The Long Road to Freedom
“He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them” (Psalm 145:19 NKJV).
The death of Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, on December 5, 2013, was followed by the premier of a movie based on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. For many, Mandela was an international hero whose lifelong dedication to a fight against racial oppression in South Africa won the Nobel Peace Prize. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, Mandela was instrumental in moving the nation away from its official policy of racial segregation and white supremacy. He became an international emblem of dignity and forbearance.
Mandela attended Fort Hare University and the University of Witwatersrand, studying law. In Johannesburg, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and became a founding member of its Youth League. Mandela rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign and presided over the 1955 Congress of the People. Working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and, with the ANC leadership, was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961. Influenced by Marxism, he secretly joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) and sat on its Central Committee. Though initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the SACP he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961, leading sabotage campaigns against the government. In 1962, he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial. He was 44 years old.
A Change of Heart
Spending 27 years in various prisons, Mandela emerged in 1990 as an inspiration to those who believe that one person can make a difference. During his prison years, he turned from violence and hatred to non-violence, peace and forgiveness for his enemies. Although while in prison he was denied permission to attend the funerals of his mother and his oldest son, who died in a car accident, he later invited one of his white wardens to his inauguration as president. He said prison tempered any desire for vengeance by exposing him to sympathetic white guards who smuggled in newspapers and extra rations, and to those with the government who approached him in hopes of opening a dialogue.
When he formed the first government led by a black man, he included in it many of his former oppressors. Asked in a 2007 interview by the New York Times (for his obituary), after such barbarous torment, how he could keep hatred in check, his answer was that hating clouds the mind and gets in the way. His 1994 autobiography had a more complete answer: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Permission of Evil Can Change Hearts
Nelson Mandela profited personally from his experience in prison. It changed his heart so that, when released, he could become a great leader and an example of one who learned the futility of hate. Few have as yet benefited by their experience with evil in this life, so as to change their hearts from evil to good and from hate to love. However, according to the Bible those who sleep in death will be awakened, and given an opportunity then to profit from the experiences of the present life. Then they will escape their own personal prisons to enter another term, as it were, a new learning experience which will, if taken properly, change their hearts for good.
The Biblical character Job did not turn away from God when trouble came upon him, as so many throughout the ages have done. His chief concern was to know why God permitted him to be afflicted with such bitter experiences, and throughout his book we find evidences of his search for this understanding. After Job was stricken down with disease, three of his friends came to comfort him. In Job’s case, when the experience was over, he could say “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee” (Job 42:5). So it will be with the world of mankind. When the experience of suffering and death is over, and they are awakened from death, their faulty understanding of God will be corrected. Then they will learn of the gracious, loving provision the Creator made for them through Christ to ransom them from death, and restore them to life.
For more than six thousand years, humanity has been exposed to evil, and by experience has been learning the awful results of disobedience. The seeds of death are manifest in everyone, by myriads of infirmities and diseases of mind and body. Neither the young nor the old have escaped. Throughout the ages God has not interfered with the great enemy Death. Paul informs us concerning the people as a whole that “God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” (Romans 1:28 NAS). He has not restrained humanity from taking its own course, although selfish and sinful.
But God’s great design does not end with the human race prostrate in death, for through Jesus, the Redeemer, God has provided for all to be awakened from death and restored to life. Paul wrote, “By man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21, 22). This provision of life through Christ is based on Jesus’ own death and resurrection. He said, “My flesh I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51) It was for this reason that Jesus was born into the world as a human (Hebrews 2:9,14).
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). This time of sin, sorrow, hate and death began with the disobedience of our first parents. The sorrow that has borne down upon the human race through hate, murder, and corruption has been bitter.
But there is to be a morning of joy for the human race! It will be ushered in by the rising of “the Sun of Righteousness,” who will have “healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2). Jesus is this glorious “Sun of Righteousness.” The new day of blessing will be brought about through the establishment of his Kingdom, which is a government of righteousness foretold by God’s holy prophets (Acts 3:19-21).
Christ’s beneficial rule will change the hearts of all people: “I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33). Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ’s Kingdom says: “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:7). We all look forward to that time when all men will replace bitterness in the heart with love for their fellow man.