Wednesday, 17 July 2013

True Reconciliation

"We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 5:20)

Deserted Xhosa hut

Bare branches bend before a restless wind. The roof creaks in the early morning sun, like the joints of an aged man. A dog howls in the distance. Nearby, a gong resounds, calling labourers to a coffee-break before the day's work continues. We often see them as they strain up the hill, with misty breaths and laughter blown far on the chill wind. Some have their homes among us on the mountain, but often their daily journey starts all the way from the valley below, long before first light. The reality of their lives is to a large extent a mystery to us. We live and work in relative harmony, but with so little knowledge or understanding of who they truly are, what they feel, what their home circumstances are etc. The Xhosas are a private and independent people, and a great part of their history has much blood on its pages.

The Xhosa Wars, also known as the Cape Frontier Wars, were a series of nine wars between the Xhosa people and European settlers, from 1779 to 1879, in what is now the Eastern Cape in South Africa. They are also known as "Africa's 100 Years War"; with the different conflicts seen as a series of flare-ups in one long war of attrition - the longest in the history of colonialism in Africa.

 In more recent history the Eastern Cape continued to be the scene of much conflict, forced removals, the artificial independence of two Bantu states, the Ciskei and the Transkei, source of cheap migrant labour for the mines further north and with it the havoc it played on family life over many years. A state of emergency was even declared on the 2nd of February 1990. It culminated into the fateful day of the Bisho massacre of the 7th of September 1992.

Much more can be said and written about this sad history, and the atrocities performed on both sides of the colour divide, here and elsewhere in our land. With so much blood spilt on our soil, is true reconciliation possible? Many have dedicated their lives to this cause, and much concerted effort has been put into bringing this about. Why is there then still so much animosity in our land?

My answer to this question came from Scripture. 2 Corinthians 5:20 reads: "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God" 

Man can only truly be reconciled to man, once man has been reconciled to God.

Reconciliation involves a changed relationship, because our trespasses are no longer counted against us. We were reconciled to the Father through Christ and were given the ministry of reconciliation. This basically means that we are now to announce to others the message of God’s grace.

We find the absolute heart of the gospel in the next verse: The sinless Saviour took our sins that we might become God's righteousness! This is mind-blowing... Righteousness is not a sweet-sounding word. It calls us away from the image of our Heavenly Father as a benign old man with a long beard and a serene smile. It calls us back to the Almighty God the Father, just, righteous and omnipotent. Calling us through Jesus to become His righteousness - we let this sink in a bit and we will stand in awe and "fear" before His throne.

Part of our spiritual armour is the breastplate of righteousness. This is a metal plate that covers the chest and ultimately the heart of the soldier. When we have received the righteousness of God through the sacrifice of Jesus, we also receive the "right" to put on his armour each day.

To have/become God's righteousness does not only involve a changed relationship, it also needs to lead to changed behaviour. As we face a broken world with God's righteousness what would we see?

Just that: brokenness. Brought about by surrender to evil rather than righteousness. And ultimately with spiritual eyes, we realise our own broken state. But; "The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18) When my own heart breaks and my spirit is crushed at the full realisation of my own sin and what it brought about, it leads me to a place where there has to be repentance. Another word that we don't like hearing. But there is no reconciliation without repentance. "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." (2 Cor 7:10).

When we face the final judgement, we will only be called to answer for our own actions. 

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Hate the sin, but love the sinner. I do not always have the grace and ability to love and forgive unconditionally, but I know that God does. With Jesus before me each day, one small step at a time, it is possible to love and forgive. Not to condone the wrong, but to know that surrender in prayer is powerful, but carrying bitterness in my heart is debilitating.

A small, seemingly insignificant example from my own life was a recent theft from our home that left me seething. The culprit was not a masked and armed villain in the dark, but a young girl, brought to help her aunt clean our home. Essentially still a child, the temptation of the shiny rings on my dressing table was too much to resist. First to disappear was a ring adorned with an amber stone set in a simple setting, a gift from my husband. Then my garnet engagement ring went "missing". Neither was very valuable, but they were personal treasures, with beautiful memories and meaning attached.

After the truth was discovered, I could not look at this girl without a feeling of resentment. She had given the rings to a school friend and the friend had "lost" them, so I gave up the hope of retrieving my treasures. Later I learnt that the father had beaten the little girl severely when confronted with the theft and the mother, being an alcoholic, did not care much to defend or teach her child right from wrong. I prayed to be given a Christ-like heart for this girl. Since, I have started seeing less defiance in her haughty stares, but glimpsed the pain she carries as a result of being rejected and assaulted at such a tender age. I am also starting to feel something akin to compassion for her, and I trust that with grace I may come to see her as Jesus does. A child the Father longs to hold to his heart, to give the love her earthly parents have failed to give. After that I will be hopefully be able to begin working on forgiving the parents...

No commission, authority or court of justice can undo the past, help people to heal the wounds that our tainted history, crime, racial intolerance, injustice etc. has caused. But if we are reconciled to God - would not this ministry slowly but surely seep balm into those painful places? I believe it would. A good place to start from is my own knees. Will you join me?

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4).

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