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:
- Introduction (this post)
- The Commission
- In a Pub
- Invisible Guest
- Once More in a Pub
- A Puzzlement
- After the Judgment
I have often wondered what happened to Captain G. after the fall of 1984, when I was allowed to escape from under his inquisitorial “care.” Where was he in the early nineties, when Mostar (the city in which he seemed to enjoy his job of poking around in people’s lives) found itself caught in the whirlwind of a three-way war between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims? Did a communist defending the “brotherhood and unity” of the peoples of Yugoslavia morph into a nationalist fighting for the Serbian cause? Did he come out of the carnage alive? A hero? A four-star general? Or did he abandon the army out of disappointment that the socialist project for which he snooped on so many had so easily crumbled? What did he do after the war, during the years of uneasy and bitter peace? Did he withdraw to the mountains of his native Montenegro to nurse his wounds or drown his memories in Montenegrin vine brandy? Or, ensconced in his ancestral house, perhaps he is still proudly recounting to his grandchildren his great exploits in preventing secret plots against holy causes and wondering which one of these little ones will be found worthy to follow in his footsteps.
I have made a few attempts to track him down. The unsettling yet irresistibly attractive God of mine, intent on reconciling everyone and everything, kept nudging me to locate my nemesis and start the process of reconciliation. I searched the internet. I talked to a few friends with connections in the Yugoslav military. I came away empy handed . . . and relieved. But the Merciful Master of the universe ensconced deep in my conscience didn’t seem satisfied. It wasn’t divine anger that I felt, as though God were furious at me for failing to obey. Nor was it a sense of divine irritation, as though God were nagging, “How many times do I have to tell you to try harder?” It wasn’t even disappointment, as though God were pointing out that Jesus Christ died to reconcile me to God and I couldn’t even make peace with a fellow human being, for whom Christ also died. Instead, I simply sensed God’s unwillingness to let the alienation and enmity have the last word. “Maybe you can do better,” I heard a patient and persistent voice speak from the depths of my own heart – a voice that was my own, yet also that of Another. “And if not now, maybe later. . . .” Relieved from pressure but not from responsibility, I searched for ways to reconcile with Captain G.
Then the obvious occurred to me. Wherever Captain G. lived – presumably within the borders of the erstwhile Yugoslavia – he also showed up in my memory and frequented my imagination. There, I was mostly dealing with him without really engaging him. Early on, I would chase him away, and later, when his presence in my mind became more or less inconsequential, I would simply disregard him. Maybe, I now thought, I should try to reconcile with him in my imagination. I had made many – too many – attempts to forgive him on my own; maybe it was time to involve him in the process. Granted, even if I succeeded in reconciling with Captain G. on the screen of my mind, an imagined reconciliation could not permanently substitute for a face-to-face encounter of living and breathing human beings. Still, imagined reconciliation is something, and something is mostly better than nothing. I had no excuse. I had to begin.