Barghouti and Mandela


Recently I read a long excerpt from one of Philip Yancey’s books, and it touched me deeply. With his permission, I have included it below. He did express the following caveat: “You’re welcome to use this excerpt in a blog. I have since heard from some people who question the details, since they do not appear in the records of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. I first read of the story in a Mennonite publication, and they are usually very trustworthy. You should know, though, that its veracity has been questioned.” In spite of this caveat, I think this long excerpt is worth reading, and I like to imagine what would happen if radical grace were practiced today. Would it make a difference in the conflicts in our broken world? Jesus practiced radical grace, and what a difference that made to our human history!

Rumor #88 Love made van de Broek faint. Practicing the Existence of God (excerpted from Rumors of Another World, by Philip Yancey, published by Zondervan)

Grace is irrational, unfair, unjust, and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance. “Amazing Grace,” a rare hymn that in recent times climbed the charts of popular music, holds out the promise that God judges people not for what they have been but what they could be, not by their past but by their future. John Newton, a gruff and bawdy slave trader, “a wretch like me,” wrote that hymn after being transformed by the power of amazing grace.

When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent. Nelson Mandela taught the world a lesson in grace when, after emerging from prison after twenty-seven years and being elected president of South Africa, he asked his jailer to join him on the inauguration platform. He then appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head an official government panel with a daunting name, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mandela sought to defuse the natural pattern of revenge that he had seen in so many countries where one oppressed race or tribe took control from another.

For the next two-and-a-half years, South Africans listened to reports of atrocities coming out of the TRC hearings. The rules were simple: if a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Hard-liners grumbled about the obvious injustice of letting criminals go free, but Mandela insisted that the country needed healing even more than it needed justice.

At one hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body, turning it on the fire like a piece of barbecue meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later, van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it.

The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she wanted van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded agreement.

Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”

Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed. Justice was not done in South Africa that day, nor in the entire country during months of agonizing procedures by the TRC. Something beyond justice took place. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” said Paul. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu understood that when evil is done, one response alone can overcome the evil. Revenge perpetuates the evil. Justice punishes it. Evil is overcome by good only if the injured party absorbs it, refusing to allow it to go any further. And that is the pattern of otherworldly grace that Jesus showed in his life and death.

Excerpted from Rumors of Another World by Philip Yancey, copyright © 2003. This excerpt is by permission of Zondervan,

All rights reserved. Read the rest of this book when [you get the chance.]

Marwan Barghouti is a Palestinian currently on a hunger strike in an Israeli prison since 2002. A large number of Palestinian prisoners have joined him in the fast. Barghouti is a unique Palestinian leader who learned the Hebrew language during a previous stint in prison. He has the respect of most of the Palestinians, and some people think that he could become the president of Palestine after Abbas leaves office. Palestinians see him as their Nelson Mandela. If he dies in prison there will be another intifada, or uprising, with lots of bloodshed. Please read this important article in the newspaper, The Telegraph, written by a journalist in Israel about Barghouti.

After reading this important article about Barghouti, imagine if Prime Minister Netanyahu released Barghouti like Nelson Mandela was released by President F.W. deKlerk in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist and was imprisoned for 27 years. His release was radical grace. Imagine if PM Netanyahu released Barghouti from prison! That would be radical grace because “grace is irrational, unfair, unjust, and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance.”

Imagine if Marwan Barghouti, after his release from prison, practiced radical grace by doing what Nelson Mandela did in South Africa regarding truth and reconciliation.   

Israel is now at a crossroads: It can demonstrate radical grace by releasing Barghouti from prison, or he dies in prison as a result of the hunger strike which will be followed by another cycle of violence.
Whoever lives the cross and radical grace as a lifestyle gets crucified because selifish people take advantage of that person. At times, on this side of eternity, those who live radical grace and the cross as a lifestyle and pay a cost of it it, experience its power. In Jesus we see the cross and grace as a lifestyle, as an event and corst and as power in the resurrection (Philippians 2:5-11). The cross and radical grace are the complete opposite of control and pursuit of justice by inflicting punishment.

Dr. Nabeel Jabbour