HOUSES OF WORSHIP
An Oasis of Forgiveness in a Desert of Contempt
So, we watch with disbelief as the brother of Botham Jean asks the judge who is about to pronounce sentence on Amber Guyger, who shot and killed Botham’s brother, if he can walk down from the witness stand and hug Amber in order to show her that he forgives her. The judge nods her head, and the African-American man walks over and puts his arms around a weeping white woman who shot his brother, thinking him to be an intruder in her apartment when, in fact, she was on the wrong floor and walked into Botham’s apartment.
In the midst of the mistrust of white police officers by black people, the scene is quite unbelievable. The next day after the sentencing, Botham’s father is interviewed on CNN and asked, “How can your son do what he did? What made him do this?”
The father simply says, “That is the way he was brought up. It is what Christ would want.”
“Do you forgive her,” asks the interviewer? “Yes, and I would have done the same thing if I was there.” The interviewer is almost lost for words.
It seems we are not wired for forgiveness. Our DNA comes from a depository that knows we must protect and defend ourselves from those who would do us harm. Forgiveness feels like weakness, so we drink what would seem to be the sweet nectar of revenge, only to find out that it is poison.
Like the man who was informed that he had contracted rabies, and the doctor told him that he had waited too late to come in and that he would die. The man immediately grabbed a piece of paper and started writing what the doctor assumed was his last wishes or will. “It is good that you are making preparations,” said the Doctor.
“Oh, I am not doing that. I am making a list of the people I am going to bite before I die.”
How long is our list? An Amish grandfather was asked after a deranged man had walked in a school and killed five children how and why the Amish people could forgive the man and even help pay for his funeral. His response was, “The acid of bitterness eats away at its container.”
The struggle to forgive means that we have to give up all hope of creating a different past. It was Gandhi who said, “If we live by an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, the whole world will be toothless and blind.”
A Native American legend says that there are two wolves that fight within each person. One wolf is full of revenge, anger, and fear. The other wolf is full of love, mercy, and grace. The wolf that wins the fight is the wolf we feed.
Listening to the political and civil rhetoric of late, one is left wondering which wolf we are feeding. Labeling people creates more fear and mistrust. We seem to be talking as if we are list makers looking for people to bite to assure that we are safe and protected.
Gandhi was right but before him there was another wisdom teacher who said that if we do not struggle to forgive, then we will not be forgiven by the one he called “father.”
It seems that the act of forgiveness, while seeming to be unnatural and even weak, is more for the one forgiving than the one forgiven. What we think to be nectar is really acid. We become weighed down with the need to get even and, in so doing, feed a wolf that gnaws at our own soul.
Forgiveness is not easy because it means remembering the wrong that was done. It is not condoning what was done nor does it mean that reconciliation might happen. The root meaning of the word in the Bible comes from words that mean “loose, lift up, and send away.”
Amber Guyger will spend ten years in prison. That is justice. The brother of the man she killed will be free from a prison of the need to hate and get even. He knew which wolf to feed.
Dr. Jody Seymour
Jody Seymour retired after serving Davidson United Methodist Church as Senior Pastor for 13 years and being a pastor for forty-six years in the Western North Carolina Conference. He is the author of six books and resides just outside of Davidson with his wife, Betsy.