Forgiveness is not easy. 1 John 1:9 says God won’t forgive us if we don’t confess our faults. Though extremely hard, especially dependant on the depth of the wrong done to us, there is a need for us to forgive others, no matter what they’ve done to us. Paul reminds us of that in Ephesians 4:32 and Psalm 66:18 also warn us of the importance of forgiving others. Jesus Christ taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Is there someone you have wronged?
Let me go straight to the point. Are you bitter because someone wronged you? Has wronged you? For illustration purposes, look at two famous “M” personalities of our time: Mandela and Mugabe. I choose these two because at the time of writing this piece for my sermon, Mandela (aka Madiba) has just passed away and the whole world is caught in disbelief and unimaginable grief. Both M’s will forever be placed side-by-side in history. Why? Because both were liberation heroes and until (even in) Mandela’s passing, both are still the focal points in their country: Mandela seen as a motivation, an unparalleled inspiration, while Mugabe, a malignancy.
Both were born in the colonial era, at a time when Caucasians (whites) literally dominated all of Africa: Mandela in 1918, Mugabe in 1924 and both attended the mission school system: Mandela (Methodist) and Mugabe (Catholic). Both went to the same university in South Africa: Fort Hare and as a result, both emerged as members of the très petite, very small African professional elite: Mandela a lawyer, Mugabe a teacher. Both were part of the struggle against the Caucasian minority rule, Mandela in South Africa, Mugabe in neighbouring Rhodesia (which later became Zimbabwe). Both were revolutionaries against colonialism and imperialism who turned to freedom fighting (Mandela, after unarmed and non-violence tactics led to massacres of innocent, unarmed Africans) to bring down Caucasian-run regimes. And yes, both endured long terms of imprisonment, though Mandela’s was 27 years, and Mugabe’s, 11 years.
Both were contemporaries but whereas Mandela built on his prison years by opening a dialogue with apartheid South Africa’s Caucasian rulers in order to defeat and overturn the oppression of the majority Black South Africans, Mugabe it appears, emerged from prison bent on retaliation, determined to overthrow the Caucasian colonial oppressors by force; of course, the dynamics both faced are not for discussion in this venue, noting that Mandela was set free in 1994 while Mugabe achieved his goal way back in the late 1970s, early 1980s. even in 1994, the tenor of world leaders (Reagan and Thatcher) was to support apartheid.
But all in all, this is what is intriguing. Once in power in the early 1980s, Mugabe’s military first fought successfully against the rival Joshua Nkomo’s nationalist Black movement, thus becoming the sole ruler. Then, he turned on the Caucasians. After the Caucasians fled, he then turned on Blacks again. (It is our hope and prayer that Zimbabwe’s economy, including the agricultural sector (which probably is now majority African owned/controlled) booms so that the Caucasians who fled will flock back).
When Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he negotiated with the country’s Caucasian leaders for four years, ultimately ending apartheid. Then he set in place the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As the country’s first Black president, he stressed forgiveness and consistently preached national unity.
What are the legacies of these two leaders? Sure, in Mandela’s South Africa, the minority Caucasians controls the economy and they also control the land with its valuable natural resources such as diamonds and uranium. Sure, in Zimbabwe, Mugabe put Blacks back in control of the land they owned before the arrival of the Europeans (which led to sanctions being imposed to prevent the indigenous Africans from enjoying the wealth and riches of their land, which are so coveted.
Sure, sure, sure. But that is not our purpose here. Remember, we are talking about forgiveness. What is the situation now in these two African countries? Peaceful multi-racial co-existence in South Africa, but chaos, hunger and fear amongst Blacks (remember, the Caucasians have fled, with “their” wealth) in Zimbabwe; Mugabe is still destroying his own, fellow Black citizens. Sure, after fighting the war of liberation in the 1970s, Mugabe’s had to fight what seems to be 1990s and 2000s versions of western-led alliances (including the media) that wanted to keep the status quo of minority Caucasian ownership of the majority of the land.
The power to forgive is not a mere thing. Look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, still ongoing whereas the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord has accrued a different result. Mandela’s greatness lies in his capacity to forgive, lacking bitterness against his enemies, despite the terrible crimes they committed against his person and particularly to his fellow Africans. As I said earlier, forgiveness is not an easy thing. This is what I mean: since there is a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then in the same token, why won’t or why don’t the West show the same forgiveness to their own enemies?
Dear reader, what is this illustration intended to show? Accomplish? First off, Daniel 9:9 says that The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; Every human being has received forgiveness (even though they have accepted it or not) so we should forgive. Ephesians 1:17 says “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”. The sin of an unforgiving heart and a bitter spirit forfeits blessings and invites God’s judgment, Hebrews 12:14-15.
Let us forgive: as often as is needed, Luke 17:3-4. In Genesis 50:19-21, we see how Joseph forgave his brothers. In Acts 7:60, we see how Stephen forgave those who were stoning him to death. God, who is holy, forgave us, a people who are not holy in order to restore us to fellowship with Him.
Christmas is around the corner. The baby Jesus was born because of God’s desire to forgive us, even when we do not deserve His forgiveness. That is what Christmas is about: forgiveness. John 3:16 says For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Just before he was crucified, Jesus sat with His disciples and this is what He told them: This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).
Do you want to have peaceful communion with God and your fellow man? Forgive. Have you wronged someone? Go ask for forgiveness. Back to our case study of Mandela and Mugabe, what is Mandela’s legacy? And so far, what has Mugabe bequeathed to his fellow Zimbabweans? Not everyone will give, or receive forgiveness; however, when it comes to you, keep your focus on doing what is right, to God’s glory.