By now, most people have seen the viral video of the courtroom drama that played out at the end of last week in Dallas, Texas. But it’s such a powerful expression of the love of Christ that it is worth revisiting.
The video captured the moving response of the brother of Botham Jean, a man who was murdered in a wrongful shooting incident by police officer Amber Guyger. After she was sentenced to 10 years in jail, 18-year-old Brandt Jean spoke to her in open court, giving a rarely seen expression of selfless love and forgiveness, ending his words by pushing her to find true freedom by embracing the love of Christ for herself. Brandt told her, “If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you … I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want for you. I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
Love “keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:5
The ability to retain memories is a wonderful blessing that helps us savor the best moments of life, but those reminders can easily become toxic to our well-being when we hang onto offenses that need to be released through the act of forgiveness. But this necessary step in dealing with hurt caused by others doesn’t come naturally or easily. In fact, our normal tendency is to do exactly the opposite of what 1 Corinthians 13:5 instructs us to do. Rather than heed the scriptural command, we maintain and update mental lists of others’ wrongdoings and replay offences again and again, reminding ourselves as to why we have the “right” to be angry.
But the Apostle Paul speaks to that when he says that those who know Jesus are to “keep no record of wrongs.” The operative word in that command is “no.” He doesn’t list any exceptions or clauses. There isn’t an asterisk or a footnote that details exemptions or oversights. It doesn’t even say it’s OK to wait until the offender says “I’m sorry.” The words of scripture are clear… we don’t ever have any right to withhold forgiveness.
Now I know you’re already thinking, “Yeah, I saw that video and I hear what you are saying, but you don’t know my situation. You don’t know what happened when I was a child… You don’t know what happened to my relative… You don’t know what my spouse did… You haven’t met my co-worker who continues to hurt me every day… If you knew what happened in my case, you’d realize there’s just no way I can forgive!” And you’re right. Rationally speaking, you could probably lay out a great case for why unforgiveness is justifiable in your case. But that’s why we can’t rely on feelings to be the arbitrator of mercy.
Ephesians 4:32 reveals the only way we can ever truly deliver a grace-filled response to injustice. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” For believers, true forgiveness and mercy toward others must be rooted in understanding the enormity of our offenses against a holy God and how we have been completely forgiven by Him. (No exceptions there either!)
So, the capacity to truly forgive isn’t something we need to work to create inside us, passing it on when we feel like it. Instead, forgiveness is a deliberate action (often in spite of powerful feelings) that is born from the knowledge that we ourselves have received a full pardon from Holy God. Once we understand all that we’ve been forgiven, our grateful response should be to pass that mercy on to others, remembering that no matter what someone has done to us (by accident and/or on purpose), it pales in comparison to what has been forgiven of us by Christ. It’s in the shadow of His cross that we release our “right” to be unforgiving, tear up our record of wrongs, and choose to extend mercy, grace and forgiveness to all.