Ethos Education

Invictus: How powerful is forgiveness as a means of changing situations?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the concept of reconciliation.
  • Understanding of the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon factors that make it easy or difficult to forgive.
  • Understand the meaning of the word ‘reconciliation’.
  • Reflect on the importance of reconciliation for those who have been wronged.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine the basis of the Christian imperative towards forgiveness.
  • Reflect on the importance of reconciliation for those who have wronged others.
  • Analyse Colossians 1:21-23 to determine the significance of reconciliation in the Christian faith.
  • Synthesise learning by writing about the work of an organisation committed to individual and political reconciliation, and identifying the Christian basis for that process of reconciliation.


Set up a continuum line across the classroom with the words, ‘Impossible to forgive’ at one end and ‘Easy to forgive’ at the other. Tell students you are going to read out a set of scenarios. For each one, students must decide how easy they would find it to forgive the perpetrator and place themselves accordingly on the continuum line. Pause between each scenario to ask individual students to justify their positioning.

As a static version of the same activity, give pairs or small groups of students a set of the Forgiveness Scenario Cards worksheet. Ask them to set up a continuum line on their desks with the card, ‘Impossible to forgive’ at one end and the card, ‘Easy to forgive’ at the other. Divide the scenario cards between the students in the group and ask students to take it in turns to read out a scenario card and place it on the continuum line according to how easy or difficult they would find it to forgive the perpetrator, justifying their decision to the rest of the group. Students should challenge one another’s decisions whilst acknowledging that, having discussed it, they may agree to differ.

These scenarios are replicated on the worksheet for use with the static version. If any of the scenarios are too close to home for some students (for example, if there has been a recent bereavement in the family in similar circumstances to one of the cards) you might want to remove that scenario and not use it.

  • Your best friend stands by and does nothing as bullies beat you up.
  • Your best friend repeatedly fails to help when bullies pick on you.
  • At a party, your boyfriend or girlfriend flirts with somebody else.
  • At a party, your boyfriend or girlfriend kisses somebody else.
  • A classmate tells the teacher that you were fighting at lunchtime.
  • A teacher wrongly accuses you of starting a fight, and you are internally suspended for a day.
  • Someone lies to the police, and you are arrested as a result.
  • A jury wrongly finds you guilty of a crime, unaware that the evidence presented to them is false.
  • A drunk driver kills a member of your family and drives away from the scene of the crime.
  • A drunk driver kills a member of your family, hands themselves in to the police and promises never to drink and drive again.

Encourage discussion and elicit feedback on what makes forgiveness harder or easier. Consider: the seriousness of the wrong; the extent to which the wrong can be put right; the age or mental stability of the perpetrator; the remorsefulness of the perpetrator; the changed nature of the perpetrator. Explain that in this lesson students will be exploring the Christian mandate for forgiveness with a particular focus on the relationship between forgiveness, reconciliation and the effect of forgiveness on the perpetrator.


Ask the students what they understand by the word ‘reconciliation.’ Explain that reconciliation describes two (or more) people who have fallen out restoring their relationship after a grievance. The term is used in romantic relationships, in friendships, as well as when talking about dealing with the aftermath of armed conflicts. It is also an important concept in the Christian faith. Explain that today’s lesson will look at some of those uses of reconciliation, and use different instances of reconciliation to help the students to understand its importance for Christians.

Introduce the first clip from Invictus (Warner Bros, 2010, certificate 12) Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that Invictus is set in South Africa shortly after the end of the apartheid regime and the election of Nelson Mandela as President. In this scene, Mandela’s head of security Jason Tshabalala (Tony Ngoroge) gets more than he bargained for when he requests additional men for his department. Ask the students to pay particular attention to Mandela’s reasons for his decision, and the reactions of the various security guards to one another.

  • Start time:       0.11.22 (beginning of chapter 4 of the DVD)
  • End time:        0.16.39
  • Clip length:     5 minutes and 17 seconds

The clip starts with security chief Jason Tshabalala (Tony Ngoroge) greeting President Mandela’s PA with the words, ‘Morning, sis.’ It ends after the two sets of security guards have discussed the issue of President Mandela’s visit to a rugby match. Stop the film before it shifts to footage from the stadium.

Ask the students if they can sympathise with Jason and his original security guards. How would they feel about being asked to work alongside the former Special Branch officers? Why do the students think that Nelson Mandela was so keen to integrate the two groups of security men? Remind the students of Mandela’s assertion that ‘reconciliation starts here’.

Remind the students of how strongly Jason felt about the Special Branch officers. How difficult do they think it would be for Jason and his men to forgive the way they were treated for so many years? What incentive, other than the order of their respected President, might there be for those men to exercise such forgiveness?

Read the following Bible passages with the students, and ask them to imagine how Jason might respond to them. Matthew 18:21-35; Matthew 6:14-15.

Why does Jesus tell his followers that they should forgive someone who has wronged them? How forgiving is God, according to these verses? (focus on Matthew 18:27 and Matthew 6:14-15). How forgiving should Christians be? (focus on Matthew 18:21-22, 32 and Matthew 6:12).

With reference to the extreme situation in the clip from Invictus as well as more everyday experiences that are common to the students, ask how easy or difficult the students think Jesus’ teaching might be to follow.

Remind the students of the following statement, made by Mandela in the first clip: ‘Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.’ Ask the students to bear that sentiment in mind as they watch a second clip from Invictus.

Explain that the start of the clip shows a meeting of the South African National Sports Council.

  • Start time:       0.26.44 (in chapter 6 of the DVD)
  • End time:        0.35.10
  • Clip length:     8 minutes and 26 seconds

The clip starts with the chairman saying, ‘And now for the next item on our agenda.’ It ends with Mandela and his advisor Brenda Mazibuku (Adjoa Andoh) in the car. The last line is Mandela saying, ‘…or it will destroy us.’ If you want a shorter version of the clip, stop the film at 0.33.48, with Mandela asking, ‘Who is with me on this? Who is with me?’

How do Mandela’s words to the Sports Council help to explain his words about the power of forgiveness? Draw out Mandela’s intention to remove the hostility between the members of different races in the new South Africa. Remind them of his statement that the Afrikaners are no longer the enemy. Forgiveness was to be the weapon to decisively remove the threat of an enemy, by turning him into a friend. Read Romans 12:14-21 with the students and ask if they can see any echoes of this in Mandela’s urging for the black South Africans to surprise the Afrikaners ‘with compassion, with restraint and generosity.’ Emphasise Mandela’s desire to build a nation that united different races, rather than simply shifting the balance of power from one race to another.

Read Colossians 1:21-23 with the students. Explain that the concept of reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian faith. Christians believe that for people to know peace, it is necessary for them to be forgiven by God for their sins against him. Christians believe that not only did Jesus’ death on the cross pay for those sins, but it was also a profound demonstration of forgiveness and reconciliation. Christians believe that God’s plan for reconciliation also results in a new relationship, like that envisaged by Nelson Mandela in his speech to the National Sports Council, not simply a mutual moving on and parting of the ways.


As a final assessment, ask the students to research instances of reconciliation after political situations – for example, South Africa’s Peace and Reconciliation commission, or the Corrymeela community in Northern Ireland. Ask the students to write a short summary of what their chosen reconciliation process sought to achieve, how it went about it and what the particular process of reconciliation drew from Christian perspectives on forgiveness and reconciliation.


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