Guyger and Botham and the fact that she was a police officer, but the sentence for manslaughter in Texas usually carries with it a term of 2 to 20 years in a state prison and a fine of no more than $10,000, so ten years is right down the middle (and Texas doesn’t use “voluntary” or “involuntary” in their legal code, so the charge is simply manslaughter).
However, despite the fact that Guyger did kill Mr. Botham Jean, in the court room following the sentencing, Botham’s younger brother, Brandt, got to say a few words to Guyger. And they are words that I believe she needed to hear, as do many people in this world.
Brandt said, full of emotion in his voice, “I wasn’t ever going to 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 to 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.”
He then proceeded to ask the judge: “I don’t even know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please? Please?”
After a bit, the equally as emotional judge granted Brandt permission to hug Guyger. This action was met with gasps and loud sobbing as well from those present in the courtroom.
What’s more, after Brandt hugged Guyger, Judge Tammy Kemp also proceeded to hug Guyger, with Guyger whispering something inaudible to the judge. The judge quietly replied to Guyger: “Ma’am, it’s not because I am good. It’s because I believe in Christ. None of us are worthy. Forgive yourself.”
This is considerably different to what happened outside the courtroom, where there were angry chants regarding the verdict of 10 years that was handed to Guyger, with chants of “no justice, no peace” being heard throughout and even the mother of another young black man who was slain by an Arlington police officer in 2017 crying and asking: “How many of us does it take to get justice? What about my son? What about Botham Jean? How many of us is it going to take before you understand that our lives matter?”
While those who are not most affected by the killing of Botham Jean were angry about the verdict (justice was done, regardless of the emotions behind it, as 10 years is in the middle of the range of possible prison terms in the penal code), those who were most affected by it, namely Botham’s younger brother and even parents showed nothing short of grace towards the woman who took away their loved one.
Not one of Botham’s family members would’ve been at fault for being angry with Guyger. Not one of them owed forgiveness to her; she certainly didn’t deserve it. But that’s what grace is all about. That’s what mercy is all about.
Mercy wouldn’t be mercy if forgiveness were owed. If forgiveness were owed, that’d be justice, not grace. Grace – mercy – is doing what is right to someone who does not deserve it in the least.
It’s giving your enemy food and water to eat and drink. It’s forgiving someone for the wrong they did to you even when they do not deserve it whatsoever.
Asking for forgiveness is difficult. But forgiving someone else, even more so.
When we do wrong and we know we do wrong, it can be hard to ask for forgiveness, knowing full-well that we do not deserve it. But when someone wrongs us, it can be even harder to forgive that someone.
It takes a lot to be willing to forgive. It’s one of the most amazing aspects of God and one of the rarest in Man.
Brandt didn’t need to forgive Guyger. No one needed to forgive Guyger. No one had to show her grace. It would’ve been easier for Brandt to have shared with Guyger the pain he felt for what she had done, blaming her in the process and reminding her of what evil she had done. It would’ve been easier for him to have lambasted her and shown anger and hatred towards the woman who had taken away his big brother, whom he loved dearly. He easily could’ve withheld forgiveness from her and not a single person in that courtroom would’ve thought he would’ve been unjustified to have done so.
But Brandt believes in the God who forgives sins almost no matter what they might be. He believes in His Son, who died on the cross for the sins of the people who might believe in Him. He believes in the Son who died in our place, who died because our sins put Him on that cross. He believes in the Father who forgives those who forgive others.
Forgiving others, difficult as it is, is the righteous and right thing to do. No, no one in that courtroom would’ve thought Brandt would’ve done the wrong thing if he had withheld forgiveness. No one apart from God.
But God knows Brandt’s heart and that his soul belongs to Him. Brandt understands the importance of forgiveness and showing grace to those who do not deserve any of it.
When Jesus taught his followers how to pray, he shared the following: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
This is the Lord’s prayer and notice the importance of forgiveness here. It’s not simply the Father who forgives us of our debts, or our trespasses, whichever version you might often use. We are equally as tasked with the challenging task of forgiving others who have trespassed against us or done us wrong.
Jesus, in Matthew 6:14-15, then explained to His followers: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
We are tasked with showing grace and mercy just as our Father shows us grace and mercy in His forgiveness of our sins. If we do not forgive others’ sins against us, why would our Father forgive us when we do not show the same mercy?
Now, don’t get it twisted. Forgiveness has to be actually meant. If you do not forgive others in your heart, then it doesn’t matter what you say to them. Before Brandt could show this kind of grace and mercy to Guyger, he first had to forgive her in his heart, otherwise it would’ve meant nothing.
Simply saying “I forgive you” but holding within your heart unforgiveness isn’t going to fool God. For anyone who might try and argue “oh, Brandt had to forgive her otherwise God wouldn’t have forgiven him. How fair is that?” keep in mind that, again, forgiveness isn’t about being fair or about being just. No one is ever owed forgiveness. No one is owed mercy. No one is owed grace.
Because if anyone was owed those things, that would be justice, not forgiveness, mercy or grace.
What Guyger deserves is unforgiveness and the lengthy prison sentence she received. She was shown grace that she did not deserve when Brandt forgave her.
It’s in this same manner that God forgives our own sins. Now, don’t misunderstand, it still takes faith in Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior to be forgiven, but in order for us to be forgiven, we must also be willing and able to forgive others too.
It’s part of being a Christian and Brandt understands this. Seemingly, so does the Judge, which was also rather unexpected.
Brandt wants Guyger to turn her life over to Christ that she might be saved. This is grace.
For those who are Christians, they know exactly why Brandt forgave her. It was the right thing to do, not the just thing to do.
If more people showed this kind of grace, the world would be considerably better. Not perfect by any means, of course, but better.
God bless Brandt, his family, the Judge and Amber Guyger. I hope that she takes Brandt’s words to heart and the Holy Spirit reaches her.
“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’”
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