Today I showed a movie (click here to check it out) to my Grade 9 students about the negotiation process that brought an end to Apartheid. What was so telling was how everyone was trying to bring about the change or resist it by using more and more violence. Yet in the end it was peace and forgiveness that proved to be more powerful.
I am not a politician and haven’t the smallest idea of all the issues at play in the conflicts around the world, but what I heard in that documentary was that even though people thought the conflict could never end, would never end, it actually did end. In the face of impossible odds and intricate issues, it was the greater power, not of more violence, but of peace and forgiveness.
In the light of that I have found for myself a new way (new to me but actually very old) of seeing what Jesus did on the cross, that this was not in fact an act of redemptive violence by God on his only son because of our sin. Rather with wisdom that is only divine, all the forces of sin, evil and death were allowed to have their way, so that God could have his way. They emptied the full force of their violence on Jesus, on his humanity, his weakness. In turn sin and wickedness were seen for what they are, driving mankind to kill and torture someone as precious, beautiful and innocent as Jesus, these things being a shadow to the great love of Jesus displayed with arms open.
One of the problems all religious systems suffer from, christianity being just a worldly religious system too, is that we believe we have the truth. We then use and manipulate that truth to justify ourselves and our actions, making ourselves right and others wrong. What’s worse is that because our sense of identity is found in our belief system, those who are “wrong” immediately have less worth than we do and so religion then dehumanises people.
The strange thing in the negotiations in South Africa was that the longer they went on, they more each side started to see each other not as enemies, but as people, fragile humans. This happened not in the debates, but in-between debates during tea breaks, breakout sessions and fishing trips, when talks were stuck on a particular issue.
For so many years I believed that my humanity was the very root of my problem, that it was my greatest limiting factor, and that as I was striving to get closer to God, it was the thing holding me back. Consider though that Jesus is the first truly human human to walk the earth since the Fall. Consider that perhaps it is that we live as less than human and treat each other worse than that, that is the truly limiting factor. That sin is actually any activity that dehumanises ourselves or others.
To be honest I don’t know if I am ready to take a bullet for Jesus, I reckon if some ISIS dude wanted to behead me I might just deny Jesus and then ask for forgiveness over a fish braai later. However in my day-to-day relationships I am learning to open my heart up to him to change me, to not manipulate others, to not try and control situations or relationships. When I am faced with opposition, to not try and defend myself or to launch a theological or ethical assault, but to kindly share the truth, to step forward in courageous love and to pursue (in the words of Shane Clairborne) the gentler revolution. I believe that is what Jesus did, what makes him so radical, what makes him so threatening. These aren’t neat answers but rather an invitation to wrestle with real issues to pursue a more loving end.
Would love your thoughts…