CRAMMED WITH HEAVEN: Heroes and villains — who writes the script?

Darkness parades itself through the crowd like a carnival float of feathered dancers; it turns our heads and attracts our gaze. Wicked men and their wicked deeds fill our history books, and our screens; they inform the lessons we pass on to our children and depending on the degree to which we have allowed them into our heads, they can dictate our decisions and determine our comings and goings.

We are repelled by them, and yet we are consumed by their faces and names and significance in our worlds. I have found my thoughts heavy at times with the final turn of a page of a newspaper; I have read only of corruption and greed, immorality and licentiousness, of my beloved country spiraling further and further from the restraints of morality.

But I know that what I hear and read is not the final word, and that there is a truth that trumps the awareness that comes through my five senses, and a reality that is the final determiner for the future of our spinning planet. The devil is not the scribe of our stories; he cannot take the director’s chair in the grandiose drama of earth and her people, for the final page has already been written and the full-stop added to the last word at the end of all things. 

William Holman Hunt: The Light of the World (Manchester version, (1851–1856). Oil on canvas, 49.8 x 26.1 cm (19.6 x 10.2 in). Manchester Art Gallery.

I like to think that one day I will see how it played out, at least the part that pertains to my own life, how God rescued me from every dark plot; how He orchestrated connections with people who nudged me towards the right paths; how I heard Him and responded without knowing it was His voice; how He took everything that was hurled at me from hell and enabled it to become a weapon in my hand.

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And perhaps once I have seen this, He will show me some of history — the moments where the world seemed forsaken and ruled by dark spirits, but where light was actually penetrating, and directing and informing the outcome through the prayers and actions of the saints. Most of these people will be unknown to me, men and women of history who have gone home uncelebrated on earth, but who hold rank in heaven. And it’s these righteous ones who I am convinced inspire the greatest plot-twists; men and women who redirect the trajectory of a city or nation, much like a rudder on a ship. 

Admittedly, I have met a few of them over the years. I had a fleeting encounter once, with a woman who served in the office of our previous president, Jacob Zuma. Her radiant and authoritative personality attracted my attention, and I asked her to share her story. She had been raised a strict Muslim and had married an equally strict and religious man. But for as long as she could remember, every night she had had the same dream. A closed door would appear in her room. She would stand before the door knowing that she needed to put her hand on the doorknob and turn it. But she could never bring herself to open the door, and night after night the dream would fade into the morning.

One day, while awake, the door appeared quite literally in the middle of the room. It was as if all the dreams of the door merged and culminated into this profound and inconceivable moment, and this time, she could not deny the invitation to open it. So, she did, and as the door opened she saw a man in white on the other side. He stepped forward, right into her, so that the two of them became one being.  She knew the man was Jesus and that He had come to inhabit her and everything of her life was about to change.

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Born again, she turned to Scripture with insatiable hunger. She lost everything — her family and her husband — and for months following her salvation she was plagued by demon spirits and illness. But her heart was given over to Jesus and there was no going back; with His favour on her, the career she had in law took her to a high-ranking position in government where she was able to influence critical decisions and bring solution where fractured parties had reached stalemate.  

Less of a stranger, and more of a friend, there is another such influencer who holds office in South Africa’s treasury. I have known him since my university days. Raised in a township outside of Durban, he committed his life to Jesus as a young man. He has one of the sharpest minds I have ever encountered, and as a respected and brilliant economist, I suspect he could knock on many doors in the world to find them swing wide to his influence. I am so grateful for his love for God, his unwavering integrity, and his commitment to South Africa – all of which have led him to a place of sacrifice serving in the proverbial courts of Nebuchadnezzar.  

We are seldom privy to what goes on behind the scenes of the stage of history, and we will never fully know what could have been but for a quick change of mind, a lost communication, a turn of weather, an unprecedented decision, the influence of a Christian in a strategic position…on such things ride the fate and fortunes of men and we would be foolish to believe it is all a matter of chance; God is at work in all manner of ways.

There was once a white Anglican priest who had allowed the character of Christ to so infuse him that without much thought to the standards of the day, he stepped off the pavement and doffed his cap to allow for a black woman and her son to pass. The humility of the white man was so unfamiliar to the young Desmond Tutu that in that instant he determined to follow in the priest’s footsteps. I doubt whether the priest was very conscious of that moment in his day, but I am grateful he did what he did. What if he had not? What if he had done what was more acceptable at the time, and forced Mrs Tutu to step out of his way and into the gutter? What if the young boy had looked into his face only to see a sneer of racial superiority or mindless indifference? Perhaps young Desmond would have inclined towards anger and instead of the decision to be like the priest, he would choose to be the antithesis of everything that he stood for.

The stories of the great world-changers are ones that we are mostly familiar with – people like Nelson Mandela and William Wilberforce – but your story, and my story, are just as important. As the church, we are a great army, infiltrating every sphere of society. Our presence is meant to be as salt and light. Just as Jesus called His disciples into a relationship, He also set them apart for a purpose. I write my words and I trust the Lord to take them to where they need to be read, and perhaps, unbeknown to me, they become a hinge factor or a tipping point for someone who goes on to change the world. 

I believe that the authority of the light-bearers far outweighs all the exhibitionism of darkness. We may feel in the minority, that our voices are drowned by the baying and growling of wolves, and our resources and hope are stretched to the limit by the ever-increasing pressures of collapsing infrastructure and government, but God is at work amongst us and the outcome is certain.

In the end, we win. 

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  1. Amen ! Could not be said better! Gods mercy still reigns!

  2. What a beautiful article . Thank you. Speaks volumes.

  3. So well expressed! I enjoyed reading this very much.

  4. Such an inspiring piece. Much needed.