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.
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.
On Saturday I attended Miroslav Volf’s 3 hour talk on the topic of renewing grace and forgiveness in a “culture stripped of grace.” The first talk, “A Culture stripped of grace” he had these things to say:
1. Our culture is oriented around satisfying desires. If you ask a person what makes us flourish, you may get get a blank stare, or, they perceive that flourishing means living with satisfaction. Can we imagine flourishing without met desires? Maybe we should speak of “living well” instead?
2. We have lost some of those things that religion teaches us how to curtail desire. We live in a “grab ass/kick ass world” We grab what we can and take revenge on those who try to take from us or block us from what we think we deserve.
3. We tend to live in 3 (maybe 4?) modes
a. Taking mode (get what we want) Notice that life becomes dull in taking mode and so you need bigger and bigger takes. “Opiate for the people is commercialized culture, not religion.”
b. Investing mode (try to get just a bit more than we get)
c. Exchange mode(rough equivalency of giving and getting). This is where we live most of the time and it isn’t bad
d. Gift mode (giving more than we hope to get). Here he made allusions to bad gift giving which he says is worse than exchange mode.
4. What happens when gift mode shrinks in culture or goes away? Human life is impossible w/o gifting. We cannot pay enough to cover the costs from being raised, for example. We begin to see, when gift mode shrinks, that giving is being a fool, a loser, a sucker. In this current crisis we are afraid not of going hungry but of not being able to have what we want.
He ended the talk with the question we wants us to ask: What is our life for? This requires us to think and stop just reacting to desires and culture cues. What is our life for? Is it for me or for giving? How might this current crisis move us to ask this question?
I’ve just gotten notice that the Leadership Institute of the Episcopal Diocese of PA is sponsoring a lecture by Volf on December 13, 1-4 pm at St. Thomas Church in Ft. Washington (poster says Whitemarsh, but it’s just on Church Road not far off 309).
He’ll be giving a talk entitled: Forgiveness and Injury: Moving Forward through Life’s Adversities. He’s a theologian from Yale and will probably be talking some of his experiences of dealing with anger and intrusive memories resulting from his life in Yugoslavia. I blogged chapters of his book, “End of Memory” which you can find here. I imagine the book and lecture will have many parallels.
Cost is $20. I’m planning on attending. He’s a very thoughtful writer so hoping the presentation will be good. Info for directions and registration found here (you’ll need to scroll down to the event listing for the 13th).