I ask myself why there is such a universal admiration for Nelson Mandela, which in many places, has become idolisation, and have come to this conclusion:
1. He preached and practiced forgiveness and reconciliation. While most of us respond to mistreatment and abuse with anger and revenge, deep inside we know the right thing to do, and we admire someone who goes against so-called "human nature" (though it should really be called "fallen nature" -- to be truly human is to be Christ-like) and does what we inherently know we should do.
2. He was a humble man. To be truly humble is to show honour and respect for all others, regardless of their colour, status or any other qualities we use to judge them. Everyone who has spoken of their meeting with Madiba has told of the way he honoured them.
3. He spoke the truth, even when it was unpopular. Irrespective of whom it was directed against, he called injustice by its name and stood against it.
4. He was a man of compassion. He mingled pragmatism with compassion and did not see them as contradictory. Indeed, if the good of others is the end in mind, then compassion is always the way to achieve it. This is why the way of reconciliation, to him, seemed such an obvious -- though not an easy -- route to go.
5. He was a man of joy. He seemed to radiate an inner strength and quiet joy that is so characteristic of people who are aligning themselves with the way we were originally designed to function by our Creator.
6. God has put in each one of us a longing to return to our original state, which is sinless perfection, made in His image. The qualities of God, as portrayed by Jesus -- forgiveness and reconciliation, humility, truthfulness, compassion and joy -- are as much an inherent part of our spiritual DNA as they are unattainable.(Hence Paul's frustration expressed in Roman 7:14-24). We therefore derive a vicarious pleasure is seeing them displayed so conspicuously and effectively in a fellow human. We can identify with him and say "He is one of us" and, in showing our appreciation of him we are also saying, "We belong with him."
However, for those who are not sure of their identity in Christ, it is easy to idolise a man with these Christ-like qualities. Beware. We must never forget that he was a fallen individual and had his faults as each of us has. We have been privileged to have a window into the attitudes and actions of a towering man, but it is only a window. Were we privy to the whole picture, we would see a man as much in need of the Blood of Christ to cleanse him as anyone.
Let us celebrate the life of an individual who showed us, in many ways, God's way. Let us honour him for the colossus that he was, but let us not substitute the light-bearer for the Light.
Dave Walker is a retired anesthesiologist who saw God respond in remarkable ways when he prayed for his patients in the Intensive Care Unit. He has written about this in his book God in the ICU. He lives in Cape Town. For more information please visit http://www.godintheicu.wordpress.com
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