The killing started in April and lasted for 100 days. Every day, from April 6 to July 15, 1994, 8,000 to 12,000 Rwandans died at the hands of their neighbors, their erstwhile friends, and those with whom they had shared neighborhoods and meals.
Today, more than 25 years after the events, Rwanda is well on the way to healing. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the life of Iphigenia Mukantabana as she sits in her house weaving beautiful baskets with the wife of the man who helped kill her family.
Iphigenia’s story, and that of her country, contrasts starkly with some other areas of conflict, where massacres beget more bloodshed, where the cycle of revenge and retribution has continued for decades, even centuries. Such seemingly endless episodes of violence lead us to wonder whether human beings can ever live with each other in peace.
For centuries, poets, prophets, pundits, and philosophers have pondered this question of seemingly perpetual conflict. In recent years, even moviemakers have taken up the challenge.
In the 1951 classic movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, visitors from outer space come to earth, pondering this age-old question. Klaatu, the humanlike alien visitor, comes with a warning: either humans learn to live in peace or a federation of powers from other planets will destroy the earth.
the story of Job
It may surprise you to learn that the Bible also speaks of beings watching how we on earth conduct ourselves. The book of Job describes a meeting between God and beings described as “sons of God.” Satan crashes the meeting, claiming to rule the earth. But God replies, in effect, “Not as long as Job exists. He trusts Me!”
“ ‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. . . . ‘You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face’ ” (Job 1:9–11). Thus, Satan pressed his claim that self-interest rules the universe. Satan’s reply came down to the idea that “Job serves You only because You pay him off.”
This repeats the charge Satan made when he first rebelled against God—that selfishness ruled the very heart of God. Satan claimed that God demanded obedience because He was selfish. And Satan sowed these seeds of distrust and selfishness among all the other angels in heaven. And when he and his angels were cast out of heaven, the poisonous seed of selfishness took root in the hearts of Adam and Eve. Only on earth have creatures chosen doubt and self-interest over trust and love. And his success with human beings emboldened Satan to challenge God in the scenes depicted in the book of Job.
why God allowed evil
You see, when free creatures chose to follow Satan’s principles of existence—distrust and selfishness—this raised a question in the minds of the other beings, the other “sons of God,” as to who was right, God or Satan.
God knew that to restore trust, to fully answer the question Satan had raised, He had to let him and his followers try to live according to their principles of distrust and selfishness. He had to let sin and selfishness run their course. God’s way and Satan’s way both had to be demonstrated so that every intelligent creature in the universe could recognize the truth.
And that explains—as the book of Job tells us—why God allowed Satan to take every one of Job’s possessions from him. Despite those terrible losses, however, Job remained absolutely loyal to God, trusting Him with his possessions. Even when God allowed Satan to afflict Job with terrible physical pain, Job continued to trust. He said, “Though He [God] slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15, NKJV).
But Job’s faithfulness did not settle the issue once and for all. Throughout the ages, this cosmic dispute, this great controversy, continued to rage. As C. S. Lewis said, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”
Rwanda illustrates the lesson
Within families, between nations, sometimes between clans, the question arises and must be answered again. This brings us back to Iphigenia Mukantabana weaving her baskets with her friend Epiphania Mukanyndwi—her friend, whose husband, Jean-Bosco Bizimana, had participated in the slaughter of Iphigenia’s family.
After the 100 days of killing, where neighbor turned against neighbor, where hundreds of thousands died, the nation of Rwanda faced that great question again. Selfishness demanded that everyone guilty of the terrible massacres be killed in retribution. But so many had participated in the killing that executing them all would amount to another massacre. Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his government realized that “we were in danger of another genocide.” The terrible crimes had shredded the trust that held their society together, but mass executions could not rebuild that trust.
For the nation to survive and heal, another way had to be found. In the end, a few of the unrepentant chief instigators were executed. Many others, like Bizimana, served prison terms. But the key to the nation’s healing was reconciliation. Reconciliation requires two difficult steps: the guilty must repent—they must admit their crimes and ask for forgiveness—and those who suffered wrong must forgive.
Like many others, Bizimana appeared before a tribal council of his neighbors, confessed his wrongdoing, and requested forgiveness. “It hurts my heart to see that I did something wrong to friends of my family, to people who we even shared meals with,” he said. “I am still asking for forgiveness from the people I hurt.”
For reconciliation to take effect, however, Iphigenia and thousands like her had to choose to forgive. She’s a Christian, but that still did not make forgiveness easy for her. She continues to pray, and she continues to choose forgiveness, to rebuild trust. And she weaves baskets. She and her friend weave baskets. And as they weave baskets, they knit up their friendship, repair their torn neighborhood, and mend their nation. Strand upon strand, with repentance and forgiveness, they weave together the rift in their souls. And once again, God’s way of love and trust overcomes the most virulent expressions of selfishness and distrust.
Eventually, in the not-too-distant future, this cosmic dispute will be settled; this great controversy will be resolved. The Bible tells of a coming crisis that will demonstrate that some people today, like Job, would rather die than betray their trust in God and deny Him. At the same time, others will demonstrate that they cannot or will not relinquish their selfishness. But those on that self-destructive course cannot survive. And it will become obvious to all intelligent beings throughout the universe that love, trust, and reconciliation are the only way the universe can operate successfully, that those who choose to cling to selfishness would suffer miserably in God’s kingdom, and in mercy, He will end their suffering.
In her book The Great Controversy, Ellen White describes that day when “the great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.”
Every day, we commit ourselves to one side or the other. Only those willing to weave repentance and forgiveness—strand upon strand—will knit up their hearts, will do their part to repair the rift in the universe. And every day, in a thousand small ways, each of us weaves either selfishness or reconciliation into the very fabric of our own hearts.
Ed Dickerson is a freelance writer who lives in Garrison, Iowa. He is the lay pastor of the HomePage Seventh-day Adventist company in Marion, Iowa, and he is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.