[notice]As the SA justice system weighs the events surrounding the tragic shooting of Reva Steenkamp,
SIFISO MABENA says that for Christians the end of the matter is not whether Oscar Pistorius committed murder or made a dreadful mistake. As children of God we are called to a different way of thinking and speaking.[/notice]
As particulars surrounding this tragedy unfold I see that the story is adding fuel to several agendas that have captured our country, and indeed the world in this moment.
Gender abuse activists have used the story to give voice to their cry for the protection of women and children. Others are tackling the issue of the seeming preferential treatment given to celebrities and other high profile people. While for some, Oscar Pistorius is yet another sports star to add to a ‘fallen sports heroes’ hall of fame.
Naturally there has been great sensitivity about the story. The most obvious reason being a correct and appropriate respect for the late Reeva Steenkamp.
Waiting for scale to tip
As emotions have swelled during this case there are those who have decided that Oscar Pistorius is another megalomaniac sports star whose misadventures have caught up with him. Then there are those who, like me, have resolutely sat on the fence declaring that “Nobody knows what really happened. We can’t judge him…yet”. It seems we’re all waiting for the scale to tip so we can neatly label him ‘tragic hero’ or ‘villain’.
As I explored my inability to resolve my own feelings, I was reminded of my frequent interactions with a friend of mine named Jenny. From childhood I’ve had a tendency to adopt a blissful naivety where people are concerned. Consequently, Jenny is constantly telling me to “see her as she is and not through my rose tinted glasses”. She gets embarrassed when I call out all the wonderful qualities I see in her, and proceeds to tell me that not everything about her is perfect. Certainly, following this case, I’ve noticed something in me that wants to absolve Oscar of any wrongdoing in order to keep my worldview intact. Recently when I was talking to Jenny about the case it dawned on me that Oscar has already publicly admitted to killing Reeva by accident. I still reel at the awfulness of the burden he has to carry, but I have come to realise that my anxiety over the story has nothing to do with the fact that he killed his girlfriend. Rather, I am consumed by the need to understand ‘why’ this terrible thing happened. I’m struck by how strongly I long for ‘the scale’ to tip. My idea is that once the truth is out, the senseless death will make sense to me and I’ll be able to resolve it in my mind with a single story.
Until that happens I am aware of the temptation for my mercy to trickle out in small, apprehensive doses until I know whether he’s a calculating murderer or a typical fearful citizen. End scene. Cut. Single story.
Another way of thinking
As Christians we’re called to another way of thinking. While the world calls for the single story of exclusion and hatred to combat injustice, we’re called to a more complex tale of reconciliation, redemption and restoration. Consider David who after murdering a man over a woman (pre-meditated murder by definition) was redeemed by God and later referred to as “a man after God’s own heart”. We are further instructed by Paul in Galatians 6:1 that “…if anyone is caught in any transgression, [we] who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness”.
For us who are His children our focus is not on whether this tragedy was coldly premeditated or an awful accident. Our focus is on redemption, restoration and reconciliation. This means that when I talk about it, my words should gently speak restoration over everyone involved.
I like what Jessica Jackley had to say about how we see each other in her TED talk when she said: “Believing in each other, really being sure that when push comes to shove that each of us can do amazing things in the world; that is what can make our stories into love stories and our collective stories in to one that continually perpetuates hope and good things for all of us”
Oscar Pistorius’ fame came from displaying the best parts of our humanity. He showed strength to persevere, ability to inspire, the freedom to speak aloud and be heard, will to push past limitations… It is for the ‘amazing things he did in this world’ that we lifted him onto our shoulders as a hero.
Power of words
I’m not making a case for anyone but rather making the point that is summed up in the American expression “called it”. This phrase is often used when something that was spoken in the past eventually comes to pass exactly as it was uttered. James grieves that so often we “bless our Lord and Father [with our tongues], and with [the same tongue] we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3 9). The lesson is that words find expression in our lives, forming concrete versions of their substance. How many times have we complained about certain groups of people (even races) as failures, criminals, or cheats? Or lamented the direction our country is heading to? Is it merely coincidence that every time we declare these things; stories happen to confirm the ‘validity of our statements’?
The Centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 understood that the right words spoken by the right person can transform a suffering person to a healed one. What would happen if we all made a decision to be people who speak only life giving words about Oscar Pistorius, or this nation? How might the Lord use our words to build and restore?
As we mourn the loss of Reeva Steenkamp, let us also unconditionally lift our brother’s head in the face of the despair he is in. Not for any cause, or because he is a well known personality, but because we’re called to shine His light in dark places.
As a nation let us turn from perpetuating violence with careless talk. Rather let us rediscover the eternal value of every human life; and in the ugly face of injustice, instead of throwing stones- be hopeful for the redemption of our every neighbour.
Believe that each of us can do amazing things in this world! Let it be done to us as we believe.
- Sifiso Mabena leads the National School Chaplaincy Programme. However this article represents her personal views.