In his 3rd hour last week, Miroslav Volf spoke on forgiveness. I say hour, but really it was only about 40 minutes with breaks and chatting. Here’s some of his thoughts that you can find in both End of Memory and Free of Charge.
1. We tend towards one of three reactions to wrongs: (a.) Revenge (taking mode). Doesn’t measure the response, just reacts, (b) Retribution (exchange mode). Deserving punishments meted out. The eye for an eye. And this mode considers not just what is taken but compensation for the violation itself. (c) Forgiveness (giving mode). Giving the gift of not counting wrongs against the wrongdoer.
2. Modern culture sees forgiveness as a gift to self to get rid of the poison of bitterness rather than a gift to the offender. While forgiveness may have this consequence, to view it only this way is to minimize the gift of releasing the other.
3. Why do we forgive? Because God is a giving and forgiving God.
4. Be careful not to minimize the hard activity of forgiving the offender. Forgiveness names the other as a criminal. It claims an injustice. It is a call for justice. But then follows up the call with a generous deed–not counting the act against the person.
5. Why does God do this? Because time does not run backward. Our misdeeds stick to us and we need freedom.
6. What about forgiving and forgetting? For 2500 years these two were tied together, that forgiveness should lead to forgetting or not remembering the acts done. The modern world has cut them apart. We want to forgive but remember. And yet the most amazing gift would be the forgetting of our sins. “Properly understood, forgetting is the crown of forgiveness.” Volf (in his books) is not unthoughtful about the difficulty in forgetting, but thinks we may be too quick to untie the two acts.
7. Finally, we cannot talk about forgiveness without also talking about the need for repentance. If we do not repent we do not receive God’s gift. If we forgive another, the gift cannot be received without repentance. While you can give a gift unilaterally, it will not reach its full goal without the proper response. Gift giving is a social relationship.
THUS, You can say “I have forgiven you.” But unless it has been received with repentance, then forgiveness hasn’t occurred nor can reconciliation.
3 responses to “Volf on forgiving”
The three reactions to wrongs:
A. REVENGE: What the OT God does.
B. RETRIBUTION: What the NT God does.
C. FORGIVENESS: What Humans do.
A. and B. should be fairly straight forward to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Scripture, so I’ll concentrate on C.
The prerequisite of forgiveness is repentance. Humans can forgive other humans, because we are capable of repenting of our transgressions against each other, letting go of our anger, and forgetting the immediacy of the trangression.
However, God can never forgive us, because He requires perfection of us in order to truly repent of our trangressions against Him. As imperfect, sinful beings, we will never be capable of repentance. As an omnipotent being, He is incapable of letting go of his anger against our sins. As an omniscient being, He is incapable of forgetting our sins.
In other words, if we were actually capable of repenting on the scale of perfection required by God, then He wouldn’t have needed to sacrifice Himself, to Himself, in order to atone for our sin.
Humans have finite powers, knowledge, and resources. Because of this, we can imperfectly mix judgement, and condemnation, and forgiveness, and love, as we are incapable of anything else.
Perfect beings, on the other hand, never need to mix any of these by accident, as we do. The perfect judge ALWAYS judges and condemns; the perfect lover ALWAYS loves and forgives.
My version of C. is LOVE: What God and Humans do together.
From my perspective, Volt’s God is a Judge. My God is a Lover.
It is all well and good to forget – only if there has been true reconciliation. With true repentance. I have done my best to forgive my father for: threatening my pregnant mother (carrying me) abandoning me and my mother, killing our puppy and then once finally divorced, threatening to kidnap me for seven years straight. I grew up afraid to go anywhere, never could walk down the street alone. I can not forget for an unrepentant man – who may harm my children, but will do my best to forgive him everyday. My choice is to forgive him and never lay blame for his mental illness and it’s affect on my life or my mothers at his feet. I chose to lay it at the cross. Can you please cite the bible verses used to justify ‘forgetting’.
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