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I just recently came across the short 2006 article, “Letting Go: The Final Miracle of Forgiveness,” (available here and here) from Miroslav Volf, and it set off an “uh-oh” warning bell for me. Since it is a line of reasoning I’ve never thought through all the way before I figured I’d pop on here and see if any of you have greater wisdom than me. So as to point out my concerns, I’ll very briefly sketch the logic of the piece, hoping that at the end you all can help me think through this…
First, he identifies divine forgiveness as that which allows for an offense to be “completely dissociated from the offender, and its harm… completely dissociated from the one who was offended” (page 28 from the Christian Century version). Indeed, he goes on:
When we forgive those who have wronged us, we make God’s miracle of forgiveness our own. Echoing Gods unfathomable graciousness, we decouple the deed from the doer, the offense from the offender. We blot out the offense so it no longer mars the offender. That is why the non-remembrance of wrongs suffered crowns forgiveness (28).
Second, he goes on to support this claim by challenging those who would have him remember the “more egregious” offenses, among which he counts “the slaughter of indigenous populations” and the bombing of Hiroshima (29). If we are to remember these wrongs, Volf says, then it follows we must “remember all wrongs – each misdeed of every person, not only notorious atrocities and public crimes but also all the private misdeeds committed under the protection of impenetrable darkness and hidden behind the veil of silence… (30). That is, in fairness, if we are to remember genocides we must also remember rude glances and cheap thrills… But this isn’t the heart of Volf’s call for “non-remembrance.” That is even more troubling to me.
Why exactly shouldn’t we remember these offenses? Because if it was right and fair to remember them, then in heaven – where everything is right and fair – then we would still be remembering these things and that doesn’t seem like something heavenly. As Volf says, “the eternal memory of wrongs suffered implies the eternality of evil in the midst of Gods new world…[and] would this not represent a peculiar triumph of evil rather than its complete defeat?” (31)
So before I start ranting, I’ll just note two things.
- While I doubt that it was Volf’s intention to imply the things I read into his text, I think they must be addressed regardless even if they were not explicitly intended
- Though it might not seem so, I think I actually agree with Volf on the eschatological importance of “non-remembrance” and offenses, but his argument and delivery is chilling in its possible repercussions for the present order
That is, I might agree that in the finished and complete kingdom things are as he describes them, but what about now? What does this kind of reasoning suggest that a grieving mother is to do after her child is shot? What is the response called for after the sexual assault of the 26,000 men and women who suffer trauma while in the military during 2012? What are our sisters and brothers among the first nations peoples supposed to do when their children ask them how it used to be? Now I understand that Volf isn’t attempting to be deliberately coercive here: he does, after all, say that forgiveness and non-remembrance must be given “as all good gifts are given – voluntarily and joyfully” (29). That being said, I worry about the consequences of this kind of thinking.
Do I think that retributive vengeance is called for or want to forward the myth of redemptive violence? Unequivocally no, but isn’t there an equally valid claim to be made that the memory of injustice can – perhaps ought to – move us further towards justice (even if we never reach it?) Does Volf acknowledge that forgiveness must be given via God’s Grace and not by mandate? Yes… AND I would also like to know what we living in the present can do to walk with those suffering now.
To focus so particularly on the nature of heaven and its justice and read backwards from that into the present for normative forgiveness behaviors… well… it leaves me feeling like something is majorly awry and that once again those who are at the suffering side of the stick get shorted again. I long for a model that acknowledges God’s infinite forgiveness and plots a course for the affirmation of the reality of trauma and the ways it can make us feel we will never be whole like the promise of heaven we’ve been given…
Am I over-reacting? Misreading? On to something? Let me know.
What do N.T. Wright, Marcus Borg and John Cobb have in common? This podcast!
In this hour, Tripp and Bo take 4 calls from hotline and respond to questions about eschatology and the resurrection.
You can call in with any questions or comments at 678-590-2739 (brew) and let us know what you want us to talk about.
Tripp and Bo explore the season of Advent through song, story, and proleptic possibility.
They wander through theological frameworks, eschatological expectations and process potential for a greater engagement.
Translation: Tripp sings and then they talk about the meaning of the song … along with the week’s news through a theological lens.
So the number of permanent residents in hell is on your mind? I’m gonna guess it wasn’t a few weeks ago until Rob Bell solicited a few twitter-bombs from some conservative dogma police. Since then it has been really popular to blast Bell for being un-biblical, heterodox, and all other sorts of bad stuff. That’s cool if you are interested in getting into someone’s head, supplying their intentions, and making judgments on behalf of the truth (which these individuals have undiluted access to!!). BUT if the conversation has got you thinking…is ‘love wins’ really a dramatic deviation from the church’s tradition and just some sexy packaging for liberal theology I would like to introduce you to a few Early Church Fathers who could introduce you to a ‘love wins’ way to read the Bible: Clement of Alexandria (ca. 160-215 C.E.), Origen (ca. 185-ca. 251 C.E.), and Gregory of Nyssa (331/340-ca. 395 C.E.)
These fellas are not just minor voices who should be ignored but essential for the develop of the doctrine of the Trinity (ps…it’s a big deal doctrine). I will avoid a discussion of the Trinity and their brilliant philosophical modification of Platonism to simply say that the nature of divine love articulated in the Trinity led them toward affirming God’s universalism. (1) But more than the Trinity it was the Bible that got’em!
Don’t believe me? Then try it out! Remember these three things and read some Bible to see if Biblical universalism is jiving with you.
Here are some of these three fellas favorite Bible passages…John 12:32; Acts 3:21; Romans 5:18-21, 11:25-26a, 32; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 15:22-28; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:20; 1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2. For serious play-by-play through these Church Fathers’ readings of the Bible see Steve Harmon‘s book Every Knee Should Bow: Biblical Rationales for Universal Salvation in Early Christian Thought. (2) But before you read them check out these three features of Biblical Universalism and see if they help frame your Bible reading.
1) God is Love….this means that there is nothing about God, in God, or comes from God that is not love. Love is not something God occasionally does or engages in but is the very essence of God. To say ‘God is Love’ is to say that the great mystery of God is a mystery in which every depth that is yet to be understood or revealed is another depth of love. God is love. Love known and unknown but nothing but love.
2) Love requires freedom…..this means that God’s actual goal for creation, to bring it to fruition within the divine love (Paul’s ‘all-in-all’), requires creation to have genuine freedom. Even Calvinists pretend its true in their daily lives. For example, when two lovers consummate their marriage in a passionate act of sweet love making, freedom, vulnerability, and risk is what made the actual act – intercourse – making love and not rape. The freedom to give oneself to another and to receive the other as other is not a human contaminant to love but essential. Because the God who is Love desires to love the whole world and genuine love involves freedom, the creatures of the Creator have received the gift of freedom to love God as a result of God’s own free decision to create and love.
3) Love Wins….God’s love wins. Why? Because the God who is Love is the one and only true God. The infinite Creator of all the universe who is love, is infinitely committed to loving and living in love with the world. This finite world and every finite person within it will remain for all eternity an object of the pure divine love. So both the Creator and creature’s freedom can never be compromised for premature victory. This means a). No one can or ever will be forced into loving God for the very love God desires requires freedom & b) Nothing, including one’s death or present state of response, can force the infinite God of Love to quit pursuing any and every part of God’s creation.
I hope you can see how this is NOT universalism of the blank check variety. The only thing universal here is the scope and reservoir of God’s love. The eschatological optimism is not about anyone, anything, or any action other than the God revealed in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is precisely that very particular vision of God that can lead one to be optimistic, hopeful, and excited about the future. Why? because the world’s future is God.
1. The Trinity still opens one’s theological imagination in an eschatologically optimistic direction. There is of course Karl Barth but a Greek Orthodox Priest who is a friend told me he saw all these ‘love wins’ posts on facebook and read enough quotes from the book to think it sounds like a pretty normal idea in Orthodox circles.
2. This book is really excellent and was personally transformative for me in undergrad!