Traditionally, most African marriages were arranged in the presence of godparents. These were people the couple would go to in the event of a problem that needed intervention or mediation. When communities are in conflict, the elders from both parties meet in the presence of a third party to negotiate peace. When nations are at war, the United Nations sends peace envoys to try to end the hostilities. Godparents, third parties, and peace envoys all perform the role of a mediator. They mediate between parties who are in conflict to help restore harmony and peace.

The Prominence of Mediation in Africa

Mediation is built into African cultures as a powerful tool for conflict resolution. The success of mediation, however, often depends on the mediator. The mediator must be a person both parties respect. The mediator should have knowledge about the conflict and be known for great wisdom. Also, both sides must be willing to submit to the authority of this person.

Mediators are similar to midwives in that they do not coerce, but encourage and carefully negotiate the birth of peace. Usually they are not part of the conflict. If the conflict is between a very powerful person and a less powerful one, however, the mediator will often stand for the less powerful. When the powerful one looks in the direction of the less powerful, they see the mediator.

The success of mediation often depends on the mediator.

A father was upset with his son because the son had committed a crime. The father decided to hit his son with a whip. But the son had brought one of his father’s friends with him to act as a mediator between father and son. Just before the whip cracked on the boy’s head, the father’s friend stepped between them. The punishment meant for the son was received by the mediator. The father was sorry because he did not mean to hit his friend, but nevertheless the punishment had been given.

The Universal Problem Christ’s Mediation Resolves

Almost all the major religions of the world acknowledge evil and the great valley between God and humanity. But only Christianity has a clear teaching that mediation is the way of bringing harmony between God and his creation. Paul writes that in Christ, God was reconciling, or reuniting, the world to himself (Colossians 1:19-20).

We so angered God with our evil actions that we can no longer approach him by ourselves for any reconciliation. So Christ came as a mediator—a perfect mediator. He had no sin and was innocent of the crimes we have committed. Yet as the mediator between the powerful and the powerless, he took our place. And when the powerful God administered justice, Christ received the full blow. He made peace with us through Christ’s shed blood (Colossians 1:20).

As the mediator between the powerful and the powerless, Christ took our place.

Mediators are normally given legal protection for their work. But Christ received no protection for his work of mediation. He paid the ultimate price and then promised that whosoever believes in him would not receive that punishment. Instead, a person who believes in him receives eternal life. Through Christ, and only through him, can people be at peace with God. “For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

We Participate in God’s Work as Mediators

In addition to Jesus being the mediator between God and humanity, God calls his people to be mediators. Paul was a mediator between the Corinthian leaders who were seeking positions of authority (1 Corinthians 1:10-12; 3:1-9). Paul gave specific instructions to the elders in Corinth about how to solve problems between brothers who were about to go to court against each other (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). Paul encouraged the elders in Philippi to be mediators between two quarrelling women, Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3). God is calling us to follow the example of Jesus and be mediators between those who do not have peace in their relationships.

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