Now that we've all had a few days to get used to the idea that Nelson Mandela (pictured here) is gone, I want first to share with you this great column about him written by my friend Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News.
Suffering and evil combine to become what I've previously called the open wound of religion. There is no exhaustive explanation for why they exist if God is good. Such explanations are called theodicies, and they all inevitably fail.
Other religions, too, seek to explain and offer ways to deal with suffering. Buddhism is especially known for that.
But Mandela was a Christian and in the end he turned to his faith tradition to move him from righteous anger and a desire for revenge to forgiveness and reconciliation.
What is important to say about forgiveness and reconciliation (two quite different matters) is that even when efforts to forgive and reconcile fail, it is right to try.
The other day I was helping with the after-school book club at Southwest Early College Campus in Kansas City, and we were reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
Some previous reader of the copy of the book I was using had written this unattributed quote on a page: "He who seeks revenge, remember to dig two graves." A quick Internet search tells me it's attributed simply to "A Chinese proverb."
But the truth that it carries -- revenge injures both parties -- is something Nelson Mandela learned from his faith and embodied in his life. It is why we honor him today so lavishly but deservedly.
Not seeking revenge is an extraordinarily difficult concept to live out. When the 9/11 hijackers murdered my own nephew (among nearly 3,000 others), for instance, my first instinct was to think about how I wanted to murder those bastards, who were, of course, already dead.
Revenge may well be a survival instinct in an animal sense. But in the end it extracts much too high a price on everyone. As William Bole notes in this excellent posting about Mandela on his TheoPol blog, "As a politician as much as a person, he knew there was no future without forgiveness."
It was South Africa's great good fortune that Nelson Mandela understood that. The question is why more of our own political leaders seem not to get it. The tawdry desire for petty revenge is a big part of what keeps our federal government in tedious gridlock. We need a few Nelson Mandelas here.
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RICK WARREN'S ANGRY GOD
The Rev. Rick Warren tells Piers Morgan of CNN that when it comes to his (Warren's) opposition to same-sex marriage, “I fear the disapproval of God more than I fear your disapproval or the disapproval of society.” It's intriguing that so many people who misread what Scripture says about homosexuality carry with them an image of God as disapprover, judge, rules-enforcer, which is not the God I think Jesus came to reveal. For my own essay on what the Bible really says about homosexuality, click here.