I think that in the midst of reading and reflecting on this book, I realize that for me to try and give a review does not quite give justice to what Volf is trying to articulate here. Volf’s book is accessible and readable to the average person, and yet what he is trying to do is construct a theology of giving and forgiveness through the lens of Christology and perichoresis. It is a deep subject, and I think that blogging about it has helped me absorb some of the information better. I hope it has been helpful to you.
Well lets move forward. I have already included in my two previous reviews how God gives and forgives, and we have seen how humans give, and now we move on to how we should and can forgive. Instead of trying to track the flow of Volf’s thoughts and lay out his reasoning and exegesis, I thought I would just include some key quotes in the book and then follow them up with some short additions of my own.
Chapter 5: How shoud we forgive?
“We should absorb the wrongdoing in order to transform the wrongdoers” (161). The goal is the hope to end the cycles of violence and create an atmosphere of shalom. Revenge multiplies evil, it doesn’t end it. God bore our sin and we should learn to free other people of sin’s guilt and power.
And yet, “We also shouldn’t forgive exactly as God forgives” (163). As we have seen in relation to giving, God is infinite and powerful enough to take on forgiveness in its entirety, we cannot even grasp this and can only forgive as much as possible. “We imitate God as instruments of God: God gives and forgives, and we make God’s giving and God’s forgiving our own” (165).
In forgiving, our primary focus should be on the other, though we may experience freedom too, we must hope that in our forgiveness the other is released of their debt and freed from guilt. “Forgiveness cuts the tie of equivalence between the offense and the way we treat the offender” (170). To forgive is to blame, not to punish. So in our very act of forgiving, we are accusing and placing blame but we are not to seek retribution. Our hope should be freedom for all those involved. Christ is the end of retribution. Another interesting marker in this book is the role of memory, and that in order for forgiveness to reach its ultimate state, the memory of the sin must eventually fall into oblivion. “Far from being a victory of evil, consigning forgiven wrongdoings to oblivion- done at the right time and in the right way– denies evil the honor and the glory of memory” (176- Italics mine). Volf does add that this discernment must be used to realize the time and way we can begin to forget the wrongdoing, for if there is potential for harm then we should remember the offense.
The act of forgiveness is always a social relationship, and because so it must also involve repentance. If the one being forgiven does not accept his guilt, then true forgiveness has not yet happened, it just hangs in the balance. It is like a package that has been rejected by the receiver, it has been given but not received. The hope and goal of forgiveness is that the forgiven will repent, will seek restitution (not by compensating for what has been done but in gratitude and longing for peace), and that both sides will finally be reconciled to one another.
Chapter 6: But how can we forgive?
“We forgive by making God’s forgiveness our own. And even then, we don’t forgive the fact of someone’s guilt, the so-called objective guilt. God has already done that. We help remove the offender’s feeling of guilt in regard to us, the so-called subjective guilt” (196). We only have the right to forgive because God has done it already, he alone has the right to forgive and has exercised that right. By Christ indwelling in us, we are able to act as little Christs and are given power that we did not have prior to our encounter with God. That power involves us being able to forgive, for we cannot forgive on our own, but with Christ we are able to forgive.
What I liked about Volf’s concluding chapter was his admission that we are in fact finite forgivers. Our forgiving is faulty, provisional, and tentative; God’s forgiving is faultless, final, and definitive (220). Therefore we must go about our forgiving in humility and in faithfulness to the God who is the ultimate forgiver.
So what are your thoughts? Anything that you think is missing or anything that stands out to you?