The Facets of Forgiveness

The internet is buzzing with an example of forgiveness that has the world gazing into a very private and likely complicated situation that is certainly deserving of amazement.

“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.” Brandt Jean said, and then proceeded to embrace his brother’s murderer. Judge Tammy Kemp gave the convicted former police officer a bible in addition to an embrace. Brandt Jean and Judge Tammy Kemp are black, and the murderer is white. The moment was tailor-made to go viral, and it did. Of course, by going viral the moment was guaranteed to stir controversy. This is America.

By now the judge has defended her decision to give the convicted murderer a bible and a hug. Black Americans being publicly celebrated for their capacity to forgive has been scrutinized. Forgiveness itself has been widely discussed. What is it, who can offer it and when? This is a good conversation to have, but some of the answers can tend to be simplistic. Forgiveness isn’t simple.

Not only can the word be used in similar but different ways (leading to confusion over who means what when they use the word) but usually sin wreaks havoc in such a way as there are multiple offended parties for any given sin. Consider the murder of Botham Jean. It was a sin against God, against Botham Jean, against those who loved Botham Jean like his brother Brandt, against society, against the black community, and I am sure I could come up with more. I think some of the confusion folks have felt is due to not being able to separate Brandt Jean’s forgiveness from other offended parties. To the extent white America uses Jean as a cudgel against those considered to be insufficiently forgiving, further repentance is in order. Brandt Jean can’t absolve his brother’s killer of her sin against God, but he can give up his own claim of requital for the sin committed against himself by his brother’s killer. He can’t pardon the government for a history of racist oppression, but he can cease to resent his offender, and communicate that to her. Doing so was a powerful example of supernatural, Christ-like character. Those calling the expression of forgiveness scandalous and offensive aren't wrong -- the fact that it was scandalous and offensive is precisely how we know it was a clear distillation of our scandalous Gospel.

But forgiveness doesn’t always look like a hug in a courtroom after a conviction.

Sometimes forgiveness is blanketed in the nightly tears of a betrayed wife who is begging God to help her to keep trusting HIM to bring hope and healing (and forgiveness) through the heartache.

The faithful pursuit of help and counsel by the limping adult who experienced horrific sexual abuse by a trusted person in his or her shattered, young life -- who understands that forgiveness does NOT require embracing their abuser.

The willingness of the middle school kid who was bullied and beaten asking his mom to "please pray" for the jerk who pummeled him -- and who he didn't see again for 20 years to tell him this story (a true one).

If you've been hurt, betrayed, abused, slandered or otherwise sinned against by someone, let God show you what the process of forgiveness looks like...for you. We can all rejoice in the brother of a murdered man showing intense mercy to his slayer without assuming this is the only acceptable act of Divine power to forgive.

It’s beautiful mercy on display. Mercy is always beautiful, even if it’s only displayed for the One who gave it to us.