What is God’s dream, and how was it imparted to you?
God's dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion. In God’s family, there are no outsiders, no enemies. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist, Hutu and Tutsi, Pakistani and Indian—all belong. When we start to live as brothers and sisters and to recognize our interdependence, we become fully human.
This dream can be found throughout the Bible and has been repeated by all of God's prophets right down to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.
Is it realistic to say there are no enemies when we are involved in a war?
God’s love is too great to be confined to any one side of a conflict or to any one religion. People are shocked when I say that George Bush and Saddam Hussein are brothers, that Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon are brothers, but God says, “All are my children.” It is shocking. It is radical. But it is true.
Aren’t some people simply beyond redemption?
We in South Africa had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and we had the most devastating revelations of ghastly atrocities. We could describe them as monstrous, even demonic. But even these torturers remained children of God, with a possibility of being able to change. After all, a thief on the cross was able to repent and Jesus promised that thief, "You will be with me in paradise." Jesus didn't say, “Look at what kind of life you have led up to this point.” All of us have the capacity to change, even to become saints.
Is your book relevant to non-Christians or people with no religious faith?
I believe so very much. Because love is universal. I mean, you don't have to believe in God to know that loving is better than hating. We are trying to remind them that all of us are fundamentally good. The aberration is the bad person. God is not upset that Gandhi was not a Christian, because God is not a Christian! All of God's children and their different faiths help us to realize the immensity of God. No faith contains the whole truth about God. And certainly Christians don't have a corner on God. All of us belong to God. Even the nonbeliever is precious to God. And one simply tries to remind them that they are made for transcendence. They are made for goodness.
What compelled you to write this book now?
I think the fact that we are overwhelmed by so much conflict—or nearly overwhelmed. So many of us feel despair because of all the suffering in our world and in our lives. And one needed to say that God has not finished with God’s work. Creation is a work in progress. Evil is not going to have the last word. God has us as God’s collaborators, fellow-workers, and ultimately good—and those who strive for it—will prevail.
Even during the darkest days of apartheid, we kept saying, “They have already lost.” And they had—because immoral laws and rulers will always topple.
You say that this is a moral universe and that “God is a God who cares about right and wrong.” How do you explain suffering and injustice in the world?
The problem of evil and suffering is important and is not to be dealt with lightly. Our ability to do evil is intimately connected to our ability to do good. One is meaningless without the other. Empathy and compassion have no meaning unless they occur in a situation where one could be callous and indifferent to the suffering of others.
Suffering, it seems, is not optional. It is part and parcel of the human condition, but suffering can either embitter us or ennoble us. I hope that people will come to see that this suffering can become a spirituality of transformation when we find meaning in it.
[During apartheid] I got angry, very angry with God, but never doubted that the issue would be resolved through the triumph of good. There were, of course, times in South Africa when you had to whistle in the dark to keep your morale up, and you wanted to whisper in God's ear, "God we know You are in charge, but can't You make it a little more obvious?" You see, we are free to be completely human and authentic with God. Jeremiah says, "God, you have deceived me." Sometimes I did get furious with God. I officiated at many funerals.