Forgiveness. The word is central to what we believe. We hear it often, and hopefully we speak it more often. We pray for it. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This past week we saw and heard what that looked like in a Dallas courtroom where Brandt Jean forgave Amber Guyger, the ex-police officer who mistakenly killed his brother Bothom Jean, and embraced her in open court before television cameras. He not only forgave her, he urged her to turn to Christ for peace and forgiveness.
Here is his full statement before the court:
If this video doesn’t cause you to weep, you may need to do a little self-reflection or at least pinch yourself to see if you are still alive. Even the judge, the representative of impartial, unemotional, blind justice, was wiping her eyes with a tissue.
This is what forgiveness looks and sounds like. Pure grace, almost too much to bear, too difficult to watch. Raw and unrehearsed and real. The young man speaks haltingly and admits he wasn’t planning on saying what he did. He hesitantly asks the judge for permission to break with courtroom protocol and hug this person who killed his brother. He has to ask twice, the second time begging “please,” because the judge has to think about it carefully. This is not supposed to happen in a court of law. Victims do not embrace their victimizers.
What strikes me the hardest is the sight of Amber Guyger running to meet the embrace of the man whose brother she killed. She’s the prodigal running to the forgiving arms of his father. She’s Mary Magdalene embracing Jesus’ feet in the garden. She’s the woman of the streets who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. She is me running to confession with the miserable mess of my life longing to hear the absolving words “I forgive you.” She’s all of us, all of humanity, standing before the cross of Jesus and hearing Him pray, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing,” embracing us in His death. The sinner longs to hear forgiveness, to be embraced and be held by grace – undeserved kindness and love. We long for it every breathing moment of our lives.
The Spirit-wind of God mysteriously and creatively blows across the face of the Deep. Like the wind, we cannot see the Spirit, but we can hear Him in forgiveness spoken and in the stammered words, “trust Christ with all you have done.” Brandt Jean hadn’t planned on saying what he said or doing what he did that day in court, but the Spirit had other plans for him and for the world who watched and listened. The Spirit blew through that Dallas courtroom in a mini-Pentecost, and a “victim impact” statement had a far greater impact than could ever have been imagined. A woman convicted of killing a man in his own apartment by mistake heard the words of forgiveness in Christ from her victim’s brother and felt the embrace of grace.
And then there was grace upon grace. After sentencing, the trial judge stepped down from her chair, and in a breach of protocol that will certainly draw howls of protest from those who want to keep church and state as far apart as possible, embraced Ms. Gruger and handed her own personal Bible to her. She also embraced her and whispered, “You can have mine. I have three or four more at home. This is the one I use every day. This is your job for the next month. It says right here. John 3:16. And this is where you start. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.'”
Ms. Guyger was sentenced to ten years in prison, but she does not go to prison alone. She has Christ and His Word. She knows the sound and embrace of Christ’s forgiveness. And she has the prayers of the young man who lost his brother in a shooting that should never have happened. Her time in prison began that day in a Dallas courtroom, as did her liberation and healing.
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!