Today, as I read these words in “Cry, the Beloved Country“, “But she has no husband now… A man has been killed at her place. They gamble, and drink, and stab. She has been in prison, more than once.” (33), I ask a question: Have we progressed beyond, as specie, the lessons of simplicity and faith embodied in daily drama of the human family this book portrays?
In the madness of Claremont, and later at Sharpsville, and Soweto, et cetera, we see the stark reality of a deconstructing sociology pulverized under the crushing boot of the segregating policies of Afrikanerdom, but we should ask ourselves what were the deeper lessons that Alan Paton communicated? That the book was not politicized makes it more poignant as a prophecy to us who live in the West today.
Paton’s lines fill my heart with not only the sights and sounds of my beloved Africa, but also with its burdens and tears. Although, the pain of the South African condition, and the price paid by many in redemptive acts that continue to prevail today, would leave me the poorer should I ignore the analysis it makes of my heart. Faith, as an attribute is analyzable only up to a point, but will mean nothing to the one that refuses to take it; it cannot be bottled for later; rather, if we allow it entrance into our heart, it begins its work. It reminds us that no ideal is worthy of a life devoid of faith, hope, and love; not even the great Western adventure, if we should still be impressed by it! Faith, without hope and love, is not faith, and will produce even triumphalistic moral justification whose insidious purpose is power. The ‘faith’ I refer to in this article, is not that of the Puritan mind that has attempted to reform the age in New and Old England, and in places such as Africa. In the words of W. A. de Klerk, “The great, affluent and abundant society has been a massive confidence trick. In its pretence of grand tolerance, of freedom for all, man has nevertheless become the slave of massive, of subtle, authority” (The Puritans in Africa, 1978:331). Should we again be fooled by the lures of freedom (financial or otherwise), and fail to see the trap it sets to the very freedom we seek in the pursuit of increasing abundance in an ethic of wasteful lifestyles, and then to call it ‘faith’ simply because we believe that our ‘blessings’ are the fruit of ‘God’s Providence’? And, all this, while billions starve, or live below the breadline! Clearly, some radical reassessment is in order! We might take a lesson from Dr Seuss’ Grinch who makes a massively valid point when he says, “Maybe Christmas… doesn’t come from the store.”(How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Random House, 1985). The face of our Western adventure has reared its ugly head in every situation imaginable; can only be stopped, as in the book, by the humble, and by those who through faith, continue to have hope in the face of suffering, and to love others. This same Western adventure, initially stridently justified as “God’s providence”, has come home to roost, as today, the fifteen most Westernized nations on earth are also the most in debt. How ironic that in 1976, the voice of an Afrikaner, pressed by his nation’s refusal to “relinquish its position of almost exclusive power”, was moved to exactly describe the West’s global condition today: “All human systems in time fall apart. other systems take over. But the sickness of the thesis is precisely also the sickness of the antithesis. This is our dread of being. There is no faith on the part of those for whom power is a final end. There is only the desperate identification with what must take the place of faith” (W. A. de Klerk, 1978, p. 329)
The book, that began as a provincial critique of the pursuit of “safety in power” engineered through creating separatist policies designed to fragment an entire culture from its unity and roots with the soil, is today a prophecy relevant to our global condition! Has anything changed? Is our interest titillated by the new modern theatre piece: China versus the United States? Same plot, new actors! Or, Japan versus China? When will it be China versus India? Already at our door is the global symptom of the effects of increasing distance from the idea of faith in Christ (rooted in hope and love), and toward political and social ideologies expressed at points on the continuum of values that vary from moralism, and even of fresh Biblicisms on the one hand, and at the other end, of extreme expressions of liberal freedom! Rather, we should aim at values worthy to be followed that links our human ideals of justice to the idea of faith that transcends the human identity. Max Stackhouse concurs: “the ground of holistic intellectual and spiritual life, both personally and socially, is to be essentially designed as a community of individuals inseparably bound together in an ordered pluralism that refuses to fall into monolithic arrogance, dualistic divisions, unlimited pluralism, or chaotic relativism” (Apologia, p. 177)
On the day that I read Paton’s description of the deconstruction occurring in the simple African family, I received a letter from a friend, describing an extraordinary forgiveness that occurred in the Westville prison; the place of my ministry for many years as I visited a convicted murderer, who had become my friend. My friend’s letter spoke of the forgiveness of one man toward another who had abused: raping and killing his sister, and what that forgiveness did in that prison. The story is less about who committed what, or from which culture. Was it however a fresh sign of what will rid the land, both local and global, of the “sickness” (Paton), and to answer the simple ‘cry’, of the beloved ‘country’. I reproduce it without alteration:
“My friends,It is very rare to hear of real forgiveness and reconciliation in the Christian community. But every now and then a story of remarkable forgiveness and grace is found and the results are always astonishing. This is an excerpt from a prayer letter sent by Roy and Gwen Comrie. They served in SIM in Africa for many years. Roy is an exceptionally gifted preacher. His sister Sheila was raped and murdered a few years ago.
“From Zimbabwe we flew to South Africa. Beside many visits around Johannesburg we also went down to Natal so that Roy could visit Chris Mnguni in the prison at Westville on the 2nd December. We know that many of you had been praying and we want to thank you for that and we share with you all that God did in answer to those prayers.
Roy went to the prison at 8:30 am and met up with the national chaplain, Pastor Ngwenya. They drove in to the prison and when they arrived they found that well over 100 inmates had gathered in the chapel. After a time of singing Chris got up and said that he wanted the opportunity to speak. With great difficulty and many tears he told of the night that he murdered Roy’s sister, and of how much he regretted that night when, as an escaped convict, he was high on drugs and did what he did as he raped and murdered Sheila. Roy was also crying as he heard again the horrors of that night.
Chris told of the miracle of forgiveness and how Roy reached out to him, giving him a Zulu bible and telling him of the love of God and His willingness to forgive. When Chris finished Roy walked over and gave him a hug. At that moment the Spirit came down in power. Roy spoke from the word for over an hour with great liberty, and at the end of that time many of the men came forward and he and Pastor Ngwenya and others in leadership spent three hours counseling them.
One young man said that he had been framed by two men and that he was unjustly accused of the murder. In the same meeting were those two men who had framed him and they came up to him and asked that he forgive them for implicating him in the murder. The Superintendent was also in the meeting and heard that confession. He said that he had witnessed authentic Christianity in a very real way, and was astounded. There is hope that he will get that young man a new trial. We give the Lord all the glory for the outcome of that morning. Thank you for your prayers, and keep praying for all the new converts.”
I cannot forget the seemingly interminable passageways of Westville prison, and the clanging steel gates; the barred corridors; busy guards, and guarded looks of its many prisoners, and yet, feeling the constant presence of the grace of God in that place. It never fails to astound me, that where one might least expect to feel God’s love, one can usually find it; what appears unreachable and impenetrable, has already been softened by the work of God to establish his purposes. Forgiveness flowers in the soil of humility, and its compost is oftentimes those places where the most despair is evident. The words “but God” are more significant than any human can imagine, and for that, as always, we can only thank God for his mercy and his grace toward us through Jesus Christ his Son.
Scientists have sought for a cohesive theory of unity; a factor that unifies all of life, and that can be rationally understood to formulate a verifiable theory of origins, but what if that origin waits for discovery, not in the mechanics of mathematics, but in the human stories of faith? What if mathematics itself waits for explanation fully through the faith of those who live in a less than ideal world? Might they hold the key to the future through forgiveness? Not, a future that rationalizes their particular ideal, or that resolves their dilemmas, but that despite the irrational; the irresolvable challenges; the irreconcilable differences, produces a unity found in faith; so that love can flow despite differences, and tenderness remains in outstretched caring hands. What if their faith, has lifted them above their various theatres, to constellations of wisdom embodied in a sight not limited to what is ‘mine’, or to what is ‘another’s’? What if they rise to a view of the singular human biography: that we are of the same tribe; same culture; same race; that what we do to one we do the other; that when one mourns then we all mourn; that when one laughs we all laugh? What if, like a good African, they remember that the Zebra’s white and black stripes both exist or both do not in the animal?
Yes, if Libya suffers, we all do; if Rwanda suffers, we all do; if Iraq and Egypt suffers, we all do. If Russia suffers, we all do. If the underprivileged Chinese suffer, we all do. By contrast, ideals without faith, hope and love (all three together make faith transcendent), result in revolt, and in something gained by the victor, that deprives the loser. W. A. de Klerk writes, “The abstractions of freedom are always, beyond our recognition, the fruit of our despair” (1978, p. xiv).
Can we learn something essential, then, from the simple African tribe? Is it that God, who is one in Trinity, made the land, and called it “good”, then, God made humankind, and was pleased with God’s handiwork? It is that God began the human biography in one simple family made in “God’s image”, and placed that family in the land to tend and keep it – and thus, that they are irretrievably linked: they produce fruit together, or fail together. Here, we have the simplest picture of why faith in God is the singular catalyst to understanding the meaning of life: God, the author of creation, and of humankind, effects the fruit of that unity between God, and the humans and God’s creation. Here, we have the simplest measure of a radical ideal: that life is best mirrored in the condition of each family existing within it. Furthermore, that faith in God, acknowledges every family together as part of the same tribe; culture, and source. Here also, we see that faith in God grows the humility needed to take responsibility for everyone in that one tribe, as if each is our own.
Faith thus resolves the fallacy that ideals are resolvable. The humility of faith tames the ills of ideologies, and alone, from the human perspective, can reconcile disparate human identities, and reminds every human that he, or she, is never beyond the hope that God provides. As Isaiah states,
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isa. 2:4)
I end with de Klerk’s sober exhortation in the penultimate paragraph of his book,
“Knowledge of our true condition must be attained before it is too late, and no new synthesis can grow” (p. 345).
The book of Romans, chapters 12 – 15:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Chapter 13… “owe no man anything, except to love each other… love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law”
Chapter 14… “as for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him… for if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord, whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s… ”
Chapter 15… “may the God of endurance and encouragement grant that you live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God… May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope”
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(The conclusions, or opinions expressed within this article are entirely those of the author of this article. It is not our intention to suggest either that the authors/writers quoted, in any way agree with what we have written, or that we are expressing their full view on any of the subjects covered)