The media coverage today of Nelson Mandela’s death has got me thinking about forgiveness. It is truly awe-inspiring and humbling to think that a man can go from being imprisoned by a brutal system because of his skin colour, and go on to shake hands with and forgive the architects of that very system, which took nearly 30 years of his life.
I’ve been thinking about forgiveness recently because I am struggling to let go of a difficult time in my past. We cling on to past bitterness, partly because forgiving means admitting our own guilt as well as forgiving ourselves for messing up. Both types of forgiveness can sometimes seem unattainable when the pain is overwhelming. Anger and the thirst for vengeance have a toxic energy and heat that can fuel us with self-righteous indignation. It’s comforting, in its way, but ultimately corrosive if left unchecked.
The Christian message of forgiveness, rather than vengeance, can be such a challenge. Why turn the other cheek when you can hit back and feel better, in the short team, at least? Those of no faith can see this ‘cheek turning’ as at best weak, and at worst, plain stupid. Why wouldn’t you defend yourself if you are under attack? Nelson Mandela showed how much more positively we can live if we can truly find a way to put the past behind us.
Think of God’s promise that he loves us, just as we are. We are all imperfect versions of that perfect love. As Mandela put it, “I am a saint if it means being a sinner who keeps trying”. If only we can let God into our hearts, minds and lives, He stretches out our horizons to reveal unfathomable possibilities and positive ways forward that are impossible if we are shackled to past pains.
Writing this, I was reminded of the line in Matthew 12, verse 15 onwards, about ‘A bruised reed/He will not break’. Here’s the rest of that passage, that talks of Jesus being a light to the nation who brings forth justice through peaceful means. How apt to read this while remembering the life of such a great man.
“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold;
My chosen one in whom My soul delights.
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry out or raise His voice,
Nor make His voice heard in the street.
“A bruised reed
He will not break
And a dimly burning wick
He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not be disheartened or crushed
Until He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”
Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it And spirit to those who walk in it, “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.”