March 20, 2014
Desmond Tutu —
A God of Surprises

"There's no question about the reality of evil, of injustice, of suffering, but at the center of this existence is a heart beating with love."

South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on how his understanding of God and humanity has unfolded through the history he's lived and shaped.

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is an Anglican archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He has written many books, including, Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference, and The Book of Forgiving.

Pertinent Posts

With a sly wit and a good deal of humor, Tutu ribs Krista about the apportionment of dried fruit. Listen in to this lively, playful exchange.

Video Interviews with Krista Tippett

In the Room with Desmond Tutu

Watch this playful, behind-the-scenes encounter of our entire conversation with the archbishop emeritus from start to finish. It's a delight.

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Desmond Tutu smiles during his visit with Krista Tippett in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Photo by Tom Gennara

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Sunday mornings I awaken to "Speaking of Faith". Each program is enlightening, inspirational and thought-provoking. However, "God of Surprises" with Desmond Tutu was electric. As an African-American who has yet to visit the continent, I felt a sense of belonging, an identity never felt before through the lyrical/musical tonality of the South African speech and perfectly sublime English of Bishop Tutu.

Thank you for transporting me closer to home by way of Bishop Tutu. Hooray for excellent presentation.

Can the superb music selections be purchased?

The Archbishop Emeritus Desmound Tutu really made me take a couple steps back on how I view things in my life and my world. He really made me think differently about indifferences in the world. How even the cruelest of acts may have some love behind them. Remembering that God has sense of humor at times and no matter how hectic things get we have to have faith that things will always work out in the end. Once we embrace God we can accept the cruelties in our lives helps teach me to move on and become stronger from them. If I took away anything it is that when we know that God is on our side, we can see that there will always be a silver lining.

The notion of freedom. What am I free for? This makes me think of Bonhoeffer's insights on costly grace. As an activist for social justice I often get bogged down and muddied by the righteous indignity of the oppressed. "We have a right to be free!" We say. "This is unjust, unthinkable, unconsciousable." However, the idea of freedom for something goes far beyond survival. It conjures up an image of a people with a purpose, a unique and integral purpose even, a people who are needed in this time and on this earth. What dignity that returns to the oppressed. What a costly freedom it is to be be free for something. I'd like to be charged with stewarding that freedom more than I am.

Speaking of Faith

I have mixed feelings on the weeks SOF. I feel that Ms. Tippet was not objective in her interview with Desmond Tutu. The fact that she put him on such a high horse, and was blaming the oppressed South African’s on “white people” was disturbing. The way she agreed on everything that Desmond Tutu said was almost sickening. Besides this, I believe that Desmond Tutu is a man of great faith.
The comments that Desmond had, which I shared in church tonight, saying “if they wanted to keep us down, they shouldn’t have given us the bible” and “that the bible was written for us for each individual situation in our lives”. The latter of these comments is so true in our lives. We can look to the bible for answers to questions in our lives like those in generations past. It is a timeless book of answers.
God is a God of surprises. Even if you know what he is capable of and what he can do for us, it is still a wonderful experience and an amazing thing to see when miracles are preformed in His name. It will surprise anyone, whether or not they believe in Him.

Desmond Tutu has always been a star in my universe. I first encountered him at an anti-apartheid rally he held on campus at the University of California at Davis when I was an undergraduate. I was electrified! Such vision! Such an understanding of hope! Such faith that goodness will prevail!

We marched together from Davis to Sacramento... it was one of the defining events of my young adult life.

Fast forward almost 20 years. I am now the mother of 2 boys with autism with a husband who had been overseas in Iraq. That year was harder than I can describe. All kinds of questions were rumbling through my life.. questions about the innate integrity of human beings, questions about God, questions about what faith means, questions about what it means to be vulnerable and what it means to love.

I was raised without a faith tradition, and I was utterly unequipped to answer these questions on my own. Being "too alone" in all of this was a large part of the problem. Enter once again Desmond Tutu... a voice that I intuitively knew had an understanding of God that I could trust... this time in the form of the written word. God Has A Dream. Goodness will prevail. We are all God-bearers... despite the view that the world holds of us.

I walked into an Episcopal Church because I knew it was part of the Anglican Communion that Arch-Bishop Tutu was part of. I was aching for an understanding that even partially mirrored the depth of his. I wanted to know the God of compassion that held him up and made him strong.

I read in a biography of Desmond Tutu that the rally we participated in together at Davis occurred at a time when his spirits were dragging in the fight against Apartheid. And that the energy he found with us renewed his hope. One of my dreams is that he could somehow know what a tremendous impact he had on me..... how he was a path that lead me to understand hope in a time when I really needed to.

God Bless!

I too was at Davis and heard Desmond Tutu and will never forget that moment. You mention you read in a biography that Desmond Tutu mentions this event. Do you remember the biography? I would love to read it. Thanks.

I want to say hang in there because, God is nearer than you think.Right now he is carrying you,the footprints you see on sand are not yours but God's therefore relax as he is carrying you, not at arms length but you're right on his chest where his heart is.So start believing now like you have never before listen to Gods heart beat now God creates no junk he's got a purpose for you remember the bigger the problems,the bigger the blessings. I wish we can one day meet give each other the light and love of God the miracle is hear in South Africa remember my words I want to share with you Many things about God that I've come to understand through holy spirit stay blessed

Born in a world (his world) full of inequality and violence, his understanding of God and humanity unfolded through the history he lived and helped shape. As odd as it turns out, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu tells us that “at the center of all the odds is a heart beating with love.”

Aired on Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett, interview with Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu on “Tutu’s God of Surprises” I believe is one that will have an eternal impact on its viewers. While praises goes in part to Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa for helping in galvanizing South Africa’s ‘improbable peaceful transition’ from apartheid to democracy, a surprise to many people in the world today, the interview unequivocally conveys very serious and pertinent facts which articulate Bishop Tutu’s view that his God is full of surprises.

After throwing a light on a couple of experiences relating to ruthless injustice that reigned through the apartheid era in South Africa, Bishop Desmond Tutu touched a very sensitive part of the interview, at which point I was carried away. It was about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was formed after South Africa ‘got’ its freedom from an unpopular white minority rule that battered the land for three centuries. This commission encouraged people to come forward and ‘confess’ their crimes under the protection of amnesty. Victims were invited (for the first time) as well to tell their stories and also witness to victims who never made it, in which case many family members learned how their loved ones died, during the struggle.

Bishop Desmond Tutu holds that this commission was the tool through which God manifested his surprises: While it is right to relate Bishop Tutu’s message of a God of Surprises to the fact that peace now reigns in South Africa, no matter how minute in magnitude, I think the surprises were communicated and are still being communicated in mankind’s ability to accept and forgive.
Not only did confessing and or witnessing helped in releasing pain, it also did what no human being thought could have been possible in South Africa. Bishop Tutu said human magnanimity or generosity of spirit makes them do speechless and incredible things.

It was and is a surprise that people who should have been bitter, those who have suffered because of the tribulations, those who ‘had’ a divine right to be angry and fill with the lust for revenge for what was done to them, to come up and tell their stories in the manner these victims did. I think it is an incredible and surprising story which Bishop Desmond Tutu cited, in which a man blinded by oppressor forces testified that he felt cured after speaking out in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Even though this man was still blind, he had a certain heart, to have accepted his condition and forgive the perpetrators, and to claim that under his blind condition his eyes have been given back to him just because he has spoken out (and released his pain). To me this is a man with God’s heart and it is a surprise to have humans act this way under the condition. Also, perpetrators who found it in their hearts to confess and ask for forgiveness in a remorseful manner proves to me that God touched their hearts equally, and this also counts as some of God’s many surprises. Last and most important of all, to have perpetrators seek for forgiveness and victims readily embracing them such that today we have these two ‘groups’ of people living as one people after all the quagmire, is incredible and surprising.

But Tippett asked Bishop Tutu a very important question: “Has reconciliation come to South Africa?” I like the way Bishop Tutu answered this question. He said; “It is a process and a national project for all South Africans.” Reality speaking, South Africa continues to experience violence and inequality. Bishop Tutu says it is only sixteen years since South Africa gained freedom from three centuries of oppression and I see with him. He compared this to Germany after the East and West Germany ordeal that lasted only for fifty years and again I see with him. But despite his assertion that damage of the psyche plays a role in the reconciliation process, I really do think reconciliation is an aspect of life that is so crucial and goes beyond that. As we all know, it is immensely hard if not impossible to regain all of milk that is been spilled. Think of human reconciliation with God since Adam and Eve; Even though Christ came to reconcile God and man as Christians believe, mankind has continued to seek reconciliation with God and I think this is what the process of reconciliation is.

However, no matter what the case may be in South Africa today, I believe it is worth to acknowledge that there is headway to the positive direction if one only considers the fact that Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu was able at last to vote in his own country for the first time, though at the age of sixty three. This is incredible and surprising.

I think Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu’s message is that God is always with mankind and can surprise mankind at any time. So mankind has to think positively at all times no matter what the circumstance is.

Listening to Mr. Tutu's description of something that took place in the Truth and Reconciliation process reminded me of a sense I've had about forgiveness for a long time.

Seeking apology is a punitive urge. Asking someone to be sorry for what they've done may be asking that the other, the one who abused or hurt us in some way, understands the consequence of their misbehavior. But it is also a way of asking them to bow down, to beg. You can't ask someone to beg with love in your heart.

But to seek understanding, knowledge of the other, closure, to ask forgiveness oneself, these are urges of the highest aspect of ourselves. Maybe those who took part in the Truth and Reconciliation process were genuinely ready to seek out the best good. And maybe those who were wise enough to offer amnesty to the offenders were driven by the highest parts of themselves to set the stage properly.

I've never felt forgiveness is an issue in my own life even though, like most people I suppose, I've received some mighty awful mistreatment. It's the urge and the act of hurting someone that does damage; it damages the person who acts on that urge. I may have been hurt, and deeply disappointed, but I'm not damaged by someone else's ill behavior. They are damaged by it.

When I've been asked to forgive, in any of the millions of ways that we ask such things, I do say yes. I want my willingness and good faith to be available for that person in self forgiveness, in healing the wound they caused in themselves. But I don't feel a personal need to forgive - any more than I would feel a need to eat when encountering a hungry person.

I think the only way to heal after grave offense or injury is to seek the highest parts of ourselves, and with that injury in mind. In doing that, we're reconnecting with that which is holy in us. That's where healing is found.

I really found this to be an interesting piece to listen to since it was about Desmond Tutu and I grew up listening to his stories about his fight for his fight against apartheid and the liberation of the blacks from the whites in South Africa.
Desmond Tutu, is a great man and I wouldn’t disagree with the fact that the interviewer Krista Tippet agreed with him in every question he answered and did not challenge him on any of the questions, because when greatness stands in front of you, all you can do is stand in awe and listen and at the same time thinking of the great stories that accompanies that greatness in front of you.

In this article, he really showed his great trust and faith in God and it shows that before he carries out something, he always put God first. I also like when he said “Sexual orientation like racial equality is a human right.” This he shows and distinguishes himself from other men in high places who believe in God but still have misgivings towards one’s sexual orientation. Desmond Tutu shoed he does not have this misgivings and sees it as a human right.

I can tell you this article inpires me to continue to look to becoming great.

Incredible and inspirational, Tutu is an incredible man with or without religion to sustain his work, and I think he gives too much credit to the Bible as a whole. There are many, many men who possess the Bible and know the scriptures like the lyrics to a favorite song, yet they do not accomplish anything in the larger scheme of life as Tutu did. The Bible was his awakening no one can argue that, but his actions lye in the strength of his character. This is evident in his continuing work; he has accomplished what he set out to do and yet continues his fight against inequality throughout the world. Tutu states “The Bible is specifically written for your situation”, that is undeniable to anyone with open eyes, but remains the reason Tutu still has a battle to fight. Oppressors can use the same piece of work Tutu uses to argue equality to dismiss Tutu’s claim. This book has been used to persuade humanity for millenniums, it has been manipulated to the extent that there is no longer right and wrong in the world,only a biblical take on an issue, precisely because of the earlier argument, for every verse in the Bible there is a verse to contradict it and man knows them all, so using the Bible as our influence is going to stall humanity at this point time. Do you think it is time to take Tutu’s insight of an equal humanity, past all religious barriers to where it can grow and prosper as a new human prophecy set forth by human compassion void of divine intervention?

He is spirit and grace in action - forged in the fire of hate and separation.
I could listen to his laugh on a loop for hours. It is pure, and bright, shining light into all the dark places. A light maker, he is.

Listening to you and your guests enrich stimulate my imagination and enrich my life.
Today I listened to Krista ask Desmond Tutu about the effects of Truth and Reconcilliation. He described the profound emotions of both victims & perpetrators as they told and recognized that their (often secret) story was heard. He also spoke about this being a work in process. Pauses in the interview were filled with the harmony and rhythm of S. African music - the essence of what must be restored in healing trauma.
One area where it's absence is often obvious is when people with PTSD or secondary traumatization (compassion fatigue) tell their story. Healthy ways of telling one's traumatic story do not involve "spilling all the beans". Helping people to stay present to themselves, learning to recognize the physiological changes in breathing, tension, etc., as they tell their story is more healing than revealing the content.
Fragmented pieces of the story often surface & simply drop into place during the healing process as people become more attentive to their self care - to being- in present time.
Pat Ogden and Bessel van der Kolk are two people I have studied with who have had vast experiences in this field, that, in my experience, is the essence of healing trauma; the essence of peace. Thanks so much for your program.

What I find inspiring, in the unedited version of the interview, is Archbishop Tutu's warm sense of humor while dealing with such deep questions. God bless him! God has a sense of humor, unfrequently meditated on.

What a way to wake up. To pause and listen to Desmond Tutu's wisdom. I am thankful for this moment, which reminds me how lucky I am to be sharing this earth with such a rare being.

What a wonderful conversation this morning. I am so pleased to hear that Archbishop Tutu is lending his resonate voice to the cause of civil rights for gay people. So needed in Africa, and in the U.S.

What I find inspiring, in the unedited version of the interview, is Archbishop Tutu's warm sense of humor while dealing with such deep questions. God bless him! God has a sense of humor, unfrequently meditated on.

So joyful and honest. Tutu has his faith and his position. He is in the business, the faith of recognising the God within us all, the beauty and goodness that he believes is innate to human beings. This is so hopeful. He is not blind to the violence and ugliness we can create and yet he does not allow despair to prevail. His social activism with and through his faith is a powerful combination.

So many useful and pertinent facets of life to consider forgiveness, love, fear, damaged spirits, justice, absolute love, humour, compassion, our fallibility and godliness.

Thank you for sharing this episode.

I have been looking at the significance or even need to understand the darkness and evil in myself which shows up in our world. I thought that if I only looked on the light that that is the only place to find goodness. I see through Desmond Tutu and the TRC how necessary it is for a full understand to delve into them both, for they both carry the truths that make me human in the Oneness of my Devine Beingness.

As usual I wake up to Krista Tippett's interviews. Hearing the Honorable Desmond Tutu speak is both inspiring and eye opening. The courage of another has helped to break down the partitions of apartheid. His rise from the elements of poverty demonstrates the individual power we have to recognize and oppose injustice. Thank you Ms. Tippett!

During today's program I heard the host ask Tutu something about "christian truth". This choice of words, reflecting an idea and belief, indicates that "christian truth" is in some way distinct from "truth" and is precisely what is untenable, and ironic, in christianity and all religions, I guess.

Excellent sense of humor especially when he was talking about Dalai Lama

Excellent Interview

the idea expressed by Arch Bishop TuTu that I am a "God Carrier" is one that would serve us all well to remember as we deal with others. We are all "God Carriers". The self that we present to the world is that of God. Hopefully others will catch it and pass it on!
Where can I find the recording of the choral numbers?


This was such a delightful and uplifting production. The music alone was stunning. Add Krista's compelling guidance and Desmond Tutu's breadth of spirit... what a treat for the spirit.

The interview with Desmond Tutu was one of the best structured and fascinating podcasts I have heard. Storytelling through an interview process - so rare to find, so beautiful to hear. Thank you. We will run this on Whale Content Network and hopefully it will bring more people to your site.

“There is no question about the reality of evil, of injustice, of suffering, but at the center of this existence is a heart beating with love”- Archbishop Desmond Tutu

If the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu were to have a Theme, it would be Reconciliation. It is stated in this interviews and echoes throughout his writings and speeches he delivered worldwide. His life and chosen mission itself, perhaps not chosen deliberately but the stage upon which he worked, were conditioned by certain universal concepts.

He had Love and Joy growing up, he saw and felt unconditional love in the seminary when he was training for the priesthood, Trevor Huddleston, Beyers Naude, who was expelled from his white, apartheid church for speaking against it and the host of other religious organizations, working with unity against the law of “separateness” and subjugation. The action of a single person can have a transformative effect in another and eventually lead to big changes.

This reminds me of The Rev. Martin Luther King. Even though he was the face of the Civil Rights movement in the United States, he was not the architect of it. He also had support from religious leaders that are neither of his Baptist denomination nor Christianity. Most importantly, President Lyndon Johnson, working across party lines, signed the Law, not Martin Luther King. It takes all well-meaning persons working together to effect such humane, social changes and it takes time for the desirable effects of such change to manifest.

Also evident in this interview, is Archbishop Tutu’s understanding from the Truth and Reconciliation proceedings that just having people to air their views, state their frustrations, fears and feelings of guilt is therapeutic to the person as well as the community. The forgiving spirit of the human race is an unsolved paradox. A race that at one extreme gave us Adolf Hitler, Emperor Bokassa and “Field Marshall” Idi Amin also produced Jesus Christ, Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Theresa on the other.

Another outstanding psychological insight from the interview is the nature of apartheid. As with most wars, there is the physical harm inflicted and the mental, psychological warfare. The black peoples of South Africa had been conditioned to believe, over centuries, that they were sub human and therefore incapable of the abilities of humans, white people. Tutu’s plane trip when he visited Nigeria was shocking and very revealing of how much of the false, destructive conditioning had gripped him subconsciously.

This is a tool, very devious and effective, that has been used through the ages. In the United States, during World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady, visited a military Air force Base. When asked to take a demonstration flight, she asked to be flown by a black pilot. The Commanding Officer, a white man, was horrified. He reminded that he is a colored man. Eleanor pointed out that she could see that and she wanted to fly with him because they had told her that colored people could not fly.
Sometimes, unfortunately, such conditioning is self-fulfilling.
The history of revolutions, freedom fighters and political independence of Nations has shown us that those seeking such oppressive liberation end up revealing the darker nature of humans in search for power. They usually turn against themselves and perpetrate worse crimes than the previous oppressors. Civil wars became common and there were lots of successive military coupe-de-tas that ushered in brutal military dictatorships in Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia.

In South Africa, crime increased. The blacks continued playing the victim and felt a sense of entitlement. The sudden freedom and liberation was alien to them and they were at a loss. The government changed hands but the individuals were in an uncharted territory. This is what Archbishop Tutu meant when he said, “We didn’t struggle in order just to change the complexion of those who sit in the Union Buildings….It was to change the quality of our community, society. That we wanted to see a society that was a compassionate society...we still do not have the kind of place where you can say I really am proud to be here.”

Archbishop Tutu also raised the question all struggling persons and peoples have asked, where is God in all of this? Would a loving God allow some of its creation to mete out such treatment on others? He tries to make sense of it all by pointing out the “miracles”, “surprises” that followed the Reconciliation process, the immeasurable ability to forgive even after such devastation had been wreaked on individuals and the people.

It is also noteworthy that he debunked popular religious sentiments that no matter how good or spiritual a person is, he would be denounced by God on account of his religious affiliation. “Dalai Lama, you really are a great guy, man. What a shame you’re not a Christian.” He says. Love includes, and even when his views are different from the proposition of church leaders on issues like gay rights, Archbishop Tutu insists that God’s love is sufficient to all and no one religion can encompass it nor hold a monopoly on it.

Love, reconciliation, inclusiveness, tolerance and patience are what Archbishop Tutu stands for. He sees the love of God in the dire and extreme circumstances that continue to play out, in different ways, in his beloved country and in life.