As I begin write this, the entire world is mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela. After months of illness, Mr. Mandela has passed away at age 95. News outlets show picture after picture of Mr. Mandela from his days as an activist against the apartheid regime, to his lengthy imprisonment, to his release from prison in 1990, to the impact he had a president of South Africa, and finally to his days as an elder statesman. Even in old age and illness, there was still something about this man that draws people to him. There was a glow, a light that emanates from his very soul. Where does someone who has suffered immeasurable injustice, not only against him, but all who are like him, get this light, the glow? What is its source?
The answer I believe is the freedom found in forgiveness. Mr. Mandela was someone who chose to forgive those who for decades have wronged him. He did not seek retribution, and encouraged others to live the same way. He released those who persecuted him. And this release brought about his freedom, even while he was still physically in bondage.
Although I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Robbins Island where he was imprisoned for 27 years, I can only imagine what it must have been like to be subjected to such harsh treatment for about a third of his life, the prime years of his life. But Mr. Mandela made the conscious decision to forgive, the process of which is not easy, and did not allow anger and bitterness to entrap him. Anger and bitterness are traps that keep one bound and unable to live fully, traps of the enemy of our souls – Satan, traps that the enemy tries to use to prevent you from walking into the calling on your life.
How could Mr. Mandela display such a beautiful smile, having experienced such a difficult life? How do 95 year old eyes still twinkle? How can joy and peace emanate from someone who has experienced trials many of us will never have to encounter? Freedom allows joy and peace to shine through a person, without that person having to even say a word. And forgiveness is what brings about this freedom.
The Bible instructs us to forgive as God has forgiven you. If you have unforgiveness in your heart, go to God’s word and learn what He expects of us regarding forgiveness (Matthew chapter 6:14-15 and Colossians 3:13 are just a few scriptures). In her book “The Power of Forgiveness,” Joyce Meyer says, “Wounded emotions can become a prison that locks us into our pain and keep others out.” Confess the sin of unforgiveness, then ask God to give you the freedom that comes with forgiveness. He is standing ready to release you today! He will do it!