Radical Forgiveness and Love

It was only a little over a day ago when I saw the video being shared from ABC News of Botham Jean’s brother forgiving his brother’s killer (Amber Guyger). If you’re unfamiliar with the story, I won’t try to retell it. You can look at the news article that I have linked below; as someone not trained in journalism, I would rather not accidentally include or exclude certain details. What I will say is this: it was a terrible incident that led to outrage in various communities.

However, I don’t want to comment on the legal, moral, or racial issues surrounding this story. I want to focus on that video I mentioned before. In that video, a brave young man shared his heart and soul in front of a courtroom of grieving people including his own family and to an international audience. Looking on his brother’s killer, Brandt Jean admitted that he didn’t want Guyger to go to jail. He wants what’s best for, and he forgives her and loves her. He wants the same thing for her that he says his brother Botham would have wanted; he wants her to accept Christ. After repeating this, he leaves the stand to hug Guyger with audible tears being shed throughout the courtroom.

If you watch that video, you will see what I can only describe as radical forgiveness and love. That cannot have been easy for him. I cannot imagine being in his place and being able to say those words. I can hardly watch it without tearing up. Looking at comments on social media, it becomes clear that some people think that she doesn’t deserve it. Many people think that he shouldn’t have done this. But I don’t think for a second they’ll change his mind. When someone does something so astounding, it’s hard for the world to understand. When someone shows love and forgiveness to the least deserving person in their life, the world may call them crazy or misguided, but God calls them blessed. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

This act was a fulfillment of the ministry done for us and given to us by God: the ministry of reconciliation. Paul writes:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 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. 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. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:16-21; emphasis mine).

I honestly cannot get that young man’s act of love out of my head. It convicts me. Could I do the same? It confuses me. Is this really what love is? It calls me. Go and do likewise. I cannot watch that video and not see Jesus. Following in his footsteps, the judge went to Guyger before she was taken away after her sentencing. She went to her and gave her, what was reported to be, her personal Bible. She read her John 3:16, and she told her to start by reading the gospel according to John. She told her that God loves her and has a plan for her. She, like Botham Jean’s brother, embraced her. What another beautiful act of Jesus-love. We cannot forget that radical forgiveness and love are the means by which God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

For the news story, http://abcn.ws/2puWKDl.


A Place to be Loved

I have been reflecting on the church a lot recently. I thought about the church quite a bit before, but for the past eight months, I have really thought deeply about the theological underpinnings of the church and its purpose in Christian life. It has framed the Scripture that I’ve read, and it has occupied my vacant hours. I cannot stop thinking about it: the church.

Church Isn’t Perfect

Many people have bad experiences with the church. I don’t want to discredit those. Sadly, churches as institutions can become prone to institutionalizing sin with drastic, painful, and sometimes truly evil consequences. Other people do not have such extremely negative experiences of church; in fact, they have no “extreme” experiences of church whether good or bad. They have neutral or apathetic feelings about the church. They would rather go to a place where people are just a little friendlier or nicer, where the music is just a little bit better, and the preaching is a little more polished. Or they would rather sit at home avoiding the mediocrity of their local church.

Despite some bad experiences and some apathy-enducing experiences, I remain quite hopeful—some might even say unrealistically optimistic. I rest in God’s gracious decision to give us the church and his desire that we should be a part of it. So what’s the church?

What Is Church?

Without getting too deep into any explanation of how I understand church, I’ll just say that the Greek ecclesia is better translated “gathering” or “assembly” than “church”. Because the term assembly makes me think of grade school assemblies, I opt for the former definition/translation. Simply put, I see the church as the occurrence of Jesus-people being gathered together for any of a number of Christian practices (even practices as simple as fellowship). Again, I don’t want to get into debates about the “true church”. I’ll say simply that I think my idea of church is at least partly, if not wholly, consistent with Calvin’s idea of the true church.

Therefore, the church is Jesus-people gathered. This brings me to the title of this blog, “a place to be loved.” Perhaps a better title for my intention is “a people to be loved by.” Jesus commands his followers to love each other like he loved them, and he said that everyone will know them as his followers by the love they have for each other (John 13:34-35). This theme is apparent in John’s first letter, and it is a major theme in Paul’s letters. The whole New Testament (really the whole Bible) is enamored with the claim that God is love and that we are to be people filled with love and practicing love to everyone! Thus I think the church is a people to be loved by, and when your church meets in a specific building or house or park, that space becomes a sacred place to be loved.

What Is Love?

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to say what I think about love. I won’t be as bold to say that there is a definition of love in Scripture, but there are plenty of examples.

Love is not just a feeling. Love is active; you might even say love is an activity. In describing love, Paul writes:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

That may be one of the most beautiful paragraphs ever written. It is written in the context of the church. It is written to bring unity to the Corinthian gathering and focus them on the love that should exist at the foundation of their church. Paul does not tell them how love makes them feel gushy or happy or joyful, but he describes it in terms of actions. Love is completely and utterly active; hence, when Jesus tells us to love God, we are to do it by four different acts only one of which could be construed as the act of having an emotion. He also tells us to love our neighbor as we want to be loved. I think very, very few people want to be loved by people who have a passive emotion that is never related to them. They want to be loved by people who make it apparent with the action of love!

A Place to be Loved; or, A People to be Loved by

As James K.A. Smith observes in his book You Are What You Love, humans are at their core loving creatures. We will find something or someone to love whether it is right or not. We also need to be loved by someone else. God loves us, and he often chooses to use his people to show us this love. The gathering of Jesus-people is supposed to be a hotbed for experiencing God’s love. If you don’t feel God’s love in your local gathering, have you considered when the last time you took the opportunity to love the people around you? Start with the man/woman in the mirror. Love one another.

Encounters of Kindness

I grew up like many others reading picture books that wanted to teach us about kindness. I’ve even heard some in the church bemoan these books because it teaches people to be moral without teaching them about Jesus (the ultimate exemplar of virtue/morality), and it teaches them to care more about kindness than conviction. I’m less concerned about those particular issues when it comes to children’s books in public schools and doctors’ waiting rooms. However, I find it funny that with all these books and lessons that I have grown up with how unkind people can still be. It only takes a few minutes scrolling through social media or flipping through channels on television to learn that lesson. But despite this lack of kindness, there is actually so much around us. In this post, I want to share a point made to me about kindness and a couple experiences that I have recently had.

1. Can you do anything for Christ in an un-Christ-like way?

Without much information and perhaps as an act of faith, I trusted the advice of two people I barely knew (I met one in London and the other in Cambridge), and I reached out to a stranger living in St. Andrews. He welcomed me to his home, shared a pot of tea with me, invited me to stay for dinner with his family, and gave me some great advice and encouragement. I don’t want to rush to judgement, but he was possibly one of the wisest people that I have ever met.

While I met with him, he emphasized kindness as an important virtue for Christians to have. (This was unsurprising because of how well he was treating me.) He had just returned to town after teaching a week-long ethics course at a seminary. There he posed this question to his students, “Can you do anything for Christ in an un-Christ-like way?” It’s a question that hits you like a ton of bricks as you realize how un-Christ-like you have been in many situations where you once felt justified. It’s a question that demands only one answer, “No!” The ends do not justify the means. Jesus approached people with love—even his enemies. We are without excuse.

This question has been on my mind ever since.

2. A Cup of Tea, a Kind Concern, and the Power of Love

With this question deeply on my mind, I got sick. It was a week or so after that meeting (this last Saturday), and I woke-up with a sore throat. I was distracted all day with a day trip to Loch Tay, but that evening it returned. Sunday was rough again. Monday was dreadful. I barely made it through class. Tuesday was better, but when I arrived for class in the afternoon, one of the other students had brought me a green tea with ginger and honey from the shop he was studying in before class. (He commented that the person making the drink really wanted to add whisky to it.) It was one thing that he remembered that I wasn’t feeling well; it showed how thoughtful he was. It was an entirely other thing that he was also kind enough to do something for me. He didn’t just pray, which would have been enough, but he went beyond what was hoped, expected, or encouraged of him.

I have also had an instructor take special care to help me intellectually and pastorally with some of the content covered in class. He has taken the time to meet with me to discuss the content covered, and he has stayed after class and during breaks to ask me about the questions that I brought-up during the class time. He has not only been kind enough to meet with me, but he has also taken the initiative to reach out to me. Again, it’s been a time of seeing people be intentionally kind and loving to me.

I can’t think of anything greater, or more meaningful, than experiencing God’s love, and it can be difficult sometimes to have those experiences. But God has chosen to work through the church, through a community of Jesus-people. When we join in fellowship and discipleship with the Jesus-people around us, we can quickly and joyfully find the love of God waiting for us.