Recently Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, spoke of the ruling elite in South Africa in terms calculated to make many feel despair, rather than hope. He observed that: “The noble qualities and values of personal integrity, honesty, humility, compassion, respect for each other, fairness, forgiveness, empathy, selfless dedication and willingness to put others first — that were so beautifully exemplified by President Nelson Mandela — have given way to venality, a complete lack of integrity, moral decadence, profligacy, rampant corruption, deceit and duplicity.”
He went on to say that South Africa has lost its moral compass by voting for: “…people who have no sense of right and wrong, just and unjust, fair and unfair, ethical and unethical… We have become a society in which obscene and unbridled opulence exists alongside debilitating poverty and deprivation; a society that relentlessly promotes a culture of untrammelled greed and conspicuous consumption above the public and common good; a culture that judges one’s worth by the amount of personal wealth amassed.”
But he did not just leave it there. He concluded with his solution: “It will… require mature and visionary leadership, values-based leadership, caring leadership, compassionate leadership, bold and courageous leadership, moral and ethical leadership, responsible and accountable leadership, leadership that is guided by principles and one that eschews populism.”
All very wonderful. But where does the capacity come from to bring forth that kind of hope-giving, transformative leadership? For me the answer has to lie in new penetrations of the spiritual realm, not just by our leadership, but by everyone. That’s where we can find transforming spiritual and moral power — all bringing a hope that is not just temporal and transient, but ultimately eternal and transcendent.
I remember back in the apartheid era being invited to speak in one of our big schools on Christianity and its relevance for the future of South Africa.
After my talk one young person came up to me and said: “Thank you Mr Cassidy for speaking to us tonight as you have. You’ve given us some hope. You see, many of the young people in our school are thinking of leaving South Africa because they have given up on it. They are hopeless and in despair. They can’t see an answer, they can’t see a way forward.” But this schoolgirl thought I had given her some hope.
Grounds for hope
Now on what grounds can one give hope? Well, there is one particular text in the New Testament that is truly wonderful in terms of the hope it gives. This in the first letter of Peter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
Peter, at that time, was writing to a church of people who were mainly in exile. And they were under heavy pressure, experiencing all kinds of suffering, trial and persecution. These people were being tempted to despair over their trials, persecutions, personal hardships, and no doubt over the direction of history.
I know here in South Africa, many people indeed feel also under tremendous trial and hardship. And we wonder where on earth our country is headed.
Then Peter comes along and offers hope. He speaks of it as a living hope. That means it is a hope that can’t be killed, fade away or die. It’s not like saying: “I hope the day will be a sunny day for our picnic” and then the clouds come up to make this a diminishing hope. Then the clouds continue to gather and it becomes a dying hope. Finally, there is a tremendous downpour and your hope for a day of good weather for your outing has become a dead hope!
But Peter is saying that the Christian’s hope cannot be killed, it cannot die. It is a living hope because it is based primarily on the mercy of God, and not on our merit, and certainly not on whether our politicians are being wise or foolish.
The second basis of hope is that it is possible to be born anew. This happens as we repent or change our mind about the way we are living and decide to surrender our lives to Christ. As we open our hearts to Him as Lord, we receive His Holy Spirit into our hearts — and the new birth happens.
This is awesome because it brings a new power for living God’s way, rather than immorally or corruptly. Without the moral capacities brought forth through the new birth, our politicians and other leaders will continue in the behaviour patterns so lambasted by Vice-Chancellor Sizwe Mabizela. The basis for this new moral power through the new birth is the resurrection of Jesus. For sure I rejoice in the resurrection as an item of history. It is not something which happened in a corner. It is not something which starts with once upon a time. It happened in history. And that gives me hope for my life, hope for my family, hope for my country, and hope for our leaders if they truly turn to God.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century England experienced a mighty spiritual revival under the Wesleys. Not only thousands of ordinary people, but hundreds of political and business people were changed by the power of Christ. And the nation was radically renewed in every way with reforms not only in marriage and family life, morals, mining, education, prison, and business, but also in politics with the abolition of slavery.
Something similar could happen in South Africa. If so, the hopes and dreams of Vice-Chancellor Mabizela and all of us could be fulfilled.
So I rejoice today that I can tell you there is hope. Hope through the power of God and spiritual revival. God has not left us. He hasn’t abandoned this broken country of South Africa, regardless of our deserts, and the failings of our leaders and others. Not that we will escape divine judgment and serious consequences for our follies, both past and current, but the hope God brings transcends the external happenings.
In that I rest. And I hope you can too.