…overwhelmed by grace…

I have read the story before, and there are a couple of other accounts similar, but I have never gotten over the retelling of a courtroom scene in South Africa that Philip Yancey offers.

After being released from prison, Nelson Mandela appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head something called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yancey writes:

According to the Commission’s rules, if an oppressor faced his accusers and fully confessed his crime, he could not be prosecuted for that crime. Some in South Africa protested the injustice of letting criminals go free, but Mandela insisted the country needed healing even more than it needed justice.

A policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body, turning it on the fire like a piece of barbecue meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it.
The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she wanted van de Broek to go the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded agreement.
Then she added a further request, “Mr van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”

Some in the courtroom spontaneously began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, physically overwhelmed by grace.

Justice was not done in South Africa that day…Something beyond justice took place, the first step toward reconciliation.

– Philip Yancey, “What Good is God?” (pp 424-425)

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