How Nelson Mandela’s Faith Teaches Us about Love and Confronting Injustice

For 27 years, Nelson Mandela languished in prison, held captive by his own unjust government. Mandela lost part of his sight due to the sun’s glare in the quarry where he labored daily breaking rocks. Mandela’s cell was so small, he barely had enough room to lie down to sleep. It’s easy to understand how Mandela would’ve responded with bitterness and anger, but he chose to draw from his Christian faith and respond with kindness and respect to his captors. However, those who misconstrued his kindness and respect for an unwillingness to confront and battle injustice seriously misunderstood and underestimated him.

When he was released from prison in 1990, Mandela, facing threats to his own safety, led the fight to end apartheid in South Africa. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for advocating for political freedom peacefully. The following year, he was elected President of South Africa, completing a journey from prison to presidency in four years. Writing about Mandela’s life in Love Your Enemies, Arthur Brooks explained that Mandela shattered the myth we are taught that we must choose between kindness and success. Brooks wrote that Mandela “showed that this is not a choice we have to make…We can learn from this style of cheerful, kind leadership while striking a blow against the culture of contempt.”

The way we confront evil and change the world is by holding fast to the law of love. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

It’s easy loving people who are kind and considerate toward us. It’s difficult loving people who hate us, dislike us, or ghost us. But this is how the power of love works. It works through a deliberate decision to trust God and adopt posture of humility. As a follower of Christ, I must remind myself when someone needs my forgiveness that I need forgiveness from God. My misdeeds cost the life of the Son of God. But He’s forgiven me and that forgiveness I receive from God flows through me, changing me and flowing toward others who hurt me. Mandela understood this truth, and it’s how he could show remarkable self-discipline, forgiveness, boldness, and love toward his captors and his enemies in South Africa.

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