Thursday, December 05, 2013
President Nelson Mandela died today. I think there is no doubt he was the greatest man of the entire twentieth century and his impact on the twenty-first century will continue. He died today, yes, but he will live on for decades in the loving memory of all who knew him and for centuries in the studies of all who are students of freedom, forgiveness and firmness. He embodied all three of these virtues and his influence will live on far beyond any of us alive today.
It is ironic to note that this man who embodied freedom spent twenty-seven years in prison but when he was released and went on to become president of the nation that imprisoned him, he did so without denying freedom to those who had falsely imprisoned him for so many long years. He did so because he realized the value of freedom was so much greater than the high cost of revenge. He did not allow his stolen freedom to become an excuse to seek revenge on those who wronged him.
It appears his love of freedom and the way lived out that value in his own life and behavior brought an out-pouring of love and appreciation from almost all of his countrymen, including those who had once been his enemies and who became his friends mostly because he refused to continue being their enemy and then led the nation in a way that convinced even his enemies to become his friends. Like Jesus, he ridded himself of his enemies by converting them into friends.
He was also embodied the virtue of firmness. Throughout his life, he succeeded far beyond what any could have conceived because he held firm to those values that shaped him while rejecting that which he knew would only bring destruction to him, to his beloved nation and to the world. He firmly refused to let those prison years be wasted and instead used them to become the man who could not only be president of South Africa, but could lead all South Africans to build a democratic and capitalistic society that would embrace all its people as persons of ultimate worth and dignity. That firmness and resolve helped to bring about the robust nation of South Africa that we know today.
But possibly his greatest embodiment was the virtue of forgiveness. Without it, those other two values would never have endured. When he left prison after twenty-seven years he fully realized that he had a choice. He could continue to hate the people who stole twenty-seven years of his life and thus destroy his own future or he could forgive those guilty persons and all of South African white society and then spend the rest of his life bringing peace and reconciliation to a nation torn by the strife of apartheid. Nelson Mandela chose forgiveness. That choice molded the remainder of his life and even his death so that, as mentioned earlier, most of his former enemies became his friends and many of them genuinely loved him as a man of awesome integrity and amazing leadership ability.
I never knew Nelson Mandela except what I read (which was extensive) and what I heard on the news. But when I learned of his death earlier today I had to fight back tears. I realize I have come to love him as another “father” who taught me how to live. My life is so much better and so much more worthwhile because of his life and the way he lived it. His influence on me, who he never knew and who lived halfway around the world, was profound. I don’t think I am a great exception.
My prayer for the Mandela family and for all the people of South Africa is that they grieve well in this enormous loss—as they realize the privilege that was theirs, to know him, to love him and to follow him as leader of their great nation. I pray also that God will bless them in their grieving as they experience His marvelous peace in their hearts and on their land.
I’m Rick Blumenberg and that’s My View from Tanner Creek.