Nelson Mandela. The world – or most of the world – mourns his passing. Humanity – or most of humanity – bows its head in respect. This piece is not to shed any great new light on his life – there’s little I can say about him that a thousand other people haven’t already said. This is just to pay my respects and be counted with those who celebrate his life and mourn the world’s loss.
Nelson Mandela was, it seems, that rare thing – not just a great man, but more importantly also a deeply good man. One who had learnt goodness the hard way, through suffering and imprisonment and the long hard road of forgiving his enemies and oppressors.
If Nelson Mandela had been a Roman Catholic, no doubt there would be moves to make him a saint. To qualify for canonization, the candidate needs to have a bona fide miracle associated with them, often a miracle of healing. I would say that there can be few greater miracles or few greater healings than the forgiveness of old enemies, the healing of rifts between former oppressor and former oppressed, the miracles of reconciliation and of justice mixed not with bitterness but with mercy.
Of course, Mandela was by no means perfect. Doubtless there were things in his past and even his present that were not fully ‘saint-like’. But, bar Christ, no human is ever without flaw or shadow. The great liberator Moses murdered a man; Israel’s greatest king, David, committed adultery and murder; Martin Luther King had an affair. Yet these were all truly great men and, despite their major flaws, for the most part deeply good. Mandela stands shoulder to shoulder with such giants of history as these, such bringers of liberation and peace.
Countless stories are emerging and will continue to emerge of the ways Nelson Mandela touched people’s lives, in small and great ways. Apparently he learnt the language of his oppressors so that he could talk to his prison guards, asking them about their children and families. And apparently when he went to meet one of the original architects of Apartheid, a bitter and racist old woman, he completely won her over. Such a man I would follow.
Paying his tribute to Mandela, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that one of the world’s great lights had gone out. For once, I largely agree with him. But I would say further that such lights never truly go out. Real love never dies, and true light shines on in the darkness for all time.
We should also spare a thought to that other great and good man who stood and worked alongside Mandela in rebuilding a unified South Africa – Desmond Tutu. Archbishop Tutu’s humanity and Christianity shine through in all he says and does, and when he dies I hope that he too will be honoured alongside Mandela.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.