One evening in September 2018 a young accountant was watching TV when an off-duty police officer entered his flat and shot him dead. She had mistaken his flat for hers on the floor below and thought he was a burglar. 

Botham Jean was one of seventeen unarmed black men shot by US police in 2018 and his death sparked protests from residents angry about racism and a lack of accountability within the police. Amber Guyger was originally charged with manslaughter but eventually convicted of murder. Many people felt that her ten-year prison sentence was too lenient and it was clear that issues surrounding police attitudes to black men and firearms use still needed to be addressed. It is easy to understand why Jean’s family and friends would feel resentment and anger towards the police.

A few minutes after the sentence was handed out, Botham Jean’s brother Brandt told Amber Guyger that he forgave her. In a moving speech he said, “I love you just like anyone else… I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want, and the best would be, give your life to Christ.”

Then, with the judge’s permission, he walked nervously across the room to hug her.

A failure to forgive can result in festering resentment; a deep abiding anger that can lead to physical symptoms related to stress, anxiety and depression. If resentment turns to hatred or violence, it can have a devastating impact on individuals and communities, potentially lasting for generations. Failure to forgive can indeed be a form of self-torture that is ultimately more damaging for those who harbour grudges than for those with whom they are angry.

On the other hand, research has shown that learning to forgive improves mental and physical health, makes people more hopeful for their future and leads them to grow in kindness, respect, generosity and love towards others.

It would probably have been easier for Brandt Jean to hold on to his anger with Amber Guyger for killing his brother. Instead, he recognised her as a child of God in need of healing and forgiveness. She left the courtroom clutching the judge’s gift to her of a Bible and with advice from the judge to start with John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” 

May she learn to forgive herself and grow in kindness, respect, generosity and love. And may we do the same. In Jesus’ name.

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