The real offence is grace

Over a month ago, a court video of Brandt Jean went viral. Jean’s brother, Botham, had been shot and killed by Amber Guyger. Guyger, an off-duty police officer, had entered Botham Jean’s apartment – claiming she believed it to be her own apartment – and shot the unarmed man, arguing that she thought he was a burglar. Guyger was subsequently found guilty of the murder of Botham Jean.

At the court hearing, Brandt Jean gave the following statement:

You only need to see some of the comments posed in response to this to see where the real offence of the gospel lies. Here are one or two examples (NB: there is some swearing in these tweets so skip these if you’re likely to be offended by it):

There are plenty of other examples if you care to look. But the point is that judgement is clearly not the offensive issue. Justice, in this case, doesn’t offend anybody. It is grace and forgiveness that are offensive. And I totally get it.

Let me tell you another story. Here is the reader’s digest, U-rated version. A few years ago we had a distinctly unpleasant time at church. A particular couple felt it was a good idea to stir up dissent and try to lead a coup. There was plenty of internal gossip and lies being peddled. At one point, people involved in the leadership of our affiliate groupings were contacted so that their names could be used against me. As it happens, they weren’t against me at all but, as they say, the lie had gone halfway round the church before the truth had got its boots on. After a protracted period, this couple left the church and took a small handful of others with them. They then decided they would plant their own church down the road. Before setting up their own place, they spent some time in another church, stirred up similar dissent, took a few more people from them, and off they went.

In my better moments, I didn’t really think about them much at all. In my less good moments, I wanted their new venture to fall flat on its face. I wanted the unpleasantness that we endured to be theirs – a taste of their own medicine. Taking as they did the main culprits they stirred up against us, who had set their faces against previous pastors too, I wanted the bitter fruit of their efforts to be those same malcontents turning on them so they would see what it’s like. I wanted them to go to great expense, and put in vast efforts, only for them to lose it all as it imploded on them. Ungodly as that may be, it is born of reality.

Bad as all that was, I got annoyed that the Lord didn’t do it. Why isn’t he judging them? Why is their insolence and insubordination permitted to stand? Why are their efforts to destroy a church that is genuinely seeking to glorify the Lord and serve his gospel – and their subsequent plant that will peddle prosperity-lite, soft-evangelicalism – not being dealt with by the Lord? He surely isn’t glorified by any of this. What is he waiting for?

But why would the Lord want to act on that? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think what went on – of itself – brought any honour to the Lord. Nor do I think the church that has been setup will bring much glory to him either. But it would be a bare-faced lie to suggest that was why I was upset. It might be why I wouldn’t encourage anybody to go there, but it wasn’t why I was angry. I wanted satisfaction. The kind of penal satisfaction that I, setting myself up as god, demand. I was angry at how I was treated and I wanted justice; divine justice.

This is what me and some of the people replying to Brandt Jean’s statement have in common. We are not offended by justice – when we’ve been wronged, that’s all we want! We are offended by grace. Whether the grace of a grieving brother holding out forgiveness to the murderer who killed his sibling or the grace of God in not wiping from the face of the earth people who have sought to destroy us. We are offended when we don’t get satisfaction.

And, dare I say, there’s a bit of that in all of us. When it comes to our own sin, we want all the grace. When it comes to the sins of others – particularly those who have sinned against me and my people – we want justice. We so quickly forget God’s grace to us and quickly want retribution. And rarely is the glory of the Lord our goal, more just our own sense of satisfaction.

As that great philosopher, Mick Jagger, once said, ‘you can’t always get what you want.’ And, truth be told, I thank God that I don’t. I thank God that he doesn’t always answer every stupid prayer I pray or desire that crosses my mind. His glory is served far better – as well he knows – when he doesn’t always give me the desires of my heart.

Interestingly, it is this perspective that helps us recognise some justice too. The Lord may not shatter their teeth in their mouths (let the reader understand) as we might like him to do to our enemies, but what he frequently does is give them over to their sinful desires, which is its own judgement. The Lord may hold us back from many of the worst excesses of our own sin but repeated rebellion against him means that he may well give us over to our own desires. And the bitter fruit of our own sinful desires being realised amount to the Lord’s judgement on us. He gives us over to what he would otherwise have kept us from and we must bear the sorry consequences.

Happily, I don’t really think about those who went out from us a few years back very much now. And I don’t really harbour any of those bitter feelings any more. I still occasionally have a pang for justice as I see it, but the judge of all the earth will do what is right in the end. And I am content with that. Better still, we can even see how the Lord was working in that situation for our personal good, the good of our church, the good of his gospel locally and for his ultimate glory. We may not always see that but, in his goodness, the Lord has been pleased to show us – even if only in part – how he was working this painful episode for our good.

But let’s not miss the point here. The offence of the gospel is not God’s judgement nor the idea of justice. The real offence rests squarely in his grace. No amount of watering down Hell, or God’s punishment of the unjust, will make up for the fact that what people really want is justice. The problem with that is if we insist on it too much, the Lord might just give it to us. And that would be bad news for us all.