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What the Bible Says About Truth and Reconciliation and its Application in Sierra Leone
In the Daily Telegraph Atlas of the World Today, a section captioned: “Nations in Turmoil”, indicates that we live in a turbulent world. Africa figures prominently in this section as usual in terms of internal disturbances, border disputes and casualties from wars.1 In that same Atlas, under foreign aid, Africa is represented as a key recipient of foreign aid among countries of the so-called Third World.2 But regardless of the plight of our people, a good sum of the aid received goes into military expenditure.
In addressing the topic at hand, I will take into account the following:
The Biblical definition of Truth and Reconciliation
The Biblical expression of Truth
The Non-negotiable pre-requisites of Reconciliation
God’s initiative in Reconciliation.
THE BIBLICAL DEFINITION OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION:
What is Biblical Truth? The Bible is full of definitions, descriptions and examples in regard to truth.
In its various uses the word occurs 113 times in the O.T. (Gen. 4 times; Ex. 2.)
The number of occurrences of the word in the N.T. is 108
Hence, the word Truth is no mean word in the entire Bible.
Etymologically, the Old Testament word for truth is EMETH, translated in the Septuagnt as aletheia with double meanings: (a) Objectively, it means the reality of an appearance or a clearly demonstrated importance of a matter, such as religious truth (Rom. 1:25), and particularly, Christian doctrine (Gal. 2:5). (b) Subjectively, it means truthfulness, sincerity and integrity of character (Jn. 8:44: 3 Jn. 3) as may be seen in the following phrases – to speak the truth (Rom. 9; ii Cor, 12:6; Eph. 4:25); and to do the truth (Jn. 1:6).3
In keeping with the foregoing definition, “God’s truth and faithfulness are to be reflected in his people’s lives. So the King, who represented God as His ruler, must show faithfulness, be a Champion of Truth and be ready to expose whatever is unfair or false (Ps. 45:4; Zech. 7:9). He must carefully adhere to God’s law (Prov.29:14)”. According to Christianity, Jesus who is the embodiment of Truth announces to the Praises, Sadducees and Scribes – “You will know the Truth and the Truth will make you free” (Jn. 8:32).
What is Reconciliation?
Reconciliation and Truth are two bed-fellows. Reconciliation is forever absent wherever truth is lacking or neglected. This word is also a key word within the vocabulary of the entire Bible. Though its use is not as extensive as the word “Truth”, yet it demonstrated by the use of four verbs and one noun: (a) Kaphar – to cover, make atonement (Lev. 6:30, 16:20; Ezek. 45:20); (b) Ratsah – to make self pleasing (1 Sam. 29:4); (c) Apokatallato – to change thoroughly from (Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20, 21); (d) Katallasso – to change thoroughly (2 Cor. 5:18, 19); (e) Kattalage – a thorough change (n) (Rom. 11:15; 2 Cor. 5:18, 19).4
Therefore, looking at the foregoing analysis of the word, one should then conclude that in or order to mediate reconciliation a great deal of covering of wrong and thorough change has to take place in both the offender and the offended. Much is involved in order to overcome enmity or take away the cause of a quarrel. “We may apologize for the hasty word, we may pay the money due, we may make what reparation or restitution is appropriate. But in every case the way to reconciliation lies through the effective grappling with the rot cause of the enmity.”5 That is a summary of the biblical definition of the words – Truth and Reconciliation. Without truth, reconciliation is impossible.
THE BIBLICAL EXPRESSION OF THE TRUTH
This section should preferably be called the practical biblical expression of the Truth. God’s truth is not to be construed always as philosophical or ideological. It is practical in many aspects:
In regard to God’s creation in Gen. 1 and 2: these two chapters narrate the truth of the creation drama in two strands – (a) The Cosmological strand gives a detailed picture of creation: Creation of earth, light and probably angles; separation of the upper and lower waters by space; creation of plant life; creation of the sun, moon and stars; creation of fish and fowl; creation of land animals and man; creation was completed and man rests. In the second strand of Creation – the anthropological strand (in Genesis Chapter two), we see a summary of God’s creative act. It centers around man (Adam and Eve) and is complementary, not contradictory to the first.
One could learn four truths from this two-fold creation story: Creation confirms the truth about Divine ownership (“In the begging God create the Heavens and the Earth” – Gen. 1:1). This fact refutes six philosophies – Atheism, Polytheism, Evolution, Pantheism, Materialism and Fatalism. 2 – Creation is declared good by the Creator six times (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). 3 – Creation is to be taken care of by man (Gen. 1:27 – 29; 2:15). 4 – Man violates the truth about divine ownership and human responsibility (Gen. 3).
In regard to reciprocal relationship (Exo. 20:1 – 10). Biblical truth is also expressed in regards to reciprocal relationships – as it relates to divine right: “Thou shall have no other gods before me; Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image; Thou shall not take the name of The Lord Thy God in Vain; remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. The truth of the matter is, God requires no rivals and demands absolute worship.
As it relates to human right: Honour thy father and mother; Thou shall not kill; Thou shall not commit adultery; Thou shall not steal; Thou shall not bear false witness; Thou shall not covet.
The Biblical expression of Truth in regard to God’s creation in Gen. 1 and 2, and in regard to reciprocal relationships having to do with divine and human right must never be disregarded or violated. The world, Africa and Sierra Leone in particular will never be in peace until we face up squarely to the Truth about God’s divine right, human right and responsibility.
THE NON-NEGOTIABLE PRE-REQUISITES OF RECONCILIATION
Where the truth about divine right, human right and responsibility has been violated time without number, the offender and the offended cannot come to the round table of reconciliation unless the right conditions or pre-requisites are put in place. Otherwise what we get is a parody of reconciliation. Therefore, between Truth and Reconciliation, what should fill that gap are Justice, Repentance, and Forgiveness:
Justice – This word comes from two Hebrew words: (a) Tsedeq or Tsedeqah, meaning rightness or righteousness. It further connotes “that which ought to be so, that which matches up to a sandard”.6 The second word is mishpat. “The noun mishpat can describe the whole process of litigation or its end, usually case law, based on past precedents (Ex. 21-23). Mishpat is what needs to be done in a given situation if people and circumstances are to be restored in conformity with tsedeq or tsedeqah (i.e. rightness or righteousness).7 As a lecturer, students sometimes tempt me to confuse my understanding of justice. They would ask me to excuse them from attending a particular class due to circumstances beyond their control. But in granting them permission, they sometimes expect me to mark them present. Justice requires one to make right judgment in relation to the standard that has been set.
Repentance – this is the requirement of Justice. In both the Old and New Testaments, the verbs nacham and metanoew mean to change one’s mind or purpose, hence, to repent (Jer. 4:28; 1 Kgs 15:29; Lk. 17:3, 4). The noun, metanoia means, an after-though, change of mind, repentance from sin (see 1 Jn. 1:8-10). The offender who humbly submits to the verdict of justice will repent in tears and be a good citizen in God’s Kingdom whether on Earth or in Heaven.
Forgiveness – “In the scripture, forgiveness occurs whenever humans who have violated God’s will cry out for and receive His mercy. It is different from mercy itself, which is God’s staying His hand of deserved judgment. Forgiveness begins with the acknowledge of one’s guilt (1 Jn. 1:9) in God’s eyes.”8 This is the stage where the offender and the offended begin to feel comfortable with each other because the barrier that existed prior to this time has been covered (Kaphan), lifted up (nasa), sent away (salach), loosed away (apoluo, sent or let off (aphiemi).9
Without justice, repentance and forgiveness reconciliation is impossible and those who anticipate it may be working in vain.
RECONCILIATION IS GOD’S INITIATIVE
By initiative, I mean God takes the lead or first step because it is His desire and purpose. Two passages in both the Old and New Testaments set forth the idea of God’s initiative in reconciliation. To begin with, we note that “Yahweh said to Abram, leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless you, and whoever courses you, I will curse, and in you all people of the Earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). The New Testament counterpart is a fulfillment of the Old Testament passage. It reads: “Because in Christ, God reconciled the world with Himself, no longer taking into account their trespasses and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we present ourselves as ambassadors in the name of Christ, as if God Himself makes an appeal to you through us. Let God reconcile you; this we ask in the name of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19, 20). In both Old Testament and New Testament passages we observe the following:
(1) God takes the initiative to reconcile. (2) Man’s sin does not determine God from reconciling man to Himself. (3) The beneficiaries of reconciliation have themselves been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. This message of reconciliation is given from generation to generation beginning with the book of Genesis in many different ways:
Reconciliation is Typologised – the dictionary definition of a type is that it is a class of thing having common characteristics; person or thing or event serving as illustration or symbol or characteristics specimen of a class”.10 Two types readily come to mind:
(a) coats of skin made for Adam and Eve before they were sent out of the Garden (Gen. 3:21). “The coats of skin were God’s provision for restoring Adam and Eve’s fellowship with Himself and imply slaying of an animal in order to provide them.11
(b) the other type I would like to mention is the brass serpent in Numbers 21:4-9. The story is that in their journey in the wilderness they, as usual murmured against God and Moses saying, “wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water, and our soul loathes and they killed many. The people repented and asked Moses to plead to God on their behalf. The Lord command Moses to make a serpent of brass and set it upon a pole so that whoever looked upon it might be healed. Moses did as requested and the people were healed. The brass serpent is a type of Christ’s death on the cross.
Reconciliation is Dramatized – Apart from other events; one notable incident where reconciliation is dramatized is in the Lord’s Supper. All three Gospels record the incident of the Lord’s Supper albeit with slight variations. But the main elements and purpose which is the remission of sins leading to reconciliation are preserved in each Gospel. This drama of salvation history is again revealed to the Corinthians by Paul who additionally emphasized among other things, the responsibility of the participant which is – to remember Christ, examine oneself and proclaim the death of Christ till He comes (1 Cor. 11:23-34).
Reconciliation is Actualized – Theologically speaking, in my opinion; there is a sense in which the typological and dramatic aspects of reconciliation are prophetic whereas this third aspect is reconciliation’s fulfillment. This is the actual crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ recorded by a all four Gospels (Mt. 27:27-66; Mr. 15:21-47; Lk. 23:26-55; Jn. 19:17-42).12
As far as reconciliation is concerned, God uses types, drama and Christ’s act on the cross apart from the written word. Reconciliation is God’s initiative.
The remedying of our present predicament should be the responsibility of all Sierra Leoneans but the present democratic government should lead us all in this matter. It would be nonsensical to have a people who are willing to work for the development of the country when the government they have chosen is as it were the champion and architect of all forms of corruption. The remedy the government is to give should be three-fold:
(a) make its organizational structure a type or model of reconciliation
(b) make the day to day running of government ministries a drama of reconciliation
(c) make the improved way of life of the people the actualization of reconciliation.
In addressing the topic: “What the Bible says about Truth and Reconciliation. And its application in Sierra Leone.” I have taken into account the following:
The Biblical definition of Truth and Reconciliation
The Biblical expression of Truth
The Non-negotiable pre-requisites of Reconciliation and God’s initiative in Reconciliation.
God wrote the Scriptures and spoke reconciliation but above all He made the people see it through types, drama and acts. It is, therefore, the responsibility of this government, the church and every citizen not only to writ and talk reconciliation, but to typologize, dramatize and actualize it in daily deeds so that the offender and the offended can live harmoniously again and make this country a heaven of rest for all. Another classical passage that epitomizes reconciliation is the story of the prodigal son in Luke Chapter 15. The Father initiates reconciliation through love; the Prodigal Son concepts reconciliation through repentance; the servants worked for reconciliation through duty. But the elder brother tried to hamper reconciliation through pessimism and hate.
1. Grant, Neil and Al., The Daily Telegraphy Atlas of the World Today (London: The Daily Telegraph, 1978), pp.142/3.
2. Grant, Neil and Al., The Daily Atlas of the World, pp. 78/9.
3. Abbott-Smith, G., A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T and T. Clark Ltd., 1986), p. 20.
4. Young, Robert., Analytical Concordance to the Bible (London: Lutterwork Press, 1970, pp.
5. Marshall, I. H. (Ed.), New Bible Dictionary (3rd Ed) Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999), p.
6. Willmington, H. L., Willmington’s Guide to the Bible, 1984, pp. 1, 4.
7. Wright, Christiper J. H., An Eye for An Eye (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983). p.
8. Wright, Christiper J. H., An Eye for An Eye (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983). p.
9. Yarbrough, R. W., “Forgiveness and Reconciliation” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology
(Leicester: : Inter-Varsity Press, 2000). p. 498.
10. Young, Analytical Concordance to the Bible, p. 367.
11. Allen, R. E. (Ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of Current English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 816.
12. Rytrrie, C.C., The Rytrie Study Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), p. 12.
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