miroslav_volfWhat 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:

I told a friend about the encounters I’d imagined between Captain G. and me and about my labor of reconciliation. She was puzzled.

“Your brand of reconciliation seems cheap to me,” she said.

“Why cheap?” I asked, just to hear her say what I knew was on her mind.

“You’re letting him off the hook! He and the likes of him should have charges pressed against them. Your Captain G. should be punished: You harm others, you pay. It’s that simple. Otherwise you’ll have evildoers growing like weeds.”

“Punishment is too petty, and it doesn’t help that much. I want more. I want Captain G. dead!”

“What?! Where did that come from? You seem to me to want the ultimate punishment for him, not no punishment. I fail to see where reconciliation fits in to that picture! Which is it: death or unconditional forgiveness? Isn’t there some middle ground between the two extremes?”

“No, there isn’t – at least not good middle ground. Those extremes may sound incompatible, but they aren’t. This ‘death’ that I’m talking about is the word the Apostle Paul uses when he speaks of human transformation. He describes it as dying and rising with Christ. I want Captain G. to become a new person – dead to his old self and alive to his new self. I believe that Christ took all of our deserved punishment upon himself when he died on the cross. The only ‘punishment’ left for Captain G. to undergo is this ‘death’ to his old self.”

“And what if he doesn’t want to die?”

“Then we’ll want to make sure that he doesn’t pose a danger to others. What I am against is retribution. It’s incompatible with forgiveness and reconciliation. I am for transformation and, when necessary, containment and discipline, including incarceration. Do you think that’s cheap?”

“He hasn’t paid for what he’s done! Isn’t that cheap?”

“On the contrary – as expensive as it gets. In Christ, God was judged in his place!”

“God certainly comes in handy for you – does all the important work.”

“Would you have me believe that the Source of all that exists and the merciful Guide for all who walk the path of life just sits in a far corner of the heaven twiddling the almight thumbs? Either God exists and is then at the center of everything and affects it all, or God doesn’t exist. It is foolish to believe in a God does nothing. An idle God is a false god.”

“There are worse ways for God to be false.”

“I agree. But I wouldn’t count shouldering the sin of the world among the ways of being a false god – and certainly not a cheap form of reconciliation!”