The Forgiveness of a Murderer
(Please listen to Ryan’s story by clicking the white play button at the top of this post. You can read the transcript of the story below.)
My youngest brother was born–he was the fourth child. He was born when I was 10 years old. And so it was cool to be a part of, of raising him. I always felt a little bit more like a guardian to him than a brother. And so we had a close bond in that way. My dad passed away in December 2011. My brother had been taking care of him during the day. And when the cancer got really bad, my brother had actually already dropped out of high school and was going to an alternative school. So he was spending a lot of time with my dad and I could tell that it was weighing on him.
Not too long after my dad passed away, my brother decided that he wanted to travel. He met some people that were like backpackers. They just would hop on trains and ride it as far as they could. Wherever they landed, they would panhandle or work odd jobs, get a little bit of money together, and then move on to the next place. I remember just feeling like, Ah, you know, like, I wish my brother would just come back home. But at the same time, I had this sense of like, he needs to process through some of this.
I was 30 when my dad passed away. It weighed on me and so I imagine that from 18 to 20, when my brother was there a lot with my dad, that it really, that–I had this sense that it was too much for him and that, yeah, that he just needed to process through some of this stuff. During that time while he was traveling, he went mostly to the west coast. He spent time in Washington, in Oregon and Montana, and every now and then we would, we would chat. There was a time when this couple was driving down the interstate in Montana. And they said the Holy Spirit told them to stop their car. As they stopped and pulled their car over to the shoulder, they saw my brother in a ditch. They rushed him to a hospital and nursed him back to health. I can remember thinking like, Okay, he’s, he’s, he’s done his traveling thing. He’s processed he, he was nearly killed. Surely he’s ready to come home. And he did come home for a while. But not too long after that he, he left again.
I don’t know, maybe there was just something about the freedom of, of that lifestyle that he enjoyed. But I can remember — it was like a Saturday morning and we were in Thailand. Our youngest daughter, Kiva, had just been born two weeks before that so we were all just kind of laying around. And I got a FaceTime call from my mom, and she was crying. And so I knew, I knew something was wrong. My mom’s the type of lady that will compose herself before, you know, typically, even if something’s bothering her, and she just couldn’t compose herself and, and she said, “Your brother’s been killed.” This guy had sent her a text message from my brother’s phone that said, ‘I’m so sorry for what I’ve done. Your son was full of light. He was like an angel on this earth. I know you’ll never forgive me. I’ll never forgive myself. I’m so sorry.’ is basically what he said. So she immediately alerted the authorities and, and two days later, they found him dead in a hotel room. He’d been stabbed multiple, multiple times.
Few days later, I was on a plane to America with my two-year-old son, on my way to a funeral. That was a whirlwind of emotion. When I got back to Thailand, I can remember just being really, really angry. I would get really angry at my son for little things. I would get angry at my wife and immediately after, I would think like, I don’t know why I got so angry. I’m so sorry. You know, and I would apologize and finally my wife said, “I think, I think you should see a counselor. Talk with someone about what you’re, what you’re going through after losing your brother.” And so I did, and it was like a sozo type thing. And the thing that that I took away from it, that the Holy Spirit spoke to me was that “This isn’t your fault. And rather than any opportunities that you may have missed, I’m so glad, I’m so proud of you for the opportunities that you took with him. I know that you loved him.” When I heard that, man, something broke in me and I felt free from the guilt that I felt.
Not too long after that, we were notified that the trial was actually going to be taking place. And it was a fairly quick trial. And a few days later, this detective from California, from LA, said that the guy had been convicted of murder. “They’ll be sentencing him tomorrow. Is there anything that you would like to be read in court? Anything that you submit, will be read in front of everyone present, including the defendant.” So immediately I started writing this letter. And this is what I said:
“Hello sir, my name is Ryan Brewer. I’m Robbie’s eldest brother. First off, I want you to know that from the deepest place in my heart, a place that houses my truest emotions, I forgive you. I wish you no ill will. And in fact, I don’t hope you pay for the wrongs that you’ve done. I know that there is a system in place and that chances are you will have a long journey ahead of you. But I honestly wish you didn’t have to travel that road. You see, I once was a murderer.
In Matthew 5 Jesus mentions the age old commandment ‘You shall not murder’ but then He raises the stakes. He says, “If you ever hate someone, you are guilty of the same sin.” My hate was not limited to those of a different race, cultural background or political leaning. I hated anyone and everyone who didn’t love me. I was so consumed with myself, that anyone who I saw as a threat to my position, or an obstacle to advancement in my world, became the victim of my venomous hate. Sometimes it spewed out in the way that I spoke, sometimes through physical altercations, but it was always there like a dark cloud that hovered over me. It kept me in chains. It kept me blinded, and kept me from being the real me that God had created me to be.
I’d always heard that Jesus had to die, because I was a sinner, but no one ever told me the truth. I wasn’t just a sinner in need of saving; I was a son who needed to be redeemed and rescued. That reality changed my life.
Then in a moment of clarity, all of that changed as I called out to Jesus. His love gushed into my broken heart and immediately began healing it. He began to show me who I was in Him; who I was to Him. I’d always heard that Jesus had to die, because I was a sinner, but no one ever told me the truth. He spent his blood to buy back my created value. I wasn’t just a sinner in need of saving; I was a son who needed to be redeemed and rescued. That reality changed my life. I’m no longer capable of hating anyone. In fact, the opposite is true. I can’t help but love people.
Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is. His response was, “to love God with your whole heart, mind, and strength.” Then He went on to say that, “to love our neighbor as much as we love our own lives, is the second greatest.” When someone asked Him who our neighbor is, He told a story about a man who saved the life of a man who was dying, and nursed him back to life, even though popular opinion was that they were enemies. The popular opinion out there is that you and I should be enemies. But I want you to know that I love you. I know that the person God created you to be would never have committed those things, and that you were being manipulated by the same hate that used to drive my own life. My desire is not that you would pay for what you have done, but that you would experience the same clemency that I’ve embraced with my whole being–that even though I was guilty of murder in my own heart, I have been declared innocent, just as if it had never happen. That type of grace can only be found in Jesus. But it is there. And if you haven’t found it, it’s waiting for you.
Though you stand before a judge and mediator today, I want you to know that there is only one mediator between God and man, and that is the man, Christ Jesus. He’s already paid the price for your mistakes and He wants to set you free from any and all guilt and shame that you may have. Though you may have been condemned by this court, you can be declared eternally righteous in Christ Jesus. And though you may have to spend time in a cell, there is a freedom that is found in Christ that cannot be taken away by a man on this earth. You are a prisoner of sin when you lived life on the outside, but you can find true freedom inside of a room that locks from the outside. I want you to know that you have not been disqualified from being the man that God created you to be. God has amazing plans for your life. Just do what I did 10 years ago. Cry out to Him and allow His love to fill your heart. Then find other men who loves Jesus and delve into His Word with them. Let the words on those pages be life to your soul and let them transform you as they renew your mind. I’m praying for you, and I’m hoping for the best for you. God bless you.” Ryan Brewer
It messed up my view of justice, and how God sees justice, like justice is for things to be made right. And so often we’re thinking of, like the thing that was done needs to be undone or recompensed for. But what God is saying is like, these people need to be made right with Me. They need to come back into right standing with Me, which is righteousness, which can only be found in embracing forgiveness and embracing Jesus. So it was an honor to be able part of Kingdom justice.