The murder trial of Amber Guyger for the death of Botham Jean made a lot of headlines recently. Amber, a white police officer, was found guilty for killing Botham Jean, an unarmed black man playing video games in his apartment. At the sentencing phase of the trial, the brother of the victim took the witness stand to testify. In a moment that shocked the world, Botham Jean’s brother offered forgiveness to Amber Guyger, told her of Jesus, and then asked for permission to give his brothers murderer a hug. All of this took place in the context in which the victims mother, also called for justice to be done.
In today’s podcast, I would like to speak to the issues of understanding justice, mercy, love, and forgiveness, and to do so in light of the murder trial of Amber Guyger. Please listen to today’s podcast where I flesh this out in greater detail than the following show notes.
Links Referenced In Today’s Podcast
- Botham Jean’s Brother’s Offer of Forgiveness Went Viral. His Mother’s Calls for Justice Should Too
- Southside Rabbi – The Scandal Of Grace
Powerful Quotes From Christianity Today Article:
“Forgiveness for us as Christians is a healing for us, but as my husband said, there are consequences. It does not mean that everything else we have suffered has to go unnoticed,” Mother Allison told the court.”
What went unnoticed? According to Botham Jean’s mother, the crime scene was contaminated by Dallas police. High-ranking officials deleted evidence. Police officers turned off body cameras and vehicle cameras.
“You saw investigations that were marred with corruption,” Mother Allison said. “While we walk as Christians, we still have a responsibility to ensure that our city does what is right.”
“…forgiveness has another hand that fights for justice. They two go together. They are both part of the gospel.”Dorena Williamson
Scripture Quotes About Justice And Mercy:
“And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”Micah 6:8 (NASB)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”Matthew 23:23 (NASB)
“…visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”Exodus 20:5-6 (NASB)
“LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear.Habakkuk 3:2 (NASB)
O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years,
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy. “
God Is Just AND Merciful
We often see justice and mercy frequently presented as concepts that are diametrically opposed to one another.
Left leaning theologians often chide more conservative theologians for atonement theories that see the cross of Jesus Christ in terms of satisfying God’s demand for justice.
Conservative theologians can sometimes see ideas around “social justice” as opposing God’s call for us to forgive one another.
However, the Bible makes it clear: Justice and mercy are both virtues of the same God.
God is both just and merciful by nature, and God practices both justice and mercy.
Unfortunately we have a penchant for false dichotomies. And just as many people have struggled to balance the tension of doctrines centered around the humanity and divinity of Christ, so too many struggle to strike a balance between justice and mercy as virtues of God.
However I believe these issues can be reconciled only when we see the cross of Jesus Christ as an expression of both God’s justice and mercy being mingled together, with such impacting not only our vertical relationship with God, but also horizontally in our relationships with each other.
What Is Justice In The Bible?
The concept of justice in the Bible is about all things being put in “right relationship” with one another, and “giving another their due.” This ultimately manifests itself with God and humanity living in a loving and harmonious relationship with one another. We were created to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. That is the right order of all creation.
However, sin has distorted this order. Sin has plunged humanity into a hostile relationship with God and neighbor. As a result of these broken relationships, actions are required in order to ultimately restore our broken down relationships, and to make all of creation whole.
This is what justice is ultimately about. It’s about undertaking the actions necessary to restore that which has been distorted and broken in a world that is no longer whole.
That’s why God cannot just forgive us of our sins apart from the atoning sacrifice of a Jesus Christ. A forgiveness without the death of Jesus as payment for sin would be cheap, and make nothing whole in our relationship to God.
And that’s why if you and I steal something, it’s not enough just to be forgiven what we’ve stolen by the offended party, but it’s also why we must make restitution for our theft. Otherwise the person we have stolen something from still is deprived of what was rightfully their property, and have not been made whole.
Likewise, justice demands the death of Jesus on the cross as the payment for our sin, just as restitution must be required from all thieves.
What Is Mercy In The Bible?
Mercy is treating others in away that they don’t deserve to be treated.
Mercy is God accepting from Jesus that which is necessary to make our relationship whole. It’s accepting His payment for your sins instead of still demanding such payment from you.
Mercy is forgiving a thief before the thief even attempts to restore what they stole, because Jesus paid the price for it all. Mercy is what makes restoration possible.
Forgiveness cannot erase injustice, but injustice cannot be erased until we start to forgive.
Jesus Forgives But Still Holds All Accountable
When dying on the cross, Jesus cried out, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34)
And because of this, forgiveness is made available to all who put their trust in Jesus Christ and come to Him, confessing their sin, and need of forgiveness.
But this forgiveness is not automatic. Sin must still be confessed. Repentance of sin is still required. Reconcilation must still be made.
Therefore, even though Jesus cried out for God to forgive those who crucified Him, Jerusalem was still judged by God in 70 A.D. because of their rejection of Christ. And, there still remains a day by which all men must give an account for their sins and be judged for those sins at the return of Christ.
Forgiveness is not automatic. And, forgiveness is not cheap. Justice and mercy must be carried out, and Jesus Christ and His cross is the ultimately expression of both. And not only does justice and mercy find expression in our vertical relationship with God, but in our horizontal relationship with eachother.
That is why Botham Jean’s brother and mother can express forgiveness in one breath, and call for justice in another. The two concepts are not opposed to one another, for both are the “two hands” of the gospel of Jesus Christ.