What do we do with memories of intense offenses after we forgive? This is a vexing question in a world marred by violence. Oh, that we could really “forgive and forget.” This is the question Miroslav Volf seeks to answer in his book The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in aWorld of Violence.
This blog series the postscript to Dr. Volf’s book in which he seeks to illustrate what he’s taught through imagined conversations with “Captian G.” – his chief interrogator during Miroslav’s eight years of political imprisonment for being a Christian and “Western sympathizer” in the former communist Yugoslavia.
I admire the honesty and vulnerability of this book. It remains true to the historic Christian positions on forgiveness and righteousness without making the living of those answers seem any “neater” than they really are in a broken world. I hope this series of excerpts will motivate many people to read this excellent book. I believe its content can be of great benefit for those who’ve face various forms of abuse and what to know how to honor God with those memories they cannot forget.
This seven part series will be posted in the following units:
- The Commission
- In a Pub
- Invisible Guest (this post)
- Once More in a Pub
- A Puzzlement
- After the Judgment
I gave Captain G. another call.
“I’m sorry I stormed out of our last meeting. I’ve done some thinking about our encounter. Maybe we should try one more time,” I said somewhat tentatively to the incredulous voice at the other end of the telephone line.
“And what makes you think we won’t part in the same way we did the last time, more angry with each other than when we started talking?” he inquired, reasonably.
“Well, I’m thinking of asking a guest to join us – an Invisible Guest, but a real one nonetheless.”
“Spare me the clumsy indirectness. You know that I don’t believe in God.”
“That’s your right. But I’m not suggesting that we discuss whether or not God exists or whether it’s good to believe in God. I know very well that you don’t think religion is a force for good. But even if you don’t believe in God, I do. And for me, at least, a sense of the presence of God – a giving and forgiving God, a God of truth and justice who loves you no less than me – might make a difference in our encounter.”
“Your invisible guest amounts to no guest at all, as far as I am concerned; but if that imaginary crutch helps you, it’s fine with me.”
“Crutch? You might as well call the air I breathe a ‘crutch.’ But I won’t argue with you. You were schooled in the Marxist critique of religion. So perhaps you can think of my guest as a screen onto which I’ve projected the commitment to be truthful, no matter whether truth favors you or me; the desire to repair and restore the human bond between us; the pledge to forgive while not disregarding justice; the belief in the possibility of human goodness, notwithstanding our fragility and flaws; the hope in future wholeness and reconciliation.”
“That may be a bit too much for a ‘Guest-on-the-screen’ to accomplish,” he grumbled skeptically. “You’d probably need a real God, and a Christian God on top of it, to achieve all that.”
“I think you’re right. And that, among other things, is why I believe. Do you agree to meet once more?”
He did. As I was waiting for him a few days later, I ran through the best-case scenario of our imminent encounter, but I knew full well that in reality it might turn out differently, very differently. Here is what I decided I wanted to happen between us, in the presence of the One I believed was as much his Guest as mine.