The sudden death of retired NBA player Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash last Sunday again raised, by way of others’ public comments, a question about redemption, like that question raised in connection with Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 U.S. Supreme Court confirmation.
In this case, The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez and CNN’s Nathan McDermott reminded the public that Bryant once faced a rape charge, and actress Evan Rachel Wood and documentary filmmaker Abigail Disney even called Bryant “a rapist.”
To be sure, Bryant was not convicted of rape, as his teenage accuser decided not to testify at his criminal trial. Yet, although her civil lawsuit was settled out of court, in court Bryant said that, while he thought that their 2003 sexual encounter was consensual, he had come to understand that she felt that it was not consensual.
At least one of the critics of mentioning the old rape allegation in connection with Bryant’s recent death mentioned Bryant’s good deeds and asked whether people could redeem themselves or were forever to be judged by their past actions. Of course, that person did not seem to realize that he or she also wanted Bryant to be judged by his past actions, just different, more positive, past actions.
While accounts of human unrighteousness or righteousness before other people generally weigh the bad against the good, that is not how human righteousness before God works. On the day of our deaths or when Jesus comes a final time in glory, whichever comes first, God will judge us either as unrighteous, on the basis of our evil works and unbelief, or as righteous, on the basis of our good works that give evidence of and flow from our saving faith in Jesus, Who died on the cross for us (Matthew 25:31-32; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
Bryant reportedly was a practicing Roman Catholic who had received the Eucharist as recently as the morning of his death. He may have ignored his church’s teaching about salvation by works and believed the Bible’s teaching about salvation by grace alone (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8-10), but only God knows for sure.
We all have that same opportunity for redemption before God. In this life, repentant believers live as saints and sinners, greater than their worst deed and less than their best deed, until we experience first-hand for eternity God’s perfect forgiving and forgetting of our sin (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17).
The Rev. Dr. Jayson S. Galler is Pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.pilgrimlc.org.