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In the recent film Invictus, Francois Pienaar (played by Matt Damon) wonders aloud, “how you spend 30 years in a tiny cell and come out ready to forgive the people who put you there.”  Pienaar was the Afrikaner captain of the Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team, who were preparing to meet New Zealand in the finals of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.  The subject of his amazement and admiration was South African President Nelson Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman.  Mandela (prisoner number 46664) spent 27 years in prison, with most of those years served on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town.  Kim and I had the opportunity to spend the entire month of January 1990 on an evangelistic campaign in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.  Near the end of the month, there were daily headlines detailing growing rumors of Mandela’s impending release.  His freedom came on February 11.  Just four years later, he was elected as South Africa’s first black President in 1994.

Invictus is a powerful film that focuses on Mandela’s efforts to bring about racial reconciliation and healing.  Violence and hatred had existed for decades on both sides of Apartheid’s racial barriers.  It is remarkable how much positive ground was gained through Mandela’s leadership and how much the Springboks run through the Rugby World Cup did to bring the nation’s people together.

Back to Pienaar’s question: “How do you spend 30 years in a tiny cell and come out ready to forgive the people who put you there?”  When I heard that line delivered by Damon in the film, my mind immediately connected to another question, one that causes me to feel a simultaneous sense of awe and shame.  “How can the spotless Lamb of God, the only true innocent one who has ever lived, willingly go to a cross to suffer an excruciatingly violent and painful death, and ask for the forgiveness of those who put Him there.”  “Father, forgive them.  They do not know what they are doing.”

I preach and teach a lot about forgiveness, but sometimes I struggle with it.  I don’t have difficulty with receiving it, mind you.  That is quite easy, and I am most eager to accept it.  It is in the dispensing department that I am sometimes found lacking, especially when I feel like I have been misunderstood, unappreciated, or treated unfairly.  Theologically and intellectually, I can convince myself that I have forgiven.  Then my feelings or obsessive thoughts about a situation will remind me that I have not yet released it, and I am harboring things that can only do me spiritual and emotional harm. 

The example of Nelson Mandela inspires me and demonstrates to me that I can forgive.

The example and teaching of Jesus humbles me, shames me, and reminds me that I must forgive. 

Lord, Teach Us.  Lord, Convict Us!

P.S.  Friend and fellow blogger Bobby Ross recently posted thoughts about Invictus.  Friend and fellow blogger Mike Willoughby recently wrote about dealing with life’s unfairness.  Read both for great insights.  Thanks, brothers!

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January 2010