Desmond Tutu, Anglican Archbishop, passed away this week. About 20 years ago he wrote a seminal book, one that I was profoundly moved by – No Future Without Forgiveness.
Tutu, like Nelson Mandella, lived through the era of black oppression under the racist apartheid South African government. How does a nation deal with the crimes of its past injustices? In short, you have three options.
The most common response would be to get your own back. For blacks to oppress whites, just as whites had oppressed blacks. Perhaps something like this played out in Zimbabwe, just to the north of South Africa. But this approach tends to replace one form of injustice with another and prolongs war, hatred, and poverty.
The opposite response would be to deny past atrocities. This prevents the persecuted from telling their story and allows the perpetrators to face no consequences for their actions.
Nelson Mandella chose a third option. He instituted a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and invited Archbishop Tutu to be its chair. No Future Without Forgiveness is Tutu’s account of his time as chair of this commission.
The book has many profound insights and quotes. For instance: “Without forgiveness, without reconciliation, we have no future.” Or “To forgive is indeed the best form of self-interest since anger, resentment, and revenge are corrosive of that summum bonum, the greatest good.”
Tutu also introduces us to the African notion of Ubuntu. “Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language... It is to say, 'My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours.'” For me, Ubuntu sound like Jewish Jesus, and unlike Western Individualism.
If you struggle with forgiveness, and you are conscious that your own humanity is diluted when you are out of a relationship with your own people, this week we lost a great one who tried his best to show us the way of Jesus.
Rev David Rietveld