catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 2 :: 2007.01.26 — 2007.02.09


Remembering how

He referenced it quickly in his lecture—but not quickly enough to evade the inevitable question during the Q & A.  "You mention the role of forgetting in forgiveness.  I've done work in Argentina where everyone is saying that we must forget the past and move on.  But remembering is an important part of forming identity and of story.  In what way does forgiveness involve forgetting?"

Miroslav Volf was part of this year's January Series at Calvin College, an annual lineup of lunch hour lectures that draws attendees of all ages and several states.  I remember attending my first January series lecture as a high school journalism student.  We rode five hours round trip.  The teacher's choice, sociologist Jonathan Kozol, was a good one and his anecdotal observations about poverty and inequality have proven a formative introduction to my attentiveness to social justice.

Ten years later, I sat in the same room to hear Volf speak on the theme of one of his recent books, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace.  His focus, both in the lecture and in the book, is that we must learn how to give and forgive by following the Divine example.  The giving and forgiveness of God precludes our realization of our need for it.  The comprehensive forgiveness of the cross is a symbol—God has forgiven us even before we have repented.  We have simply to accept its reality.

His emphasis dovetailed nicely with another book I've been visiting lately, Robert Farrar Capon's The Fingerprints of God: Tracking the Divine Suspect Through a History of Images.  In what I've read so far of Capon's theological work, his particular pet point is that of redemption for all by virtue of the Word's reality. He traces this reality through the parables in his trilogy on the themes of kingdom, judgment and grace.  Further explanation from Fingerprints:

The great insight of Scripture and the Reformation is that the world goes home to the Father by pull alone—by the Father's delight in a beloved Son who draws all to himself in his death.  But that truth has been eased into oblivion by the image of a job that won't get done unless we give it a helping hand….  Everyone already has the gift [of salvation]; all anyone can do is trust it or not trust it.  The abiding presence of the gift doesn't depend on anybody's faith; it depends only on the Giver—on the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, not just the sins of the cooperative.  Accordingly, faith doesn't do anything; it simply enables believers to enjoy what Jesus has already done for them.

Capon's insistence is that redemption is a reality that is integral to the nature of the Word himself and that the reality of redemption, while revealed to us human beings in the context of linear time, has been woven into creation by the Word who is the origin of all things.  I'll let him speak for himself:

The Word speaks all things into being at the beginning.  But then, when his creatures deface the world by contradicting his speaking (by denying their own natures as he has spoken them), the Word just keeps on talking.  At the very instants of their contradictions, without a single throat-clearing or a moment's hesitation, he counterspeaks their contradiction in his same, original voice.  In him, creation and redemption are one act; both have always been going on full force in everything.  True enough, it took time for Scripture to revel that gracious gift.  But when it's all set down in black and white, grace is the ultimate point.  It proclaims that the Word who makes the world is identical with the Word who saves the world, and it says he's always been doing both jobs.

And I suppose this brings me back around to Volf.  He admitted that he didn't have time to adequately answer the question about forgiving and forgetting and I haven't yet gotten to that part of his book, but I have a sense of what he might say.  Forgetting a wrong involves coming to a place in which remembering and forgiving are the same act.  Forgetting involves being able to remember without that seizing sick feeling of regret and anger.  Forgetting comes the seventy-seventh time.  Or maybe the time after that.  Called to model the Word, we seek a state of being that emulates the consistency and singularity of purpose that is present in the simultaneous creation and redemption of which Capon speaks.  We seek a still point where we are willing vessels for the love, the forgiveness, the grace of the One Who Is. 

And perhaps the Spirit is guiding me to understand this message lately through repetition, like reciting lines for a play until they become a part of me and I don't need to work so hard to remember.  In March, I'll hear singer-songwriter Liz Janes perform for the first time and part of my introduction to her music today brought me to this line:

His promise is not dependent upon my belief, but upon his word only.

This is true rest, it seems, a point of stillness at which I can only arrive by surrender.  This is the Spirit faithfully exercising my paralyzed limbs in the daft hope that I'll remember how to walk again.

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