Author’s note: the following article is used by permission from the book, Sacred Treasures; Broken Clay. Grace in the Extreme by this author.


A few comments first…


At this writing authorities are looking for one of the surviving brothers who are suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombing. This young man needs to be brought to justice and pay for his crimes.


There is so little we truly know about these two young men at this point. Again, not speaking with absolute certainty, but most likely, Islamic terrorists who lived here for many years. The question as to what drives those so young to such radical, calloused murder and hatred is hard to grasp. The issue that truly drove this was not religious dogmatic extremism but it is in fact much deeper. All violence is driven at its root by separation from God, from the breaking of our souls at the Garden. That brokenness severed not only the bonds with God but severed them terribly between humans. This brokenness is the impetus of what drives us all.


God healing our souls is the heart of all true healing, all true reconciliation. What this young man needs more than anything else, to truly cure the anger and hatred in his soul, is to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, This young man is spiritually dead and needs to be made spiritually alive.


“No chance of that,” you say. God performs miracles. Look no further than young, religiously radical Saul who tried to destroy the early church. God saved that angry heart and remade it and Paul was born from above. This young man on the run still has an eternal soul.


It is easy for us to be enveloped by the same anger, even hatred that enveloped these two young men. The desire for justice for them is righteous and is part of the character of God for God is just. If, however, we descend into their hatred we err as the answer to their hatred is not more of the same from us.


We cannot forget that we are all sinners condemned to death in Hell. Christ is our redemption, the satisfaction of our sins; he bore on his body the rightful deserving of our sin and alienation from a holy God. We may not be terrorists or murders in action but the Sermon on the Mount made it clear that murder starts in our hearts. We need the same cure, the rebirth of our soul, the being born again or being born from above.


The hope of the world is Jesus Christ; He is the final answer. The young terrorist that survives is in a prison of the soul far more secure and impenetrable than any man could build, a heart alienated from God and human beings.


Jesus sets the captives free. Jesus can change this young man’s heart.

“Refusing Grace

What is the boundary of Grace?

Where is the line in the sand where one side signifies Grace and the other where Grace can never abide? Where is the point where God’s kindness and forgiveness runs out on this side of life’s curtain? Can I sin so much, perhaps lead so many astray, causing them to doubt faith that I am beyond the pale, beyond redemption?

It would amaze most to know that there is evidence that before he was murdered Jeffrey Dahmer came to Christ. Dahmer’s crimes were incontrovertibly horrific and cannot be minimized. From a human standpoint it is easy for us to think God could not redeem this monster but these are the limitations we make. Grace has a way of making the most unexpected appearances.

Jesus told Nicodemus that the Holy Spirit blows where the Holy Spirit desires to go. Grace seems to extend into the most unlikely of lives but this is God’s business not ours. We should never say, “Oh no Lord not that one!”

God’s ability to forgive and work in the life of a person is truly limitless. God chooses to show his love and ability to rebuild and restore lives.

What we see in the life of Paul the apostle, is the willingness of God to take the raw material of those who trample under feet His word and cause suffering and create grace-filled works of spiritual art. In spite of the suffering that Paul caused in the early Church God chose to metamorphosize Saul the persecutor and make him Paul the apostle.

The glory of the latter life of Paul does not negate the true evil that he inflicted on believers in his pre-Christian days. This uncomfortable issue, all of the dead and broken bodies in Saul’s wake, is not given a lot of press. For those so victimized, the maxim “All’s well that ends well,” may have been scant comfort. In Paul’s days as in ours, the need confronts us for a working grace that can offer forgiveness from the grievously wounded by these pieces of God’s new artwork.


We need either to, at some time, forgive others or desperately need others to forgive us. People are not able to transverse this life without giving or taking offense. Others scar us and we scar them and this is the constant human condition. We both crave close emotional and physical proximity, as a rule, but we are also often, conditioned by our personal history, to avoid it all together, or approach with extreme caution.


As painful as the cost of forgiveness can be, we cannot be whole as people or society unless we stand willing to give it where it is needed. Unforgiven offense does not necessarily poison the offender, but it will without fail, poison the heart and body of the offended. Un-forgiveness is a brutal and punishing task-master.


Forgiveness on the human level is itself an intimate act most often granted, person to person. In the Anglican tradition after the Confession of Sin, a corporate recital of our sin guilt and responsibility, the priest grants a corporate forgiveness applied to individuals from the Father, a vertical transaction. Corporate confession is important as was the corporate confession of racial responsibility for slavery by the Southern Baptist Convention. When my brother offends me specifically however, or I offend him, the transaction is horizontal, between my brother or sister and I and it is a private matter between us and God. So this transaction is truly both vertical and horizontal.


The inevitable question comes: What if the offense is too great, the wound, too deep? What if the crime takes the offended beyond the boundaries of forgiveness to where it is no longer possible? What if…the cost of forgiveness is too much?


Never assume the inevitable question (as we call it) is rhetorical for in this broken world humans will receive horrific offense at the hands of others. If we give the quick, and perhaps smug answer, “Well we are supposed to forgive!” it can raise the question as to whether or not we have been in a position where our forgiveness was needed.


All too often the totally broken people of this world work to break those around them. Those emotional wounds dare not be ignored no more than the physical ones. How are those wounds tended to? You cannot put an emotional band-aide on an emotional cut that lays the skin open to the bone. Healing woundedness of this extent is God’s work.


In the realm of forgiveness, there is this which is impossible with man but, mercifully, is possible with God. We must receive the penitent prodigal; yet forgiveness is not predicated on penitence. After all, forgiveness was God’s idea or put as we so often see it: “To forgive is divine.” The cross of Christ is the outworking of the divine.  Indeed the balm of forgiveness is applied in the most unnatural (to we humans at least) of situations and to the most unlikely of recipients. Forgiveness does not equate to restoration of full fellowship. With humans the extension of fellowship requires evidence that we humans simply cannot see. We cannot peer into the heart and soul as our Father can. Our limitations in this regard require wisdom and cautious additional steps to truly gage attitude and intent.


Of this divine forgiveness applied to evil men by other women and men there are so many, many examples. Indeed, these examples of forgiveness where it is seemingly impossible are legion.


These events transpired in a country where a privileged minority gave new meaning to the concept of racial discrimination, racial arrogance and hatred: South Africa. Under the white minority of South Africa, apartheid was forever branded a word synonymous with cruel racism.


Change at a societal level is never truly at the speed of a lightning bolt but is most analogous to transition from night, to predawn, to early and full morning. Change came in South Africa, at the hands of the scandalized world, the moral force of Mandela and those others, white and black who were willing to embrace the dawn.


One young man who knew that the dawn must be embraced by all was a neophyte Dutch Reformed pastor named Deon Snyman. For all of his theological education, he realized that in the area of new relations between blacks and whites he was woefully inadequate for he knew not black men or women.


Coming into his pastoral work at the beginning of the Mandela era, his best course was to help blaze the trail between races that would make him brother to all. Consequently, Snyman became pastor of a rural Zulu church.


The truth he learned was the native Zulu were terribly offended by the un-Christ-like apartheid and rightfully wanted fruits of true remorse and change. As Christ commanded restitution for the victims of crime from the criminal, apartheid was a terrible evil and a crime that had victimized a national majority. Pastor Snyman envisioned restitution on levels not just personal, but corporate. Community sized restitution that created schools, hospitals and vocational training facilities.


But that dawn came so much slower for many of those infected with the virulent disease of racism. Racism and ignorance are terribly resistant to truth and grace.


On Christmas Eve 1996 two bombs exploded in down-town Worcester. All the more tragic in a community that was slowly embracing the dawn of equality, the blast snuffed out the lives of three children and one adult. All of the victims, more than sixty, were black: it was a racial attack.


Who did this monstrous, evil deed? Was apartheid truly dead, or sleeping? For one woman, Olga Macingwane, who was physically and emotionally scarred by the bomb, the answer was bound in the conjectured face of an older white man, with a beard and severe expression. This face haunted her nightmares.


The face of the bomber in fact belonged to 19-year-old Daniel Stephanus Coetzee. Horrified to learn he had murdered children, he phoned police to turn himself in. Coetzee was one of the last victim’s of South Africa’s racism. A product of a broken home and a foster-care system, Daniel came under the care of an avowed racist who literally re-wrote the Bible to suit his personal hatred of other. This racial hatred and a perverted faith moved Daniel to plant the bomb.


It was in the early years in prison that grace began to strip away the hateful anger in his soul.


Coetzee was given a Bible and began to learn the difference between the lie he was taught and the truth he now held in his hands. The infusion of life-changing truth is just as often a slow process as it is a blinding light on the Damascus highway. Five years after his imprisonment Daniel met a man who would be instrumental in changing his views. The man was older, sentenced to multiple life sentences. Eugene de Kock was tried and convicted of crimes against humanity. He had been the head of the secret security unit of the South African Police charged with terrible atrocities.


Kock simply told Daniel that racism was wrong and it was a prison just as strong as the steel bars that held him. As much as the young man fought it, the message was inescapable.


The changes born in the hearts of the offenders such as Daniel were also shared by the offended, the victims of the organized and government sanction racial policies. Just as surely as Daniel Coetzee was previously imprisoned by his hatred of blacks so were many of the blacks still emotionally imprisoned by this repressive, criminal system. For most, the hard shell of suffering and oppression would only be broken with the hammer and chisel of justice and restitution.


As an advocacy organization for the victims, the Khulumani Support Group, made up of former victims of the racial crimes and 58,000 members strong began to address the concerns for justice. The national director of the Khulumani Support Group, Dr. Marjorie Jobson, observed that apartheid would be dismantled not by government fiat but by one person at a time making heart changes that changed their society. “It is up to each South African to participate in restitution…the power of one to perpetuate our violent past or to contribute to a just, peaceful society,” she said.


In 2004 Eugene de Kock called Dr. Jobson. This was not the first call for Kock. In remorse of his crimes the former policeman had worked with the Khulumani Group to locate his victims. This time the call centered on the young Coetzee, “[He] wants to meet with his victims and apologize for what he has done.” The trouble was that since the bombing was an impersonal act Coetzee did not know who his victims were. What seemed an impasse however would have the most remarkable of solutions.


In 2007 President Mbeki proposed a law to pardon certain perpetrators of politically motivated crimes committed 1994 to 1999. Originally the law was to be enacted without any consultation from the victims or their families. The pardon, considered an act of political expediency, was adjudged as all the more harmful by various human-rights groups. Along with others, the Khulumani Support group filed suit against the provision ignoring the wishes of the victims. The case was eventually won.


When Jobson saw the list of prisoners recommended for pardon she recognized Daniel Coetzee, the young man Kock had spoken of. Her organization had reached out to families of the murdered and the wounded in the blast. Among those in the outreach was Olga Macingwane. She and others were skeptical about Coetzee. “Why now?” was the collective question. The bombing was more than a decade ago and was there truly a repentant heart or cold calculated manipulation?


Could the lion of justice lay down with the lamb of reconciliation? In South Africa this question is not idle speculation but critical in importance in the healing of this fractured nation. Can those guilty of the crimes of racism, oppression and injustice truly see their evil and repent? Can their victims truly offer forgiveness and restoration? The need is for reconciliation, not presented as a misty wraith but in minds that think, hearts that are open and hands that touch.


Olga Macingwane and three others from Worcester agreed to meet Daniel Coetzee with the understanding this was not a meeting to extend forgiveness but to put a face with the heinous crime. Olga stated emphatically that forgiveness was not on her agenda but rather she wanted to face the image of the old, bearded stern man of her nightmares.


Instead of the old face filled with hate, as Olga had in her mind, she saw the face of a boy. She could not have been more stunned at the sight of this handsome young man whose face was filled with sorrow and responsibility for his murder and maiming. This boy’s face radiated contrition as opposed to the hateful arrogance they feared. Olga Macingwane asked to begin with prayer. Slowly, painfully, she got on her knees and began by praising God for his hallowedness and that she would forgive as she has been forgiven. Olga asked God to work His will in that room that day.


The five began to talk. After a while the four asked Daniel how he learned to hate black people? How did this hatred change and what did he do now? His goal was simple, Daniel divulged, he wanted to work with orphans and steer them away from violence. Daniel shared his dream of a family and children and the need to honestly tell them of his violent past.


For two hours they talked until Olga Macingwane rose to her feet, calling for Daniel to come to her. Overcome with emotion, she held him in her dark arms, white and black intertwined. “I forgive you. I have heard what you have said and I forgive you.”  1


The dawn broke once again in South Africa in the lives of offender and offended. Justice was covered by grace and restitution.


If we name the name of Christ, unforgiveness is taken off the table and there is no true option between forgiveness and unforgiveness. Jesus’ response to the question as to the limits of forgiveness in Matthew 18 shows that, if anything, forgiveness is not a one time event in our personal history but a continually provided grace to others.


Ultimate, eternal judgment is placed in the hands of the sovereign God. We are not denying the need for earthly justice, do not misunderstand, but to meet out final justice is neither our right nor our option. Our option, our only true option is the extension of forgiveness that leads to emotional and spiritual health for all concerned.  The emotional prison that held both Daniel and Olga was opened that they both truly could be free.”


1 Fuller, Alexandra (2010), Mandela’s Children; Washington, DC National Geographic Society


Copyright © 2013 Brian Bailey, Author