Forgetfulness and Forgiveness

What do you think about Dr. King’s statement on real forgiveness? Can one forgive without full reconciliation? 

This was a question from my friend’s blog post that was posed after writing about a quote by Dr. King on forgiveness.

“Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt. The words ‘I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done’ never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, ‘I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.’ Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.”[1]

I was recently reading Miroslav Volf’s book, Exclusion and Embrace and within his writing, Volf offered a thought on this concept of forgiveness & forgetfulness.  As he explored the concept of reconciliation between the oppressor and the oppressed, the culprit and the victim, one of the things that really challenged me was Volf’s point to say that forgiveness requires forgetfulness  In consideration of what it means to forgive, I think Jesus’ words to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us is perhaps one of the most impossible demands for anyone.  Consider even the one that has wronged you in a small transgression, it is even difficult to fully forgive one that has cut us off on the freeway or even embarrassed us before others.

Yet Jesus’ in His words in Matthew 5:43-48 calls us to a love that transcends anything this world has to offer.  He not only asks us to love (not in such a passive bearing sort of way), but in a way that even asks us to petition to the infinite God in prayer (which is perhaps the highest action we may do for another besides loving them).  But why do we do this? It is because it reflects our relationship as sons to our Father in heaven (5:45).  I think the kicker in Jesus’ statement is the hypothetical questions that follow in 5:46-47 that essentially pose the question to the listener/reader about how are we truly different than others that are able to love their loved ones or friends who love them too.  If the world can love those who love them, then when we love those that love us… isn’t that what everybody is expected to do?!  The calling to love then is one to love the worst of your enemies and I believe anyone in between. If you can love your enemy, you can love anybody… and Jesus ultimately showed this upon the cross in Luke 23:34 when he not only loved those who were crucifying Him (us)… and he prayed for them to His Father.  In ending this passage, Jesus makes the impossible statement… “you therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).  What an incredible statement, right? Let us be honest and realize that it is impossible to fulfill this call as the imperfect sinners that we are!  Yet, why this call then? I think it is this that constantly reminds us of the divine grace that has cleared our sins … forgiven our mistakes and forgotten our transgressions… and why the process of sanctification is one of hope and growth and maturity.

Volf quoting Lewis Smedes writes that “forgiveness is an outrage ‘against straight-line-dues-paying morality'” (120).  The world’s standard operating procedure is one to seek revenge, or reciprocal violence.  You take something or hurt me, I respond in kind.  Repayment/revenge/vengeance is demanded.  This leads to this endless cycle or spiral of violence … where violence feeds revenge, revenge feeds violence (121).  What is pointed out then is that our actions even those of violence or sin are actions that cannot be undone… if they could be undone then, revenge would not be necessary (121).  The only way then is through forgiveness for one’s actions.  Where Lamech (Gen. 4:23-24) demanded revenge that increased, Jesus, demands His followers to forego revenge… to forgive as much as Lamech sought revenge (Matt. 18:21).  Ultimately, Jesus reflected this.

Volf then quotes Jurgen Moltmann saying this about our Lord’s Prayer:

“With this prayer of Christ the universal religion of revenge is overcome and the universal law of retaliation is annulled.  In the name of the Crucified, from now on only forgiveness holds sway. Christianity that has the right to appeal to him is a religion of reconciliation. To forgive those who wronged one is an act of highest sovereignty and great inner freedom. In forgiving and reconciling, the victims are superior to the perpetrators and free themselves from compulsion to evil deeds” (Moltmann, 122).

Volf then points out that the very idea of forgiveness reveals that there is justice.  If there’s no justice, then there’s no need for forgiveness.

Truth is that “strict restorative justice can never be satisfied” (122).  Since no deed is completely irremovable, the original offense still remains.  It is also then because that original offense remains that we are always tempted to reciprocal revenge/violence. By truly forgiving, one keeps to reveal justice.  But as Volf points out and quotes Bonhoeffer… it is only those who are able to perceive and confess their sin to Jesus and have given their lives to Him… that are capable of relentlessly pursuing this true justice without falling into the temptation to return to acts of violence (123).

How do we then truly forgive? Volf points us to the prayers and Psalms.  He points us to the crucified Messiah… whom we must all stand before God and place our enemy and ourselves before God… the vengeful self that we are… before a God who loves and does justice.  It is only then as God pierces with light into the deepest cores of our hatred and desire for revenge that spreads that we realize we are excluding the enemy from his humanity but calling out their sinfulness, that we also excuse ourselves from our own sinfulness and connection to the community of sinners.  It is there that we start to see our hypocrisy and our desire to exclude the other that leads us to sin, but before the God who is love… which is greater than sin… we all start to see ourselves included with our enemies before God in enmity to God’s justice and our own sin (124).

We ultimately learn from God and the cross of Christ that in the cross is the example of that space that is created by God to allow the offender and sinner into His embrace (125-126).  Christ’s self-giving love and this creation of space in himself to received estranged humanity is shown through the interaction of the Trinity (127-128) and its mutual connectivity and support that we start to emulate this example that is manifested in the divine Trinity of how God has loved us and others.  This then leads to the ultimate final difficult act as Volf points out… which is that “certain kind of forgetting”…  it is this impossible task to forget as the victim the wrong done by the perpetrator.  As long as we carry this thought and harbor it…. what Volf points out is that “the memory of the wrong suffered is also a source of [one’s] own non-redemption. As long as it is remembered, the past is not just the past; it remains an aspect of the present” (133).  You will continuously bring another’s sin into the present by carrying it through good and bad times.  If the person doesn’t sin again then it is stored… but if the person fails, this memory of that original sin will come roaring back as additional affirmation to that person’s wrong and evilness.  Augustine offers  the big picture comfort that it all ultimately works out for God’s glory and plan for the future.  This hopeful thinking is kinda shot down by Volf as he points out is that the memories of one’s suffering … these open questions crave a solution (134).  What must happen then is ultimately we must go from mourning to non-remembering — in the arms of God (135). What Volf points out is that there needs to be a sort of forgetting… that God ultimately… “will forget the forgiven sin” (136).  God is going to do a new thing… and he calls his people not to “remember the former things” … promises to blot out their transgressions out of God’s own memory (Isaiah 43:18-19;25; cf 65:17) (136).  Why is this ultimately possible?! Ultimately it is at the cross of Christ that we see the reminder… that upon Himself, Christ has borne the sins of all humanity and placed them upon Himself (Rev. 22:1-4; Jn. 1:29).

When I consider Volf’s words, and think about what MLK Jr. is saying, I truly believe that this is essential to forgiveness is our forgetting and reconciliation   Truth is that this is impossible apart from God and the reality is we are more prone to cycles of memory (holding it and storing the transgression)…. and likely to respond as the world would… through violence and revenge.  What Volf shows is that through the cross of Christ, we are given the means to reconcile and forgive to truly forget another’s sins.  What MLK Jr. says is true, but absolutely impossible apart from the transcending and work of Christ on the cross for all of humanity’s sin and the hope that comes from His resurrection.  Ultimately, we must consider the Gospel in order to find and to truly reconcile and to forget, which then leads to forgiveness.

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving your enemies” in Strength to Love (Philadelphia: Fortess Press, 1981), 51.

 

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Reading Scripture, Remythologizing Love

God is Love

I recently picked up a copy of Kevin Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship. As an amateur reader, I’m not qualified to comment at length about his argument (I’m also barely 1/3 of the way through). Vanhoozer’s remythologizing is actually a response against certain strands of liberal theology, which “demythologize” God, debunking the idea that God is some supernatural being “out there.” To quote Rudolf Bultmann: “The question of God and the question of myself are identical.” Thus, liberal theology collapses the God/world distinction. In contrast to the demythologizers, Vanhoozer starts with the fact that God speaks. God is a God who communicates to us and says things about Himself. But Vanhoozer is not only serious about what God says, but also about how God says what He says.

At least, that’s what I’ve gathered so far (my apologies if you stumbled onto this blog expecting a review/critique of Vanhoozer’s work).

Well, all that heavy theologizing got me thinking about the relationship between God’s Word and my main area of service (youth group). In particular, I wonder whether the conscience of our upcoming youth takes its cues from culture or from the sound doctrine of Scripture. There is evidence, I think, that we’ve been lulled into thinking about God on our terms, rather than thinking about ourselves on His terms.

Take, for example, the way we talk about God’s love. As a volunteer in my church’s youth group (myself being a graduate of evangelical youth culture), I have seen how middle-school, high-school, even college age students latch onto the idea of love as the preferred way of thinking about, talking about, and relating to God. God loves us, we say, and we ought to love God back. Love is the catch-all term. No doubt, “God is Love,” as 1 John 4:16 says. Unfortunately, I fear that our concept of love is derived not from Scripture, but from our favorite worship song/band, Christian book, or (even worse) pop culture. Instead of seeking to understand the covenant-keeping love proclaimed in the Word, we content ourselves with speaking of God’s love in romantically-driven, politically-correct, or moralistic terms.

  • Romantically-driven: For example, how many of our favorite worship songs might as well be love songs? It’s a problem when replacing every occurrence of “God” or “Jesus” with your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s name doesn’t really make a difference in the song.
  • Politically-correct: When we, in the name of love, condone lifestyles (not just homosexuality, mind you, but also, say, premarital sex) that are clearly prohibited in Scripture, we can be sure that our concept of love comes more from culture rather than from Christ.
  • Moralistic: Too often, our practice of Christianity amounts to being “nice” to each other so that we can all be “happy.”

This will not do. To quote Vanhoozer (quoting another author), “Projecting even our best thoughts about love falls short of the divine reality: ‘When we equate God simply with anything that is true, good, or beautiful, then it is those things which define God, rather than God who defines them’ ” (176). We must not make God in our own image, constructing a bigger version – an idol – of ourselves. Romantic love blown up to superhuman proportions is not the love of God. This is to commit the mistake of the Greeks, whose gods were merely humans, super-sized. It is to demythologize God, collapsing the distinction between Creator and creature.

Humans are prone to idolatry. To counteract this tendency, our patterns of thought must always be renewed by Scripture. Vanhoozer puts it well (161-2):

The solution is to focus on the form of Jesus Christ. While human individuals and societies image God inconsistently, the person of Jesus – and this includes his way of relating to others – is the “image of the invisible God” (Cor 1:15). The New Testament fills out with specific content what would otherwise remain abstract, identifying the image that Jesus makes visible with “true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24; cf. Col 3:10-15). Even these notions need to be “earthed,” and we do this by identifying them with the concrete pattern of action, reaction, and interaction that characterizes the life of Jesus. That means attending to the Biblical mythos that renders his identity.

To understand God’s love rightly, we must look at Jesus Christ, and this means paying attention to what God has said in the Bible. Again, this is not the Jesus of pop culture, the buddy Jesus, or anyone other than the Jesus attested to and revealed in Scripture. Vanhoozer takes God’s speaking seriously, and so should we. To speak truly of God, we must allow His way of speaking of Himself to shape our way of speaking of Him.

This is not to say that worship songs or other secondary sources are unhelpful. These should serve a ministerial (pointing us towards God) rather than a magisterial (defining God for us) function. Songs extolling God’s love will lead us into the heart of worship only if our knowledge of His love is constantly being informed and renewed by Scripture. There is no true worship without an understanding of His Word.

So I’ll end this post where Vanhoozer begins his book – with God speaking in the Scriptures. Working through Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing has reminded me of the importance of reading the Bible and reading it well. “All Scripture is God-breathed” and has the power to change the way we live, think, and act. That’s something we all need to hear. May God have mercy on us, for unless He first speaks to us, our best thoughts will still fall short of His glory.

If you’ve got nothing good to say…

TemporaryVisitors: Suggested Reading

I was once told that if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all. It’s my turn to write this week, and I’ve got nothing. Helicon and I have been working on a pair of blog posts that we plan to release back to back, but those still need some careful review before they’re ready to be shared.

Jesus, while addressing the Pharisees in Matthew 12:36 said, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” Let’s take that as a reminder to think before we speak (in front of others) or write (on blogs/Facebook/Twitter/etc). So rather than writing for the sake of posting something, I thought I’d share a few posts from other blogs that I have marked as “Read it Later“.

First a few side-comments on how I get the content that I read on daily basis. My blog-browsing/aggregating tools of choice are:

GoogleReaderGoogleReader (http://reader.google.com)- this is where I subscribe to the different blogs that I follow. Simply log in to GoogleReader, click the”SUBSCRIBE” button, and then enter the URL for the RSS feed, which should be available on just every blog nowadays. You’ve now built your library of stuff which will be updated in realtime as new content is made available from the blogs you’ve chosen to subscribe to. I choose to do this step on my laptop since it’s simpler and quicker.

FlipboardFilpboard (http://www.flipboard.com) – this is by far the #1 app that I use on my iPad/iPhone on a daily basis. Flipboard does an amazing job at displaying your library of stuff in a clean way that is both aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate (it feels like a magazine, you’ve got to try it out). After creating an account on Flipboard, you can add different sources that will feed your Flipboard in realtime. Aside from the different social networking feeds and other pre-built topic-based feeds you can add as a source, you can also choose GoogleReader. Once you do that, you’ve now got your library stuff in a browsable format for easy reading.

InstapaperInstapaper (http://www.instapaper.com) – this step is optional, but for those who go through a lot of content and don’t always have the time to read everything in one sitting, Instapaper comes to the rescue. Granted you can “star” things while navigating through Flipboard, Instapaper offers the added benefit of stripping out all the “extra stuff”. This leaves you with only the text of the article that is neatly organized in the Instapaper app. To get this set up, go into the settings of Flipboard and add your Instapaper account as the tool you want to use for “Read it Later”. You’re now ready to rock and roll.

My daily routine includes flipping through the latest blog posts on Flipboard, reading a few things as I have time, and then choosing “Read it Later” for those I want to read later, or those I don’t want to forget. Over time, I ended up with a library of things I’ve found to be encouraging and thought provoking, all neatly organized and tagged for future searching. Each of these tools also has a lot of different sharing/syncing options, but what I’ve described should hopefully get your feet wet enough to explore further on your own.

It’s important to remember that these are all secondary to the Bible. We are to be wise and discerning in what we read and what we do with what we read. Just because so-and-so said it on their blog doesn’t mean that it this becomes the foundation for our understanding of the Bible. The author of Hebrews reminds us that it is the Word of God that “is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Lastly, think twice before you hit the “Share” or “Like” button. In a world that is more connected than ever, what we like and share can often send a message that we never intended.

With that in mind, here are  few posts that I’ve moved into the “save for later” category. Hopefully there’s a little something in there for everyone. Enjoy.

These first two have been extremely convicting in how I approach and study the Word.

Many of my friends are starting families. This one goes out to all the moms out there.

It is hard to believe I am approaching my 6th year at the company I’m currently working at. For those of us in the working world, or those about to join the working world, I’ve found these to be helpful. If 12 ways to glorify God at work is too much for you, don’t worry there’s another post that takes a stab at looking at it in 5 ways.

I came to know Christ as my savior in my high school years, yet my grasp of the foundational elements of my faith were weak at best. Having served in youth ministry over the recent years, these posts sum up how we should raise and teach the next generation.

The college years were formative in many ways for me. This is something I wish I had read before going to college. It’s worth a read whether are going to college soon, already have started college, or recently graduated from college.

And…for the Apple fan-boy in all of us, a thought provoking article on the image of God.

Original sin

Romans 8:1

Are you a sinner? I think most people if not all people would answer yes to that question. I think the better question is, are you evil? Now most people would answer no to that question. How you answer that question will manifest your anthropology (study of man). There is a big difference between the two questions. The former see sin in terms of action, where as the latter see sin as something that is innate in humanity. Is sin some wrong actions or is sin something innate in humanity? According to Augustine sin is something innate and the wrong actions are simply the fruit of the “innateness” of sin in man. In other words this is the doctrine of original sin. How did original sin come to affect the whole human race from an Augustinian perspective?

Augustine understood the transmission of original sin from Adam to the whole human race from a Latin reading of Romans 5:12 instead of the Greek version.[1] His exegesis of that verse from the Latin version is incorrect because the Greek version does not support an “in whom” reading. [2] His understanding of the exegesis of the text was deprived from Ambrosiaster who exegete the words in quo as a reference to Adam.[3] Augustine never doubted that interpretation because his understanding of how original sin was transmitted was confirmed in the writings of Cyprian and St. Ambrose.[4]

Augustine’s exegesis of the text is incorrect but it does not affect his development of the doctrine of original sin. [5] As Weaver states, “Augustine was convinced that his own doctrine of original sin was in continuity with the tradition of the church. Not only the Creed, but scripture and fathers also bore witness to it.”[6] Others have argued that because Augustine’s interpretation of Romans 5:12 is incorrect therefore he was wrong in his understanding of how original sin was transmitted.[7] Azkoul writes, “Quite simply, then, Augustine strayed from the truth, the Apostolic Tradition, and any attempt to justify his innovations by an appeal to some questionable principle of historical interpretation – doctrinal development- will not help.”[8] This is too harsh a statement by Azkoul because Augustine’s conclusion on the transmission of original sin was the truth, was in line with tradition, and has correct hermeneutics.[9] Bonner after examining the exegesis of Augustine on Romans 5:12 writes:

It also appears that Augustine consider the meaning of the text to be virtually self-evident and saw it as confirmation of the doctrine of Original Sin which he believe to be the doctrine of the whole Catholic Church of Christ, which he himself learned in his first days as a Catholic Christian. Augustine’s declaration seems very likely historical correct, and so the so-called Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin would seem, in fact, to be one held not only in Africa but in Italy as well.[10]

In Romans 5:12, Augustine came to the conclusion that all of humanity was affected by Adam’s sin through seminal identity. This theory views Adam as containing the seed of all his posterity so when Adam sinned all of humanity also sinned.[11] When Adam committed the one act of sin in a physiological sense everyone that will proceed from his lions were included in that one act.[12] He writes, “by the evil will of that one man all sinned in him, since all were that one man therefore, they individually derived original sin.”[13] The one act of Adam involved the whole human race.

Augustine’s understanding of seminal identity is taken from Hebrews 7:9-10. In this passage it states that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek even though he was not yet born because he was in Abraham. Levi was in the lions of Abraham. When Abraham paid the tithes to Melchizedek, though Levi was not born he also paid it by extension of being united to Abraham. The concept of organic union of Levi to Abraham is the same as humanity to Adam.

The implication of the doctrine of original sin is we are all stand condemned before a Holy God and in need of a Savior. Only the blood of Christ is able to liberate us from the condemnation of original sin as the apostle Paul writes, “therefore is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8.1). The question is, are you free from condemnation? Do you have Jesus as your Savior? Are you in the Second Adam? How you answer those few questions will determine your destiny: saved or not saved.


[1] There is no debate that Augustine exegete Romans 5:12 from a Latin version. He read “in quo omnes peccaverunt” from the Latin version and automatically came to the conclusion that it “referred to the seminal identity of the human race with Adam.” The Greek version does not support an “in whom” reading but a “because all sinned.” Taken correctly then what Romans 5:12 speaks about is “death is the cause of sin and human misery.” See Michael Azokoul, “Peccatum Originale: The Controversy,” The Patristic and Byzantine Review 3 (1984): 43.

[2] Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies, 372-374.

[3] David Weaver, “From Paul to Augustine: Romans 5:12 in Early Christian Exegesis,” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly 27 (1983): 203.

[4] Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies, 373.

[5] For a more thorough treatment of Augustine’s exegesis on Romans 5:12 Gerald Bonner, “Augustine on Romans 5:12,” In Studia Evangelica Vol. IV-V: papers presented to the Third International Congress of New Testament Studies held at Christ Church, edited by F.L. Cross, (242-247) (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1968) 242-247.

[6] Weaver, “From Paul to Augustine: Romans 5:12 in Early Christian Exegesis,” 202.

[7] Michael Azokoul, “Peccatum Originale: The Controversy,” The Patristic and Byzantine Review 3 (1984): 43.

[8] Azokoul, “Peccatum Originale: The Controversy,” 43.

[9] Augustine arrived at his understanding of the doctrine of original sin through four different sources: Scripture, tradition, the practice of the church in infants baptism, and man’s depraved condition. So to say that Augustine’s understanding of the transmission of original sin “strayed from the truth, the Apostolic Tradition” would be incorrect. To say that Augustine strayed from the truth would imply that the church also strayed from the truth because Augustine’s understanding of it was in line with the church. To say that Augustine strayed from the Apostolic Tradition would imply that all of the fathers Augustine used as proof to show the development and transmission of original sin were wrong. He quoted “Irenaeus, Cyprian, Hilary, Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Reticius of Autun, Jerome: amongst Eastern writes, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil, John Chrysostom” N.P. Williams, The Ideas of the Fall and of Original Sin, 379.

[10] Gerald Bonner, “Augustine on Romans 5:12,” In Studia Evangelica Vol. IV-V: papers presented to the Third International Congress of New Testament Studies held at Christ Church, edited by F.L. Cross (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1968) 246.

[11] Williams, The Ideas of the Fall and of Original Sin, 372.

[12] Ibid., 372.

[13] On Marriage and Concupiscence, 2.15.