We live in a day when we have become jaded and critical. Our first reaction is most often to distrust and deride. We often call truth a lie and a lie the truth. That with which we disagree is fake and only that with which we agree is real. There are no longer absolutes, only what I label to be true. It is a time heralded by meanness and callous disregard expressed toward one another. Too often we look upon compassion as weakness and bullying as strength. Instead of blessing we curse. Instead of offering respect, we show contempt. Instead of offering forgiveness, we condemn. Instead of choosing to love, we choose to hate.
For a moment last week social media celebrated a few minutes of captured video when Brandt Jean extended Christ-like compassion and forgiveness to Amber Guyger, convicted of fatally shooting his older brother. Though most chose not to mention Christ as the source and the reason for his compassion, few could ignore the heartfelt sincerity of the one who had extended it.
Even Judge Tammy Kemp who adjudicated the trial, after its conclusion was moved to extend a moment of heartfelt personal compassion to the one upon whom she had just pronounced sentence.
To quote the Associated Press account of the exchange as written by Reis Thebault in The Washington Post:
"Following my own convictions, I could not refuse that woman a hug. I would not," Kemp told The Associated Press. "And I don't understand the anger. And I guess I could say if you profess religious beliefs and you are going to follow them, I would hope that they not be situational and limited to one race only."
Kemp saw a woman changed, she told the AP, someone who might seek God's forgiveness if she knew where to start, if she had a Bible of her own.
"She asked me if I thought that God could forgive her and I said, 'Yes, God can forgive you and has,' " Kemp said. "If she wanted to start with the Bible, I didn't want her to go back to the jail and to sink into doubt and self-pity and become bitter. Because she still has a lot of life ahead of her following her sentence and I would hope that she could live it purposefully."
"You can have mine," Kemp told Guyger, handing her the book. "I've got three or four more at home. This is the one I use every day."
"You haven't done so much that you can't be forgiven," the judge added, according to a reporter in the room. "You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters."
Kemp flipped to a page in the New Testament - John 3:16, a verse highlighting God's love - and said, "This is where you start." She picked that passage, she told the AP, so Guyger "could recognize that, even given the fact that she murdered someone, God still loves her."
And yet, Judge Kemp is being criticized and derided for the compassion she extended and for the truth she shared. A compassion that should serve as an example to all of us is instead labeled as inappropriate and unprofessional.
With those events still fresh in the backdrop, the well-known hymn Be Thou My Vision (lyrics below) keeps playing over and over again in my mind. The lyrics were penned by Irish poet Dallán Forgaill about 1500 years ago at the dawn of Ireland’s “golden age”.
The hymn speaks to a vision that erases the darkness that otherwise surrounds us. It is a vision that replaces our bigotry and hatred with the “best thought” of God’s truth. It brings wisdom where there has otherwise been foolishness. It brings defense and protection to the outcast and the oppressed. It brings dignity and delight to the downcast. It brings shelter to the homeless and the abandoned. It brings inheritance and treasure to the impoverished. It brings victory and joy to the downcast. The vision is a hightower – both awesome and amazing – in a place that is otherwise crumbling around us.
How can a vision do all of that? Because the vision is our Heavenly Father, our Creator and our Almighty God. He created us with the intrinsic desire and need for His God-sized vision. Nothing else can replace it. Nothing else can replace Him. And yet when we reject Him and reject His gospel, our world comes crumbling down around us. Truth becomes lie. Lie becomes truth. And our lives and our world spin out of control.
O God, be Thou our vision… Lord of our hearts…Heart of our own hearts… whate’er befall… still be our vision… O Ruler of all!
Be Thou My Vision
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one
Be Thou my battle shield, sword for my fight
Be Thou my dignity, Thou my delight
Thou my soul’s shelter, Thou my high tow’r
Raise Thou me heav’n-ward, O Pow’r of my pow’r
Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art
High King of Heaven, my victory won
May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heav'n's Sun
Heart of my own heart, whate'er befall
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all
(Middle Irish poem by Dallán Forgaill, ca. 6th century A.D. Mary Elizabeth Byrne translated the Old Irish Hymn, "Bí Thusa 'mo Shúile," into English as "Be Thou My Vision" in 1905.)