A humble member of our house church in the sprawling Motherwell township of Nelson Mandela Bay sent me a scripture to read just a day or two ago. When I read it I marvelled how apposite it was ‘for a time such as this’ in the history of our young nation, South Africa, as well as (perhaps) in our personal circumstances.
As I write this blog, the 94-year-old national and global icon Nelson Mandela is losing his battle against lung complications (exacerbated by his 27 years of political imprisonment and stone-quarrying on Robben Island) and, according to official support, is now on life-support in a Pretoria private hospital. The nation and indeed the world is on tenterhooks. President Zuma has been visiting the hospital regularly and has cancelled his planned trip to Mozambique tomorrow. The news of Mandela’s death may come at any moment now. A tide of emotional tributes via the social media and hand-written notes pinned to bouquets of flowers is flooding the hospital and immediate family.
In recent times international leaders, celebrities, athletes etc have praised Mandela, not just as the man who (under God) steered South Africa through its tense transition from racist rule to the beginnings of democracy, but as a universal symbol of justice, sacrifice and above all reconciliation (at least on a social, political and personal level). Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, has written, ‘We are all mortal… at some stage we all have to die, and we have to move on, we have to be recalled by our Maker and Redeemer. We have to create that space for Madiba, to come to terms within himself with that journey.’ I know for a fact that over many years Madiba (his clan name) was exposed to the message of Christ through ‘church services’ he attended and Christian leaders from different walks of life who spoke to him – we pray he has indeed made his peace with God, who alone is able to reconcile us to himself through Christ Jesus (Col. 1-2).
The fact and the irony is that at the moment many millions in our nation are still somehow looking to this man to recover and help us into the future! Surely, apart from the values he instilled and the example he set, such a hope is now totally unrealistic.
But read with me the words of Ps. 146 which my fellow-believer and friend pointed me to [note: Psalms 146-150 are hymns of worship. These ‘hallelujah psalms’ are anonymous, though the Septuagint preserves two traditions, variously assigning Ps. 146 to the post-Babylonian exile prophets, Haggai and Zechariah who both prophesied in a time of great national uncertainty]:
‘Praise the LORD, I tell myself. (we don’t always feel like it, do we? happiness is a choice)
I will praise the LORD as long as I live.
I will sing praises to my God even
with my dying breath.
Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
there is no help for you there.
When their breathing stops, they return to the earth,
and in a moment all their plans come to an end.
But happy are those who have the
God of Israel is their helper,
whose hope is in the Lord our God.
He is the one who made heaven and earth
the sea, and everything in them.
He is the one who keeps every
promise for ever,
who gives justice to the oppressed
and food to the hungry.
The LORD frees the prisoners.
The LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts the burdens of those
bent beneath their loads.
The LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD protects the foreigners
He cares for the orphans and widows,
but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.
The LORD will reign forever.
O Jerusalem, your God is King in
Praise the LORD!
Just maybe this is a word for you in your personal circumstances also. It certainly is for my Malawian friend Pamly Sokota in her tiny run-down house, unemployed and eking out a living for her herself and her adopted niece. She cheers me no end. The Lord lives!