Saturday, June 22Rhema The Word That Matters

Ubuntu as forgiveness inspiration

If you are computer literate and used to computer operating systems, surely you have already encountered or heard about Ubuntu, a free, open-source operating system. That’s certainly not the meaning we would like to address in this magazine, even if we are confident that the name of the computer operating system is inspired by the South African concept Ubuntu from the Bantu language.


As we devote this month’s topic to ‘forgiveness’, it is important to know already from the beginning, that we think with a deep conviction that forgiveness is not an empty philosophical concept or an unachievable ideal. On the contrary, it is even achievable daily.  The Bible tells us that it is possible and it is a paramount criterion for those willing to have a better relationship with God.


In Luke 17 Jesus makes it clear that Forgiveness a must. He doesn’t say we should forgive. He clearly states that we must forgive. But as we know, some people still believe that the Bible is the same as a Märchenbuch (Fairy Tale Book) of the German Grimm Brothers.


The metamorphosis of South African society from Apartheid to the Democratic Republic without bloodshed, gives us the evidence that Forgiveness is humanly achievable when hearts are prepared for love and not hate. Apartheid based its whole survival on hate and division but as people in Africa say, as long as to be the night, the day will raise. When the day of Love rose, nobody needed violence to get rid of the long years of racism. Love is just stronger than Hate.


In South Africa, Forgiveness was made possible because it was preceded by their ethical and anthropological philosophy called Ubuntu, a way to think that got its ‘Lettres de noblesse’ internationally accepted through President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Nelson Mandela thought that Ubuntu was the only political philosophy to adopt for a country made of different races, religions, social classes, etc. Mandela understands Ubuntu as being a practice of generosity and hospitality. It is the way one relates to others; family members and close friends as well as unknown foreigners. He then based his politics on this philosophy to help people to accept each other as humans of the same country, forgiving what might have hurt them personally in the past. For President Mandela, his History lies in Ubuntu, so it was evident this would be the cement for the future.


On his side, Archbishop Desmond Tutu integrated the biblical image of God into the understandings of Ubuntu.  In his view, Ubuntu is the essence of being human in our interconnectedness. It speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

Ubuntu teaches us to look beyond ourselves – and in so doing, to become more fully human.  “I am, because you are and how I behave impacts not only on me but also others around me because we all belong together.” So a person with Ubuntu is generous, thoughtful, and respectful towards others, appreciating the differences that together make us greater than the sum of our parts! Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for the family. When you have Ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous, compassionate. None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings to be human. I am because other people are. A person is entitled to stable community life, and the first of these communities is the family.”


“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished when others are tortured or oppressed.”


“If the world had more Ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children.” 
For the South African Archbishop, the true Ubuntu is achievable when we understand the meaning of being the image of God.


The South African Cleric does not understand the fact that some might see Ubuntu as an exotic conception “if it is true as we claim that we are created in the Image of God! Christians believe that this God is not solitary or alone but incredibly, we are made in the image of a God who is relationship”. A God, who is rich in mercy as Paul teaches it in Ephesians 2:4. For Desmond Tutu, “The intrinsic nature of this idea is that it comes with a package – you, me, we, those poor people that make you want to pinch your nose when you go past them – that person is created in the Image of God.  I, you, me, each one of us is essential.” 


So since we accept that we are made in the image of God, We must therefore accept to be merciful and apply forgiveness with dignity according to Jesus’ command in Luke 17:4:
“‘If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.  Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying “I repent,” you must forgive them.”

Pastor Daniel Atteby

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