Reconciliation: In Christ, with ourselves, with people

Today is the day to start engaging in a dialogue between Europe and Africa which means it is time to change our language to English. I feel very proud and humble to introduce you to the thoughts of my good friend Tristan Kapp. He is Afrikaans and also studies Theology at the University of Pretoria. The last days, he and I have talked a lot about the topic of Reconciliation and Justice in South Africa and what it means to us as young theology students.
Tristan says about this article: „It’s a really controversial, yet important topic. But I pray and trust this to inspire you as it did me to strive towards reconciliation.“
Thank you Tristan for allowing me to share your insights with my friends in Europe as well as in Africa by posting it on this platform.

Today’s guest commentary is written by Tristan Kapp. He studies Theology at the University of Pretoria (South Africa). (© Tristan Kapp)

This article is dedicated to someone who has become my good friend over the past few weeks. Anna: A German Theology exchange student from Frankfurt visiting our Theology Faculty at the University of Pretoria. This topic, as seen above is quite recent and ‘fresh’, as I only discovered it this morning. – For those of you who do not know; I am a Theology student at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. But that which everybody in the world have come to know is: The thing that we as South Africans still struggle with to this day is the concept of reconciliation. However, after a fantastic and insightful discussion this morning with my friend Anna -as well as something that happened to me this morning. The Lord has provided me with some new insight on this controversial issue. But for starters, I will explain this from an African premise and in a South African context. However, this is a universal problem and not something that is to be regarded in a bias.

Today on my way to campus, I started having a conversation with a random guy who took the lift to the 2nd level with me on the Gautrain station. After introducing myself and what I do, we started talking about a topic concerning Politics and Theology: Christ, the African struggle for land, and the reconciliation of these two concepts with each other. When he introduced himself, he told me that he is currently a lawyer for the EFF currently doing his Masters degree in Law (LLM). Now this guy, challenged quite intellectually – and excitingly so – with this heated argument that is quite controversial (and yet very topical) within the South African political context. This argument however is not his own, but is an ideal driven by the very controversial pro-African organisation named the ‘Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) under leadership of Julius Malema, with which this man associates himself with.

Malema, the former leader of the ‘African National Congress: Youth League’ (ANCYL) once supported the ascension to presidency of the now immensely corrupt current president of South Africa, president Jacob Zuma. Against whom he now is fighting because of his (Zuma’s) abuse of authority and his corruption… However, Malema has been stressing throughout his career as political party leader, that Apartheid was responsible for the unequal ownership of land of ‘whites’ in comparison to the ‘impoverished black people’, and he now pioneers the initiative that white people should return the land which originally belonged to black South Africans, robbed of them by white colonialists, so that it could be ‘equally distributed’.

Yet, whatever the case might be, I am by no authority to play the judge in this debacle because I am not knowledgeable enough to have an opinion on this particular matter. However, now that I have illustrated a bit of context, I am indeed able to provide an ideal of something that I do consider myself to have an avid understanding of: The reconciliation with people, with the love of Christ. Yet, this is not just in a South African sense, because universally we struggle with division. It’s not new to us, and we see the proof, even in the Bible where Paul writes to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:8 “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.” Division vs. Reconciliation is not a socio-cultural or ethno-political problem. It is something that started with the fall of humanity (Adam & Eve) and has been mimicked by us throughout history. Examples of which we see in common struggles about sexuality, race, politics, gender… And even religion.

Universal concepts such as these are what the whole world has been struggling with, because each person is convicted of his own stance on each matter and refuses to accept the other’s viewpoint. But what does the Bible say about this matter? – The most used biblical piece of scripture: John 3:16 “For God so loved the WORLD; he sent his only begotten Son to die so that those who might believe in him will not perish, but gain everlasting life.” Some Christian bible-fundamentalists misconceive this Bible verse to have an individual meaning to the self. However, in its context, it instead refers to a collective. Hence, the two main paradigms: “Love” and “World.” Christ did not die for ‘certain chosen’, nor for any ‘certain favourites’. Because Christ doesn’t have any favourites, except everything that lives and breathes. Jesus did not come to save skin, gender, or politics or even religion. He came to save all people, from their brokenness, in relationship. Not just with him. But with all others and ourselves. Because in him we are reconciled with ourselves and inevitably, holistically so with others.

Christ’s love was so complete on the cross that the very second he breathed his last, all division was blown away! Matthew records a fantastic example of this in Matthew 27:51 “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split…” In those days, the temple was divided in three parts. Each part holier than the next, and each chamber with stricter access than the next, and the holiest part of the temple only being exclusively accessible to the Priests alone. But the whole idea of the temple tearing in half was the example of Christ making the biggest move toward reconciliation ever! And in doing so, saying that the temple and the Kingdom of God can now be accessed by everyone and anyone regardless of who and what they are. Each sinner, having the intrinsic yearning for forgiveness… – Reconciliation… And if we then truly abide in Christ who is love, we cannot stay in division with anyoneanymore. Because if we don’t show the same compassion and mercy given to us, to others, unconditionally. We cannot expect to receive this gracious gift from the primary giver, who is Christ.

Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – In his book, “Ich und Du” (I and Thou). The Austrian, Jewish Philosopher, Martin Buber speaks about Dialogical Personalism”This concept speaks about two types of relationships: “I-It” and “I-Thou” relations. The first concept (I-it), discusses the relationship between a subject (I) and an object (it). The relationship that a person has toward a pen. The person = the subject and the Pen = the object is exemplary to this non-reciprocal relationship. In other words, The subject does not contribute to the object’s existence, as it has no active subjectivity. Neither does the object contribute to the subject’s existence. For it is merely used as a tool to benefit the subject. However, the second concept discusses the relationship between a subject (I) and the other subject (Thou). This is can be associated with the relationship that one person has with another person. 

Contrary to the previous model, this model is a mutually reciprocal relationship (where both parties contribute to each other’s existence, because of their mutual-subjectivity.) An example can be made from two people having a conversation and exchanging subjects of interest with each other in order to get to know each other better.

This relationship can be seen as equal, because both parties are actively engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship: Two people starting off as strangers, reconciling their individuality with the individuality of the significant other, hence becoming a collective. (“Friends” if you will) But that which makes the intention of this model so interesting is the fact that one subject (I) regards the other subject (Thou) higher than themselves. – Well, at least that’s how it should be. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus also teaches and practices in the New Testament. The denial of the self (I) is the truest act of love shown unconditionally in order to benefit another (Thou). It attributes a significant importance to the existence of the other person. Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

True Love is one of the only non-verbal positions; devoid of the self and filled with the needs and desires of another. If we are unable to grasp this concept and practice it indiscriminately, in Christ and through Christ, towards one-another. Then reconciliation cannot and will never take place… We as Christians are called to reconcile ourselves with Christ, with all people, through Christ. This is not for any individual or spiritual gain, but for the collective gain which all people will receive when reconciliated with each other in the Kingdom of God! Because God chose to love first; we are able to love, through the salvation found in Christ and the convicting power through the Holy Spirit. Our existence is mercy and everything we have is given. Therefore, we are in no position to selectively show love to those whom we think deserve it or not, because we ourselves don’t deserve it. Freely given to us, and demands to be freely shared by us. 

And to conclude. Reconciliation cannot be secular, because love is not secular. Christ is that love! And if we do not have Christ, we do not have love. And if we do not have love; we are empty of the Holy Sprirt, who is the very essence of the source being God. Through whom only, reconciliation can be brought about in unconditional love. Acts 20:35 “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

© Tristan Kapp

Interested to read more of Tristan’s work? Then you should also check out his own blog called Diary of the Theist: 

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