Previously, I wrote a quick summary of Miroslav Volf’s first hour of his presentation entitled, Free of charge: Giving and Forgiving in a World Stripped of Grace. This time I’ll summary his second hour on “Giving.”
he started this hour with an aside. He commented that when he does this kind of talk, he finds that attendees are substantially more interested in his work on forgiveness than on his comments about giving and gift giving. What might this say about us in that we are far more interested in thinking about forgiveness than giving gifts (which is what forgiveness really is)
To his points:
1. Giving is the opposite of amassing things.
2. While fulfilling, giving is hard because it usually requires self-sacrifice. Yes, some gifts cost little or even benefit us (e.g., a performer gives the gift of performance but through giving it gets even better as a performer). It is hard to give because: (a) it costs us something, (b) we have to fight the tendency toward laziness or sloth, (c) pride, desire for manipulation, sense of entitlement, airs of superiority, desire to demean, etc hinders us. Further, some of us are tempted to being “smart takers” (i.e., taking under the guise of caring for others)
3. Problem: we craft God into our own image. We imagine him as negotiator and attempt to negotiate with him. We bargain with if/then statements. If you give me x, I will give you back y. The tragedy is that we’re trying to negotiate with God but we have nothing to offer him in exchange. And what we think we are offering or bringing to the table are things that given as gifts to US by God himself. This insults God’s gift and his burning love that is the motivation for that gift. Bargainers have to bargain from a position of strength–but we have none with God because his loving gifts overwhelm us.
4. Why do we give? Why should we give? We give because God is a giver. He gives to us for our enjoyment and for us to pass on to others. We give because it is the nature of our character–made in the image of a giving, loving God.
5. God loves a cheerful giver. He wants us to be givers who give without grumbling. And when we do, we experience true living. (example of following musical score. At first it may be mechanical and even oppressive. But when it is played well, you experience its freedom, its true expression.)
6. But God is neither a negotiator or a Santa Claus. He give gives us gifts with an address on it other than our own–gifts intended to be given or passed on. But what happens when we keep other people’s gifts? Misappropriated gifts brings out God’s response of justice.
7. Must we assess the deserving nature of the gift giver? While we may speak of wise gifts, Christianity is built on gifts to the unjust and just alike. maybe we should talk about wise vs. discriminating? Volf thinks gift giving can be both wise AND indiscriminate. Wise gifts may consider impact and effectiveness. Indiscriminate means one doesn’t evaluate whether the recipient is deserving or not.
Lastly, sometimes the suburbanized, tolerant mindset of love doesn’t feel that God’s love is really love but manipulation. Love is not like Santa but true love has a spine. It can be severe, robust, opinionated, etc.
Next post will cover his final talk on forgiveness.
One response to “Volf on giving”
I like his concept of forgiveness = giving gifts 🙂
Actually, I’ve always thought of God as like Santa Claus: if you are good (faith/works), you get presents (Heaven); if you are naughty, you get coal (Hell).
Also, I grew up with the concept that God loves us so much, that he’ll do anything to win us over and have us love Him in return. Which, if you understand how marketing works, gives us negotiating power with God. Apparently, that concept is out of favor now 🙂
And yet to me, God as Lover is the ultimate form of gift-giving.