Someone sent me a link to a recent ER show where a dying man is talking to a chaplain about his guilt and whether or not he can be forgiven for his taking innocent life. While some of the chaplain’s comments are relativistic mumbo-jumbo, she has one very insightful comment. The dying man says something to suggest he can’t make up for his sins. The chaplain says,
“[Sometimes I think] it’s easier to feel guilt than forgiven….that your guilt is your reason for living…but maybe you need something else to live for.”
I may not have gotten that quote just right at the end as I was scribbling it down. But, this line is very powerful. In fact, some make a living out of guilt, depression, hopelessness, etc. They can’t imagine life any different. Pride makes it hard to give up what feels to have become a central feature to their identity. While her counsel was terrible, she was right on the money about the nature of guilt and the difficulty in giving it up. He would have to accept that he received something he did not deserve and could never pay back.
“Counseling…fosters the practice of forgiving; it facilitates the search for being forgiven.” So says Malony and Augsburger at the start of chapter six of Christian Counseling. But lest we confuse forgiveness with absolution, the authors remind us that while sometimes forgiveness is given immediately after an apology, we may need to ask, “What about the bike?” (from a story from South Africa where a person stole a bike and later asked for forgiveness but refused to address the missing bike or acknowlege the owner’s loss).
“The counselor who views situations of alienation or injury through a Christian frame has a biase toward healing, toward release of anger and return to open relationship.” (52). The authors are quick, however, to avoid the problem of superficial, premature, or forced reconciliation. Further, some problems cannot be bridged in this world. Both judgment and and grace are necessary factors for proper forgiveness and, “Neither can be sacrificed for easy flight into the other.” Yet, “forgiveness upholds the conviction that grace has, does, and will triumph over judgment…” Continue reading
Sorry for the long hiatus from Volf. The semester is heating up and some knucklehead agreed to several outside speaking engagements this spring. Ugh. Anyway, Volf starts provides a good reminder of where he is at the beginning of chapter 9 of End of Memory:
My thesis is the third part of this book has been simple: memories of suffered wrongs will not come to the minds of the citizens of the world to come [when they get to that world!], for in it they will perfectly enjoy God and one another in God….Indeed, the offender ceases to be an offender, for non-remembrance has taken away the very being of the offense… (177)
So, he is interested in thinking about the “transition from the world as it is to the world of perfect love…” (178) He starts by reminding us that on the final judgment, our sins against God and neighbor must be brought to light in a social event before we are freed from our guilt and finally transformed. He goes on to suggest that each person will “joyfully appropriate the results of the judgment.” I think he means those who are on their way to heaven.
Its here I want to stop and consider two points. (1) Most of us do not want any, much less all, of our sinful actions against God and neighbor to be brought to light, and (2) many of us do not want offenders really released from all guilt. But I think it will be much like Aslan’s dealings with various individuals. We will be so focused on God’s grace and mercy that our shame will be short lived and we will have no time to even consider someone else’s wrong doing. We will be healed of all jealousy and bitterness and second-guessing.
Can’t wait for that!
I apologize for the delay in posting on the next chapter of Volf’s End of Memory. I’ve put it down briefly and am doing quick reads on two other books on the topic of division between people groups (Israel/Palestine; American Blacks/Whites). Volf has been exploring the matter of dealing with painful memories of past abuse. But what if the offenses continue, not just in the memory but in real life? How does one ever stop the cycle of hurt, hate, protectionism?
Carter’s new book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid (Simon and Schuster), explores his involvement with trying to broker peace from the 70’s til more recently. If you are looking for a detailed historical analysis, look elsewhere, But if you have a good understanding the parties, he does have some interesting info and perspective and inside stories. I’ve read the first 4 chapters. However, he has a throw-away line in chapter one (p. 15) that really sticks in my craw, It has always b een clear that the antagonists cannot be expected to take the initiative to resolve their own differences. Hatred and distrust in the Middle East are too ingrained and pride is too great for any of the disputing parties to offer invitations or concessions that they know will almost inevitably be rejected.
While I agree that what he says has been true. The most progress has been made when the US has brokered and shuttled between the two and almost no progress has been made when outside pressures have been released. And yet, it is a sad day to say that a people group (or their leaders) are so unwilling to put aside pride and demands for autonomy/safety for the greater good of the world.
Seems true in Iraq today as well. Shia and Sunni leaders seem hellbent on giving up nothing for a greater good. There is no trust. So, the real question is how does one build/risk trust when there has been almost no space for it to the present. Does South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation project have any capacity to teach us that victims give up rights and offenders give up silence and any pretense of being righteous?
I’m looking to see what Carter will suggest as the solution and whether he lays much blame at Israel’s feet. That’s the third rail of politics…
Sorry for the brief hiatus from The End of Memory. Starting a new semester plus am looking at two books that I may review in some detail right after (Jimmy Carter’s new book on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and Ed Gilbreath’s book on being a black man in white evangelical organizations–both have to do with dealing with longstanding conflict and hurts).
Volf in Chapter 7 begins a new section entitled, How Long Should we Remember? Continue reading
In the previous chapter of The End of Memory Volf determined that memory of wrongs suffered was an ambiguous event that could either heal or be used to harm self and other. In this chapter (3) he takes on the issue of determining how one benefits from memories of evil without also drinking the oft accompanying poison of hate or fear. On p. 42-3 he sets up his belief and concern:
Learning to remember well is one key to redeeming the past; and the redemption of the past is itself nestled in the broader story of God’s restoring of our broken world to wholeness–a restoration that includes the past, present, and future….Will I feel secure in the midst of abiding insecurities in the world, or will I always feel exposed to threats? (He offers many more similar questions regarding healing, justice, and meaning on p. 43).
To make movements toward healing, one must remember AND speak truthfully wrongs suffered by the hand of another. How do we do this? Volf explores 3 areas: Continue reading
Just thinking about how a few words said in passing can have the power to heal and/or hurt. I’ve talked previously how I think that naming things is part of the dominion God gave us over creation. We see it in Adam’s naming the animals as he saw fit. Of course, the Fall screws up our capacity to name things so that we call things good that are not, and we fail to name things that we ought. Counselors participate in this naming capacity because they often hold the power to name things going on beneath the surface. However, naming things too quickly or without enough concern for the impact is not helpful. Have you ever been hit with some “truth” by someone that blew you away? “And let me tell you another thing…!” Once, I told a friend something I thought God might be calling him to do (something he hadn’t planned on!). Some time later, he told me that when I said it, it wasn’t well received, it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. While he came to agree with my perception over time, he hadn’t been ready to hear that. I’m not sure whether I should or shouldn’t have said it, but I do know that I was fairly unaware that a passing comment would be that powerful.
And, in relationship to my posts on the Amish shooting, I am realizing it is very easy to make a passing comment and in doing so, create pain in others. In my original post I took issue with a spokesperson who seemed to equate forgiveness with not being angry. I still take issue with that equation. However, it would be easy to think that I was saying that the forgiveness offered was not authentic. In taking issue with one person who represented one idea I made a comment that could be easily taken to dismiss an entire people group. I don’t think of me having that kind of power, and yet I do. We do. And the power can get in the way of more important conversations–in this case, forgiveness and emotions responding to great evil.
This kind of power gives me pause with my words. I needn’t avoid naming things but I need to be aware of and receptive to the conversations that will ensue. I need to be inviting others to take issue with me and to challenge my view on things. The redeeming factor is that we can be guaranteed that God will use our words to induce ongoing conversations about important issues in ours and others lives.
I realize the topic of forgiveness is a hot one these days. Lots of books on the topic. Reasons to forgive range from “its good for you” (or not doing so is bad for your health), its something to give only if the offender asks for it, and its required by God. I suggested in a previous post that it is possible to do so too quickly. Maybe quick or slow isn’t the best choice of words. Superficial vs. deep might be better. Also, we talk about whether forgiveness is a one time act or a daily choice. Is it a feeling or a decision? It seems to me that it is a daily act that does not deny emotions of hurt and pain or recognition that destruction of relationship has taken place. Does forgiveness imply that the victim must act as if the offender never harmed them. If you steal from me, do I allow you to manage my valuables after I forgive you?
Forgiveness is both simple and complex. It is both quick and slow. It is both submission to God and grace to the offender. It does not deny or suppress emotion, it does not pretend nothing happened, it may not change the consequences. It is not the same as reconciliation. It does represent something of God’s immense character and when we see it in action, we see God.
A follow-up on the shooting of Amish school children by a man supposedly taking revenge for something that happened in his life some 20 years prior. The following appeared in an msn story (http://msnbc.msn.com/id/15113706/):
‘They honestly have forgiven’
Meanwhile, Rita Rose, a local nurse and midwife who delivered several children in the Amish community, told NBC’s Ann Curry that the mother of a 13-year-old girl who died has forgiven Roberts.
“She holds no ill will toward the shooter. She’s very forgiving. Christ forgave us, and we in turn forgive, and they honestly have forgiven,” she said. “Even last night, there was no anger toward the shooter.”
REALLY? Is this a higher form of spirituality? Did Jesus suffer from some sort of weakness when he overturned the tables at the tempte? My pastor preached on the last chapter of Nehemiah recently where Nehemiah goes on a bit of a rampage because priests have neglected their job or engaged in nepotism and folks are buying/selling goods on the Sabbath. He asked whether or not we are angry about the right things. While I applaud not becoming bitter over the sin of others, saying in less than 24 hours that they had forgiven their daughter’s killer sounds a bit premature. Yes, Christ calls us and empowers us to forgive others. But we ought to be angry at all forms of sin because they are an affront to God–especially those that damage little children (remember the millstone imagery!).