Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Sundays" are for Volf - Chapter 3: Embrace

From time to time I wonder how I would respond to the old fundamentalist objection to the liberal social gospel: Why does Volf keep talking about the socio-political implications of the gospel to the neglect of other more important matters? Isn't the gospel really about saving souls? Leaving aside for the moment my sense that the fundamentalists and many of their evangelical successors threw out the baby with the bath water, the most convincing response is this: Volf's is a personal as much as a political challenge. The book consistently addresses my own responsibility as a Christian living in a small Christian college town--if, that is, love for God and neighbour are Christian demands.

"In all wars, whether large or small, whether carried out on battlefields...or faculty lounges, we come across the same basic exclusionary polarity: 'us against them,' 'their gain--our loss,' 'either us or them.' ...Tragically enough, over time the polarity has a macabre way of mutating into its very opposite--into 'both us and them' that unites the divided parties in a perverse communion of mutual hate and mourning over the dead." But "If there is will, courage, and imagination the stark polarity can e overcome" (99). This long third chapter explains how.

Thankfully, Volf outlines his argument at the beginning: "The central thesis of the chapter is that God's reception of hostile humanity into divine communion is a model for how human beings should relate to the other" (100). "[E]ssential moments in the movement from exclusion to embrace" include repentance, forgiveness, "making space in oneself for the other," and "healing of memory." (For the last point, see Volf's recent book, The End of Memory.)

Against the modern grand narrative of liberation from oppression which is not successful in bringing peace, Volf argues that in the present in-between time we should work toward "a nonfinal reconciliation based on a vision of reconciliation that cannot be undone" (110).

Movement 1: Even the victims need to repent, because "God's reign...cannot take place without a change of their heart and behavior" (114). They need to repent from mirroring the image of their enemies and from "the desire to excuse their own reactive behavior" (117).

Movement 2: "Forgiveness is the boundary between exclusion and embrace. It heals the wounds that the power-acts of exclusion have inflicted and breaks down the dividing wall of hostility" (125).

Movement 3: Making space for the other is modeled by the cross. At the eucharist we are summoned to follow God's pattern of reconciling the world to himself: "Inscribed on the very heart of God's grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if we do not resist being made into its agents; what happens to us must be done by us" (129).

Movement 4: Volf concludes final forgetting is not possible before Christ's return: "as long as the Messiah has not come in glory, for the sake of the victims, we must keep alive the memory of their suffering....This indispensable remembering should be guided, however, by the vision of that same redemption that will one day make us lose the memory of hurts suffered and offenses committed against us" (138-9). Volf points out that without forgetfulness there can be no heaven: "Since I do not believe that a theodicy can succeed, I continue to believe that all those who want heaven cannot want the memory of horrors" (139 n. 27).

Enough said.

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