No Future Without Forgiveness (1999)

A thoughtful, rich and compelling read for many reasons.

The gravity of the historical moment itself gives one pause.

In addition to the subject matter, this is also an inspiring example of courageous living that gives feet to hope. Perhaps this work will inspire people to bring pioneering love into their situations and invite others to join them for good.

I also appreciate the opportunity such a book provides for reflection upon our own cultural moment today in America. It comes as no surprise to find a quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. “Unless we learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] we will die together as fools.” (sic p.8) The call for unity and appreciation of others, in spite of differences, is always a needed challenge for human beings … certainly for us in our day.

April 27, 1994 was the day when people could finally vote in a free democratic election. Would the day unfold peacefully? Or would this be another day of violence, tragedy and bloodshed? Desmond Tutu tells of his experience on that day.

“I decided to drive around a bit to see what was happening. I was appalled by what I saw. The people had come out in droves, standing in those long lines which have now become world famous. They were so vulnerable.”


Thankfully, the sorts of disasters feared did not come to pass. Instead, this became a positive building block for hope and progress.

It was an amazing spectacle. People of all races were standing together in the same queues, perhaps for the very first time in their lives. Professionals, domestic workers, cleaners and their madams – all were standing in those lines that were snaking their way slowly to the polling booth. What should have been a disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Those lines produced a new and peculiarly South African status symbol. Afterward people boasted, ” I stood for two hours to vote.” “I waited for four hours!”


Those long hours helped us South Africans to find one another. People shared newspapers, sandwiches, umbrellas, and the scales began to fall from their eyes. South Africans found fellow South Africans – they realized what we had been at such pains to tell them, that they shared a common humanity, that race, ethnicity, skin color were really irrelevancies. They discovered not a Colored, a black, an Indian, a white. No, they found fellow human beings. What a profound scientific discovery that blacks, Coloreds (usually people of mixed race), and Indians were in fact human beings, who had the same concerns and anxieties and aspirations.


The reader will find the African concept of Ubuntu valuable as well as challenging. Here in our Western Culture we have more of an individualized backdrop for our sense of self. Individuals there have a different anchoring concept in their perspective, that

“he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”


Pondering this concept of ubuntu, I remembered feeling a difference in social perspective when I had opportunity to travel to Singapore. There was a very different sense of community there than I have found here in the United States – even though I have been blessed to be a part of several rich and wonderful groups of people in my years and travels here. People understood themselves in light of the backdrop of togetherness rather than individuality. Perhaps those readers who have experienced different cultures of the world will also be reminded of those sorts of discoveries as you read this book.

The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will illustrate the meaning and power of forgiveness.

Forgiving means abandoning your right to pay back the perpetrator in his own coin, but it is a loss that liberates the victim. In the commission we heard people speak of a sense of relief after forgiving. A recent issue of the journal “Spirituality and Health” had on its front cover a picture of three U.S. ex-servicemen standing in front of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. One asks, “Have you forgiven those who held you prisoner of war?” “I will never forgive them,” replies the other. His mate says: “Then it seems they still have you in prison, don’t they.”

p.272 (footnote directs to “Spirituality and Health,” Vol.2, No.1 (New York, Trinity Church:Spirituality & Health Publishing))

And speaking of reflections and reminders, one who is even marginally acquainted with the Bible will find this book about forgiveness to evoke passages of the Bible.

This was very much the case for me. A book such as this has no pictures, and yet has thousands of pictures as you read. For example, just try and picture the reality behind this comment;

“No longer would someone seriously injured be left by the roadside because the ambulance that had rushed to the scene of the accident was reserved for another race group”


Does this not also bring to mind the picture Jesus paints with words about the Good Samaritan? Perhaps being directed afresh to this passage in the Gospel of Luke (chapter 10:25 and following) will be one of the best results of your reading Tutu’s work.

In case you don’t remember … An expert puts Jesus to the test by asking a tricky question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). As Jesus often did, his reply to the question is itself a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (v.26) The man replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (v.27) Upon hearing this answer, Jesus replied “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (v.28)

Now, should not the implications of this statement be enough to end racism? Does not Jesus teach the way we treat others is not separable from our eternal destiny?

The conversation continues. “Desiring to justify himself,” the expert said “and who is my neighbor?” (v.29) What a picture of our human condition and sinful heart. We would all of us happily honor the Lord’s requirements if we could define them ourselves.

The way Jesus answers this self-justifying question for that man … and for all men and women … is by telling the story of a Good Samaritan, the lowest outcast of their day. You can read it from Luke beginning in chapter 10 and verse 29. “Who is my neighbor,” indeed!

Desmond Tutu’s great book, No Future Without Forgiveness, is well worth the read. It provides insight, challenge, hope, encouragement and inspiration. This will help you consider the details of bringing forgiveness into your relationships. It will help you consider the relationship between forgiveness and hope. Perhaps it will strengthen you to be an agent for peace and healing. And perhaps it will remind you of Jesus and draw you to read more about forgiveness, and community, in the Bible.

ps – the reader of this book might also appreciate the 2009 Movie “Invictus” and Morgan Freeman’s compelling portrayal of Nelson Mandela.

It is not sufficient to urge people to love their neighbor unless we lead them also to the capacity to love. Christ gives men this capacity.

Billy Graham – Life Magazine, 1956

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