There is a memorable scene in the first 30 minutes of the film when Mandela's head of personal security rushes in to question the arrival of the previous President's white bodyguards as the back-up staff in response to his request for more staff. Mandela's security chief enters agitated about the situation. Mandela responds to his protests by leaving his desk and gently challenging him - wasn't he the one who requested more security staff?
Mandela says gently, "The Rainbow Nation starts here. Reconciliation starts here."
His security leader responds:
"Not long ago these guys tried to kill us."
Mandela responds, "Yes I know, forgiveness starts here. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon."
You can view the 60-second video clip below.
I enjoyed the film a great deal. While it has more than its share of clichés and it tends to paint Mandela as a man without fault, it does offer an insight into the power of forgiveness to change the hearts and attitudes of others.
I don't want to try to claim Mandela as a warrior for Christ, but the movie is inspirational and tells a powerful story of forgiveness and reconciliation that in its own way demonstrates the expectations that Jesus places on his disciples. Reconciliation and forgiveness are obviously at the heart of the Christian gospel and the Bible teaches that above all God's forgiveness is indeed a powerful force that changes human hearts, lives and their eternal destiny. All other forms of forgiveness are in effect a pale shadow of God's grace and kindness, shown in his forgiveness of a rebellious people. God's people are meant to live lives marked by a willingness to forgive.
The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) is just one of many places you can go in Scripture to learn just how essential forgiveness is.
Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven." (Matt 18:21-22)Jesus is essentially saying, keep forgiving without keeping count. And of course the foundational truth that underpins his comment is that if we have received the forgiveness of God then we too should show forgiveness to others. Those who have been freed of guilt due to Jesus' sacrificial death on our behalf (Colossians 2:13-14) should be so moved with gratitude towards God that they are prepared to forgive others. Jesus of course includes this in the Lord's Prayer when he teaches his disciples to pray "and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt 6:12).
Finally, Paul teaches us in his letter to the Colossians that the Christian lifestyle is heavily dependent on the demonstration of forgiveness (Colossians 3:12-17). When others wrong us we are called to forgive. Paul writes, "as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive" (Col 3:13).
I hope others enjoy the film. Mandela's life is inspirational and is a remarkable demonstration of forgiveness in action and the impact that it can have reconciliation. Of course, the ongoing struggles in South Africa continue to demonstrate that true transformation in people requires them to accept the forgiveness of Christ. As John the Baptist taught as he prepared the way for Jesus, all must "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 3:2).