I don’t usually talk about current events but what happened last week was so remarkable that we shouldn’t let its lesson to us slip into the past so easily. Brandt Jean’s embrace of his brother’s killer, former Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, was the “Hug heard ’round the world.” But the most significant thing was what his actions said about God.
As followers of Christ, we’re here to glorify God in all we do. Glory (doxa) simply means “to speak well of.” And when the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23) is allowed to be demonstrated through us, people finally see God’s true nature untarnished by our wounded souls. Thus, we glorify our Father in heaven.
8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. (John 15:8 NASB)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the Botham Jean case. This particular case is significant because the anger level in our society has ratcheted upward exponentially over the last few years. And on the top of that list is the anger between those in the black communities and white policemen. We’ve all seen the injustice, the violence, and the retaliations; there seems no end to it. And this case was looking just like many others we’ve witnessed, like the anger expressed over the sentencing in the following:
“Prosecutors had requested jurors sentence Guyger to 28 years in prison to represent Jean’s 28th birthday this past Sunday. Impassioned Black Lives Matter activists expressed outrage at what they considered a light sentence.
“We did not get justice and this is not fair. How many of us is it going to take? There shouldn’t be another mother after us,” one tearful protester said.
Protesters rallied outside the courthouse chanting, “No justice no peace,” with one man saying, “Are we surprised? I’m not surprised. The system doesn’t value us and it never will and I don’t expect it to.” (Article here)
Now, I want to be clear that I’m not addressing whether police practices should change or the court system could improve. My point is that this outrage reflects man’s idea of justice—retributive justice. Retributive justice is all about punishing the perpetrator. And we get angry when we don’t think they got what they deserve.
But what was most remarkable was what happening inside the courtroom. It had to do with what Botham’s brother, Brandt, said and did during the victim impact statement. If you were on another planet last week and missed this clip, here it is again:
And here’s what Judge, Tammy Kemp, said just a couple of days ago. Including her explanation why she gave Guyger a Bible.
The Dallas County District Attorney also said this about the Brandt’s impact statement:
“Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot encouraged the community to follow Brandt Jean’s lead. “I think that that young man was speaking from his heart. I think that’s an amazing act of healing and forgiveness that is rare in our society.”*
Sadly, it’s rare even among those who profess to follow Christ. We tend to think and act just like everyone else…our idea of revenge, hatred, forgiveness, grace…are pretty much the same, which is very much unlike the way Jesus practiced these things. As someone once said, we are, for the most part, practicing atheists outside of the four walls of the church building. We give the teachings of Jesus lip-service.
That’s what makes what Brandt did so refreshing. For it’s a response like his that will glorify God and change the world, not our vitriolic rants.
Here’s what Jesus seems to think about it:
38 “Your ancestors have also been taught, ‘Take an eye in exchange for an eye and a tooth in exchange for a tooth.’39 However, I say to you, don’t repay an evil act with another evil act….” (Matt.5:38-39 TPT*)
Jesus goes on to say that loving our enemy is how we show we’re sons and daughters of our heavenly Father:
45 For that will reveal your identity as children of your heavenly Father. He is kind to all by bringing the sunrise to warm and rainfall to refresh whether a person does what is good or evil.46 What reward do you deserve if you only love the lovable? Don’t even the tax collectors do that? 47 How are you any different from others if you limit your kindness only to your friends? Don’t even the ungodly do that? (Matt.5:45-47 TPT*)
Beloved of God, these aren’t suggestions. If we profess to follow Christ then we must actually follow Him. As Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). When we act contrary to Jesus, we dishonor God and cause people to turn away from Him. That’s on us. What we do matters more than what we preach.
God’s Justice is Restorative
Jesus practiced a very different form of justice, and Jesus explains the nature of God to us, not anyone else (Matt.11:27; John 1:18). He practiced God’s restorative justice, which is superior to man’s retributive justice; restorative justice seeks to heal both the perpetrator and the victim.
We see Jesus contradicting the religious retributive “eye for an eye” justice system, forgiving sinners, touching lepers, healing the sick, raising dead children to life, feeding the multitude, and loving the marginalized of his society. For all these things—prejudice, disease, hunger, bondage, and death—are demonstrated by Jesus to be forms of injustice in God’s view. He has placed infinite value on all of humankind by giving His Son so that everyone of us could know Him (Matt.13:45-46; John 3:16-17). There is no “us and them” with God. This Serpent’s lie is exactly what Jesus undid with His actions and teachings.
You see, retributive justice is not really justice at all. For example, if you killed my brother and then you were tried and executed for your crime, it doesn’t bring my brother back. That’s not God’s form of justice. That’s man’s view of justice. Brandt clearly got this…but why don’t so many of us get it?
When Jesus healed someone, or validated their status in society, He was practicing God’s form of restorative justice. The resurrection of the dead is God’s ultimate restorative justice because it overcomes the greatest injustice of all—death.
When we look at what Christ has done for us, who are we to hold onto unforgiveness, to retaliate, to not love even our enemies? Yes, Amber Guyger is guilty, but she has been released to God by the victim, and God has already forgiven her on the Cross long before she ever fired a shot, having reconciled all humankind to Himself. Now, it’s up to us whether or not we’ll accept His ultimate overture of love and forgiveness.
We should learn from Brandt’s embrace of his brother’s killer. May it forever be etched in our minds, for this one act did more to glorify God than a thousand sermons. The whole world witnessed the truth about God’s redeeming love in that courtroom—to see and be astonished. This is how God rolls and, truly, this is how we’re supposed to roll in this world.
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Cor.5:19-20 NIV*)