173) Amazing Grace

English: Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gaute...
Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, on 13 May 1998

From What Good is God?, by Philip Yancey, © 2010 Philip Yancey and SCCT, pages 280-281

     When the world sees grace in action toward undeserving oppressors, it falls silent.  Nelson Mandela taught the world a lesson in grace when, after emerging from prison after twenty-seven years and being elected president of South Africa, he asked his jailer to join him at the inauguration and recruited white Afrikaner policemen as his bodyguards.  He then appointed Archbishop Desmund Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a creative way of bringing to light the ugly truth of oppression without exacting revenge.

     According to the Commission’s rules, if an oppressor faced his accusers and fully confessed his crime, he could not be prosecuted for that crime.  Some in South Africa protested the injustice of letting criminals go free, but Mandela insisted the country needed healing even more than it needed justice.  I have told the story of one such hearing before the TRC:

     A policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body, turning it on the fire like a piece of barbecue meat in order to destroy the evidence.  Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father.  The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it.

     The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond.  “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked.  She said she wanted van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial.

     His head down, the policeman nodded agreement.  Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give.  Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him.  And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too.  I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”

     Some in the courtroom spontaneously began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn.  He had fainted, physically overwhelmed by grace.  Justice was not done in South Africa that day, nor in the entire country as the TRC exposed atrocities to public view.  Something beyond justice took place, the first step toward reconciliation.


Two additional comments: 

1.  The process of forgiveness can be very complex and every situation is different.  In the above story, forgiveness worked and reconciliation followed because Mr. van de Broek repented.  Without such repentance, the move toward reconciliation may lead to further abuse.  We must offer forgiveness, we must pray for forgiveness in our hearts, and we must not seek revenge.  But there are many situations in which we must continue to keep our guard up.  And when there is repentance, we most certainly must be ready to forgive, as in the above story.  

2.  The 2009 movie Invictus (starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon) is a powerful portrayal of how Nelson Mandela brought reconciliation and healing to South Africa.  It tells the story of how Mandela encouraged the mostly black nation to cheer for the mostly white national rugby team, as just one aspect of his effort to bring the races together.  Go to the following link for the movie trailer:



Luke 6:36 — (Jesus said), “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Luke 6:37 — (Jesus said), “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Matthew 6:12 — (Jesus said), “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”


My Lord Jesus, look at how my neighbor has injured me, slandered my honor with his talk, and interfered with my rights.  I cannot tolerate this, and so I wish he were out of my way.  O God, hear my complaint.  I cannot feel kindly toward him, even though I know I should.  See how cold and insensible I am.  O Lord, I can’t help it, and so I stand forsaken.  If you change me, I will be devout and have better thoughts.  Otherwise, I must remain as I am.  O dear God, change me by your grace.  Amen.        –Martin Luther