In 2008, my 67 year old aunt was beaten to death by a 17 year old youth, shortly after she returned home from Sunday worship. He was later sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
I have learned the hard way that hot takes don’t work for me. I’m usually wrong if I respond from the gut in the first hours after something big has come to light. The Bible, of course, teaches that hot takes aren’t wise. Let us be swift to hear and slow to speak, James teaches. I memorized that verse 30 or so years ago, knowing I had a problem speaking before I had adequately pondered and prayed. I have been pondering and praying since the incredible video was released of Brandt Jean forgiving and hugging Amber Guyger after she was sentenced for his brother’s murder. I ponder and pray especially because I find it hard to separate his experience from my own family’s experience. In many ways, the murder of our loved one is incredibly different than the murder of his brother. And in other ways, they are stunningly similar.
I remember getting the call in Seattle that my aunt had been murdered. My sister asked me several times if I understood what she was saying. But it’s such stunning news, how can you understand? I didn’t fall into hysterics. My family is not really the hysterical type. My brain didn’t go on overload. Instead, it emptied, the cause of her death too difficult to contemplate.
Over time, I did have to contemplate it. And to this day, I remain stunned at the enormity of the loss for my cousins. A life is a priceless treasure. Priceless, I say!
A mother is a priceless treasure. And my aunt was such a good one. A grandmother is a priceless treasure, and the loss to her grandchildren is a sucker punch to the gut as well. The black hole that swallows up joy at family gatherings—Thanksgivings, Christmases, and birthdays—is nauseating. The pain my cousins and dad have had to carry is too much to contemplate, and the ache of the unfairness of the loss, the utter senselessness of the loss, never goes away.
I do not know what forgiveness has been offered in our family’s situation. I can not forgive someone for something they stole from my loved ones. It is up to my loved ones to come to terms with that, and I can not speak for them. But having witnessed such agonizing loss among my family, I get why Brandt Jean’s response in the courtroom to the one who had ruined his family in such a senseless way was so stunning.
What a mistake to elevate Brandt’s forgiveness without understanding the cost of the act he forgave. Dorena Williamson reminds us about cheap grace in her helpful piece at Christianity Today for those who don’t understand the context for the anger that erupted after his act of forgiveness went viral.
Brandt’s forgiveness means nothing except when contrasted with the agony of the loss he unjustly endured. Before he offered his forgiveness, he said, “I don’t want to say twice or for the hundredth time, what you’ve, or how much you’ve taken from us. I think you know that.” And that is the key that makes his offer of forgiveness a reflection of God’s grace to us, a testimony that reflected well on his brother’s own belief in Christ.
Such forgiveness would be cheap if the one accused had not come to understand the horror of what she had done. But Brandt felt that she did understand, that she had come to understand what she had cost his family, a cost impossible to repay. If, as her earlier texts seemed to show, she had previously devalued black lives, she now understood the infinite value of the life she had haphazardly taken. And it is only in this contrast that true gospel grace can move forward.
“I forgive you” and “It’s OK” do not mean the same thing.JP Sibley
So, gospel-believing friend, understand the devastating cost of murder. Sit in the anguish of a life devalued and dehumanized this way, its precious essence thrown away like trash. Understand the gut wrenching pain for those left behind. Understand how it alters and skews every day that comes after, every holiday that follows, and in light of that agony, celebrate Brant’s forgiveness. I marvel at Brandt’s forgiveness BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT MURDER COSTS. And because I understand the cost, I see the gospel reflected in this act.
No cheap grace here.