Prior to 1994 in South Africa, an oppressive political system called Apartheid existed. The country had more than 30 million blacks, and only 4 million whites, yet whites had the ruling authority. Prejudice and racism existed in the form of atrocities- beatings, torture, and even murder. This was done to keep the balance of power intact. Individuals the government and even the police, gave approval to such oppressive tactics.
God intervened, and through the tireless efforts of many activists, including Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Apartheid fell. After such a dark time in the history of the country, Nelson Mandela knew that much healing needed to take place for the country was to recover. True healing and true reconciliation, he believed, would only take place in an atmosphere of extravagant forgiveness.
In 1996, hearings were established to promote healing between blacks and whites. The hearings were called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Taken from a tribal tradition, in these hearings, the victims of abuse and attacks would face off with the perpetrators. If the perpetrators made full disclosures of their crimes and were able to prove that their crimes were politically motivated, the perpetrators would be granted amnesty. In many cases, full disclosure was made, and although the sordid details were indeed horrific, the remorse and repentance exhibited by the perpetrators moved the hearts of the victims of these crimes to do what some would consider, unthinkable..., the victims wholeheartedly forgave.
A few years ago, I saw a movie called “Big Country”. The story line was based on the truth and reconciliation hearings. One short, yet powerful segment of that film made an indelible imprint in my mind. In the clip, the case being called into question involved a police officer and a young boy. The boy was perhaps 10 or 11 years of age. The police officer had brutally murdered the young boy’s parents. The parents were at home, in bed, when the senseless and ugly attack took place. At the time of the murder, the young boy was hiding, terrified, under his parents bed. He had to endure every terrible second of the tragedy.
In this very public hearing, the policeman sat face to face with the boy. He stared into eyes that pierced his very soul...eyes that would never look at life the same way again. The cop was overcome with the consequences of his crime. He wept uncontrollably as he was confronted with the magnitude of his actions. He threw himself at the feet of the boy...on his knees begging for forgiveness...pleading with the child...offering to do anything he could...if he could just somehow, right this wrong. He was looking for even, just the slightest measure of relief. And then God showed up. The child reached out and tenderly wrapped his arms around the man’s neck, put his head on the man’s shoulder, and comforted him as he continued to weep.
The hearings proved something that people, especially Christians, already know, but sometimes do not practice. Extending forgiveness is much more powerful than seeking revenge. In my experience, counseling people, I have found one common factor that keeps folks from experiencing the fullness of healing and forgiveness in their relationship with God...one thing that stunts their growth...their own refusal to extend forgiveness.
The little boy seemed to understand, what we adults often don’t get. He would never experience healing in his own life, if he stayed hidden behind a wall of anger, fear and hatred. Hands cannot be open to receive forgiveness, if they are clenched, holding onto a grudge.