“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)
After working an overtime shift on September 26, 2018, a 30-year-old Dallas Police Officer of four years entered her apartment building proceeding to what she believed was her residence. When the tenant put her key into the lock that night, she noticed the door seem to be ajar revealing a mostly darkened apartment. When she entered, she encountered a man there who she assumed to be an intruder. When he failed to obey her verbal commands, she used her service weapon to deliver a fatal shot to a 26-year-old male financial accountant who had simply been watching TV and eating ice cream in his own home. The officer made a series of mistakes including parking her vehicle on the wrong floor after her long shift and then erroneously going into the wrong apartment, believing it was her own located exactly one floor below. As a result of her unclear thinking, a little over one year later on October 2, 2019 the former police officer was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison for the killing of an innocent man.
The sentence appeared to initially disappoint the family of the victim who broke down in tears, shaking their heads as if in disbelief of the jury’s decision. But then, in an extraordinary turn of events, the victim’s 18-year-old brother took the witness stand demonstrating to the world that there was unfinished business that needed attention. He spoke to the defendant, saying, “I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you.” He continued: “I love you just like anyone else and I’m not going to hope you rot and die. I personally want the best for you. I wasn’t going to say this in front of my family, I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I know that’s exactly what (my brother) would want for you. Give your life to Christ. I think giving your life to Christ is the best thing he would want for you.” He then asked the judge if he could give the defendant a hug, a request the judge granted. Moments later, the judge also offered a hug, words of hope, and a Bible. The Dallas District Attorney described the scene as “an amazing act of healing and forgiveness that’s rare in today’s society.”
Jesus sets the ultimate example of forgiveness that we should follow. He illustrated His expectation in “The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant” (Matthew 18:21-35), implying that it is difficult to understand the depth of forgiveness on our behalf if we are holding others accountable for their debts owed to us. Jesus was extremely kind and merciful in the way that he forgave those who sinned against others. He told the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5), and when a sinful woman bathed His feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). When a woman caught in adultery was brought before Him, He said, “I do not condemn you” (John 8:11); and as Jesus hung on the cross – He told the repentant criminal, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Even more compelling is the way that Jesus forgave those who sinned against him directly. After the Roman soldiers had scourged and nailed him, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). For Jesus, forgiveness was not an automatic. Instead, it was intentional . . . a conscious choice.
The ability to forgive doesn’t come naturally. Forgiveness is often very difficult to do, especially when the offender doesn’t seem to care or express any sense of remorse. When someone has wronged us, we frequently want to retaliate, hold a grudge, or hate them forever. The Apostle Paul says that we must “make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13). If you are ever in a situation and find it difficult to forgive, consider the gift of God’s grace. To not offer the same gift to another would be like saying you are better than God. When we refuse to forgive another, they’re not the one who suffers the most. We are! By pardoning others – we’re able to release the bitterness, resentment and anger that we tend to harbor. Whether the receiver accepts our forgiveness or not doesn’t matter; we do it because it’s what Jesus would have us do. Bottom line – grace cannot be explained; it can only be experienced. That experience is a true example of God’s grace in action . . . otherwise, it’s simply unfinished business.
REFLECTION: Are you presently struggling with an issue of forgiveness? Can you focus on it as a gift of letting go? How might you provide counsel someone who says, “I can forgive them, but I won’t forget.”