On October 2, 2019, the entire nation was shown what it means to let one’s light shine for Christ in what was the clearest and most powerful way I’ve ever seen in my adult life. Many are aware of the tragic story of Botham Jean, a citizen of God’s kingdom and member of the body of Christ who lived in Dallas and was a Harding graduate. In September of 2019 Botham was shot to death by Amber Guyger, an off-duty police officer who mistakenly went to Botham’s apartment in the apartment complex in which they both lived. Thinking it was her own and seeing Botham in the darkness sitting in his recliner eating a bowl of ice cream, she pulled her weapon and killed him. She was found guilty of murdering him and sentenced to ten years in prison. Days before her sentencing, I read of how she said she wished that she was the one who had been killed and how she hates herself every single day.
During her sentencing on October 2, Botham Jean’s brother, Brandt Jean, was allowed to take the stand and make a statement to her. What he said to her is something I’ve been continually thinking about ever since I first heard it late that night on YouTube:
“I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things you may have done in the past…If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you and I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you…I love you just like anyone else, and I’m not gonna say that I hope you rot and die just like my brother did but I personally want the best for you…I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do and the best would be to give your life to Christ…Giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do. Again, I love you, and I don’t wish anything bad on you…Can I give her a hug, please? Please?”
The judge gave her permission and Brandt and the woman who killed his brother embraced for at least half a minute right there in the courtroom. It’s an image which has yet to fail to come to my mind every day since I first saw it.
Watching that video of him saying those words to his brother’s murderer, I realized that this young man of 18 years of age has taught me something very, very important about Christianity. He has shown me exactly what it means to be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). All of us have read Jesus’ command to forgive those who repent, even if they sin against us seven times in a day (Lk. 17:3-4). How many of us have chosen not to even attempt to obey our Savior’s words over petty, trivial wrongs and slights? Yet this young man did exactly what Christ told him to do with someone who had committed against him and his family a horrific wrong the likes of which few of us will ever experience. Just as Abel still speaks through his example of obedient faith, Brandt’s example of humble love shown towards “the least of these” will likewise speak to all willing to listen for quite a long time. For that I am thankful.
The light shone by Brandt is also still shown by his brother even after his death. Botham’s influence for good is still seen in the words of his brother as he told Amber Guyger that the reason he wants “the best” for her, “the best” being “to give your life to Christ, is “because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do.” His impact is still seen in the decision reached by the jury when they sentenced Guyger to ten years in prison rather than the 28 years asked for by the prosecution, a decision which, according to the Washington Post, “was influenced by what they believed (Botham) Jean would have wanted…” Both of these brothers — one passed on and one still with us, both of them my brothers in Christ — have shown me the magnitude of the power of a positive Christian influence. It is a lesson I hope not to soon forget.
Amber Guyger has received justice. Because of what she did to Botham Jean, she has lost her career and her freedom. A former police officer now in prison, her life will hang by a thread every single day of her sentence as she is surrounded by fellow convicts who have no love for police officers in general and are very aware of what she has done. A good day for her will likely be a day in which she is hit in the face only once. She will likely be assaulted many times and possibly even killed by fellow inmates before her time is served. If she survives and is released either on parole or with all of her sentence realized, she will attempt to “rebuild a life post-release,” as explained by a juror who gave the reasons for their vote for ten years in jail. Even so, it will forever be a life nothing close to what she had previously enjoyed. Whatever job she will be able to get will likely pay far less than her income as a police officer. Her living quarters will likely also be far below what she had lived in before. Being an ex-convict, fewer doors of opportunity and fairness will likely be given to her. So yes, she has received justice. It is good that she has received justice. Because of the influence of Botham and the Christian love and godly grace shown by his brother Brandt, she has also received mercy and forgiveness from a surprising source. For that I am filled with joy and awe.
The apostle told the Ephesian saints that he prayed that God would give them knowledge of Jesus (Eph. 1:15-17). He prayed that their heart would be “enlightened,” that they would know “what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (v. 18). He prayed that they would know “what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe…the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead…” (vs. 19-20). In other words, more specifically in the words of Brandt Jean, he wanted “the best” for them, that they would “give (their) life to Christ.” God inspired Paul to express a desire for us which is the exact same thing that Brandt wants for the woman who took his brother away from him. He wants her to receive mercy, forgiveness, and grace…not only from him, but for all eternity from God Himself. A Christian like his brother whom she murdered, he wants his brother’s killer to become a Christian too. He wants her to experience the power of God’s love and grace and walk the streets of heaven with him and Botham.
A greater example of what it means to be like Jesus, we will likely not soon see again…unless we choose to “go and do likewise.”