Sudan, Civil War, Forgiveness




Matthew 5:43-48

(43) "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

(44) But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

(45) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

(46) For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

(47) And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

(48) You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


Between 1983 and 2005, a civil war raged in the southern Sudan. Sudan is a country in NE Africa. It is the largest country in Africa, but it is about to become smaller. As I said, there has been a Civil war between the North and South. That reminds us of our own American Civil War. Our Civil War went on for 4 years and killed 620,000 people. By contrast, the civil war in Sudan went on for over 20 years and killed approximately 2 million people. In our Civil War, most of the dead were soldiers in armies. In Sudan, most of the dead are civilians who were massacred by various militia groups, mainly by government-supported Janjaweed militia. There are many causes of the war in Sudan. There is racism. The north is mostly light-skinned Arabs; the south is mostly dark-skinned Black tribesmen. Oil has been discovered in the south and that is a factor. Then there is religion. The North is Muslim. The south is mostly Christian and pagan. The north has most of the population (20 million to 6 million southerners) and most of the industry. The southerners are mostly subsistence farmers.

By all accounts, the Northern Arab Muslims have made a determined attempt to commit genocide in the south. It is estimated that 80% of all the people in southern Sudan have been driven out of their homes at least once, and many have fled for their lives more than once. Hundreds of thousands of people are living as refugees in neighboring countries. It has been the practice of the government Janjaweed militia to go through Black villages shooting anyone they can find.

Because of the strife, the Blacks were unable to plant their crops and therefore there was a famine in the land. When world relief agencies tried to send in food, the government prevented those supplies from going south. Thus, it was the deliberate strategy of the north to try to depopulate large parts of southern Sudan, but the northern strategy failed. The Blacks in the south organized their own army and fought back. The situation became a bloody stalemate. In 2005, a truce was negotiated. According to the settlement, the south would rule itself until 2011, and then in January 2011 there would be a referendum to determine whether southern Sudan should become an independent nation. That referendum has just concluded and it looks like the vote for secession is virtually certain.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised both southern and northern leaders for creating conditions in which voters could cast their ballots "freely and without fear." "The parties have an opportunity to forge a durable peace between the North and the South," she said in a statement, adding that the United States supported their efforts "to ensure a peaceful, more prosperous future for all Sudanese."

So South Sudan is on its way to becoming an independent nation. They already have a president. His name is Salva Kiir. This week, in the southern capital of Juba, he made his first public pronouncement since the referendum. He spoke in a church from the pulpit. He said: "For our deceased brothers and sisters, particularly those who have fallen during the time of struggle, may God bless them with eternal peace. And may we, like Jesus Christ on the cross, forgive those who have forcefully caused their deaths."

Now think about this. 2 million dead, 20 years of bloody strife, and Salva Kiir says, we ought to be like Jesus and forgive the murderers. I never heard of Salva Kiir before this week, but I am impressed. If I was in his place, with so many dead in such a long conflict, I do not know if I could be as forgiving. I do not know what the future holds for Salva Kiir and the South Sudan. I suspect it will be harsh. I suspect that the strife is not over. Most people are not that forgiving. In fact, there was some fighting between Black farmers and Arab nomads last week, during the referendum. No nation in Africa is doing very well. The outlook for the continent is bleak at best. The old joke is that when the British left Africa, they took God with them. However, in the midst of all blood and carnage there are occasionally gleams of hope. What Salva Kiir said was a gleam of hope. He said let us be like Jesus, let us forgive our enemies.

That is good advice for us. In fact, that is what Jesus told us to do. He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (44), but that is hard. In fact, that kind of love is not a snap decision. It is more of a process, a process of learning to love and forgive, even those who do not love us and are not seeking our forgiveness.

The first point in the process is do not minimize the pain. In a bad situation, we sometimes pretend nothing much happened. We say, “It’s no big deal,” “Oh, don’t worry about it.” We pretend that what he said did not really bother us or what she did did not even faze us, so there is no forgiveness needed.

And for many of the minor unpleasant incidents in life, this is the best solution. Minor disappointments or little slights do not require major forgiveness. We need to grow some thick skins and not pay that sort of thing much attention.

But there are other situations where the pain is so deep, the betrayal is so unfair, that can only be resolved by love and forgiveness. Of course, the last thing we feel like doing in those situations is forgiving.

We all get cheated, robbed and hurt by other people at times in our lives. Sometimes, the crimes against us are so bad that we wish that we were a Mafia Don, and we could put a contract out on that person to have them killed, or, at least, we would like to do the same thing to them; we want to get even. I read a story about a mother who heard her seven-year-old son scream. She ran into the bedroom and found his two-year-old sister pulling his hair. The mother gently released the little girl’s grip and said comfortingly to the boy, "There, there. She didn’t mean it. She doesn’t know that hurts." He nodded his acknowledgement, and the mother left the room. As she started down the hall, the little girl screamed. Rushing back in, she asked, "What happened?" The little boy replied, "She knows now." That is the rule of the world--get even. The rule of the world is “Do unto others as they have done unto you.”

When we choose to forgive, though, we choose not to get even. We lay aside our thoughts of revenge. As I said that is not easy. Learning to love, learning to forgive, is a long progress.

Let us be specific. Say it happens to you. You are deeply wounded. How do you get through this? I already said, do not minimize the hurt. I add to that. Tell your story. If you are hurt do not lock it up inside and nourish it. Talk about it. Before you can forgive, you must give yourself time to feel angry and wounded. Tell your story to trusted friends, family members. In other words, vent.

The next thing is learning to live with it. I think this is mostly the gift of time. Time dulls the pain, soothes the anger. Like a balloon slowly letting out air, we slowly let go of our loathing and forgive our enemy.

But you might think, “Why should I let them off the hook? They hurt me; they cheated me. Why should I love them and forgive them?" the answer is that you are not doing it only for them. You are doing it for yourself. Your time in this world is limited. Twisting yourself up with poisonous hatred is not a good way to live. I know people, and I am sure you do too, who collect grievances the way some people collect stamps. They sit at home in the dark and rage at their album of injustices. Their thoughts are filled with abhorrence and disgust at what was done to them. This is a sure path to misery.

Africa offers us examples.

When Nelson Mandela was released after 27years in prison in South Africa, he was probably the most powerful man in the country. He was elected President of South Africa in 1994, the first election in which Blacks were allowed to vote. He could have been very hostile to the White minority. He could have tried to drive them out of the country. He had reason. Blacks in South Africa had lived under a very repressive regime. Many Whites had grown rich under Apartheid. The hatred and lust for revenge must have been overwhelming, but instead of taking the path of hatred, Mandela preached peace and reconciliation. He saw the path of revenge would tear the country apart.

In his inaugural speech, he said, "We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world".

In contrast, look at what happened in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe used to be Rhodesia. Rhodesia was run by a White minority government led by Ian Smith. It was very successful in agriculture. Rhodesia was known as “the breadbasket of southern Africa.” Then, liberation came. The White minority government was overthrown. Rhodesia became Zimbabwe led by their new president Robert Mugabe. Now let us be honest here. Mugabe and his supporters have reason to hate the Whites. The Black majority was repressed when the Whites ruled. And Mugabe has reacted with a heart full of hatred and revenge. His government has seized the land of white farmers and done their best to drive them from the country. The result is that the economy in Zimbabwe is a disaster. The nation that once exported farm products now faces chronic famine. Hatred and revenge has led to misery.

So if someone asks, why should I love my enemies? Perhaps the best answer is that is the only thing that works.

Forgiveness and love are the most powerful way to live in the world. Now I know that some folks say that if you forgive you just become some kind of weak-kneed patsy, who will be a doormat for every pushy arrogant jerk in the world. I believe, though, that there is a power that is unleashed in love that cannot come from any other source. Jesus said in these verses from the Sermon on the Mount, Of course, you love your family and your friends. You love those that love you. Everybody does that. That is no big deal. But Jesus said go further than that. Love those who do not love you. Forgive those that do forgive you. That is a powerful weapon.

Forgiveness changes your status from victim to victor. When someone does something hurtful to us, we are the victim of their meanness or their thoughtlessness, and we may think that we can do nothing about our victim status, but that is not true. When we forgive, we are no longer powerless, we are no longer the one who is acted upon, we are acting. Others no longer dictate our status, we dictate our own status.

Furthermore, just as you cannot be spiritually healthy without living in forgiveness and love, there is evidence that you cannot be physically healthy without living that some way.

Take, for example, Catherine O'Brien []. For seven years after her divorce, the 54-year-old video producer from Pacifica, Calif., felt furious with her ex-husband. First she was upset that he cheated several times during their 16-year marriage. Later she hated him because he stole the life she had imagined they would share into old age. "I never got over the death of that dream," O'Brien says. She is certain her hostility affected her health. Not only did she sense her blood pressure skyrocketing each time she saw her ex-husband, but she says, "I got every virus that went around. I'm sure it was the stress."

Then a friend gave O'Brien an audiotape and insisted that she listen to it. The tape featured Dr. Frederic Luskin, of Stanford. Luskin believes forgiveness can improve your emotional and physical health. Skeptical, O'Brien ignored the tape for several months, but one night she played it, just to appease her friend. What she heard stunned her. "The thing that really hit me was that my being mad didn't hurt him," O'Brien says. "It just hurt me." Eventually she called her husband and told him she forgave him.

Her ex-husband was surprised and glad, but O'Brien felt better than he did. "I felt totally relieved," she says. "It was like a weight had lifted." She says the phone call changed her. "We're not best friends or anything, but I can talk to him now and not have my blood pressure go up."

Researchers agree that, over time, the stress of a grudge threatens your health. In response to stress, your body releases chemicals that can disrupt your immune system and set you up for hypertension and coronary artery disease. Negative emotions increase your risk of health problems. Forgiveness decreases those negatives. So Forgiveness is not about letting your enemy off the hook. Forgiveness is about letting yourself off the hook. This reminds me of the old Chinese saying, “Whoever opts for revenge should dig two graves.” Or as Anne Lamott said, “Not forgiving someone is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” (Traveling Mercies)

Jesus had it right all along. Love your enemies. That is the most healthy thing to do.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last Modified: 05/02/13