Sunday, March 22, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "The End Of Memory: Remembering Rightly In A Violent World" by Miroslav Volf. Part III

It has been a challenge of late being able to read on Friday evenings. Yet I have finally finished Miroslav Volf's "The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly In A Violent World."

The title of Part III is entitled "How Long Should We Remember?" The question refers to wrongs done to us. Volf's answer to this question: We will not remember in the world to come. In that world we will be so enraptured by our love of God and of each other in God that memories of past wrongs will simply be swallowed up in that love. According to Volf, this belief does not originate with himself; this belief has been part of the Christian tradition for most of the Church age. He cites Christians from the past to make his point: Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine (who said of the world to come that we will be "free from all evil and filled with all good, enjoying unfailingly the delight of eternal joys, forgetting all offenses, forgetting all punishments"), Calvin, Karl Rahner and Karl Barth. The roots for this view on remembrance go all the way back to The Old Testament. Volf quotes both Jer. 31:34 (...I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more") and Ps. 51:9 ("Blot out my iniquities).

Volf also makes use of Dante's "Divine Comedy" to make his case. Before one enters Paradise, according to this work, one has to drink from two rivers. The waters of the first river cause us to see ourselves as God sees us so we can truly judge ourselves and repent fully. Partaking of the waters of the second river causes us to forget past wrongs done to us. Once cleansed of sin and memories of evil done to us, only then can we enter Paradise. The only memories we have of earth will then be only the good that we experienced.

Instead of forgetting, Volf prefers to use the term "non-remembrance." But non-rememberence is not something we do in our own strength; it is a gift from God. And we extend this gift to those who have wronged us. This gift from God has four characteristics:

1. Wrong doers do not deserve this gift.
2. We don't extend this gift to wrong doers because we must; we do so in imitation of God whom we love and who loves wrong doers unconditionally. To extend this gift to those who have wronged us echos God's forgiveness of us.
3. The extension of this gift presupposes repentance on the part of wrong doers has taken place.
4. This gift is given on earth only provisionally.

If memory is such a key aspect of our identity, if we forget past wrongs done to us, will not our own identities be devalued? No, says Volf. Our identity stems from God living in us whom He has forgiven. And what about how we relate to Christ in the world to come? Will we always relate to Him as the crucified one, the One who died for our sins? Again, Volf says no. We relate to Christ as the crucified one as long as we are being redeemed. Once we have been redeemed, His death and our sin are swallowed up, no longer remembered. Only then can we love God for who He is, not just for what He has done for us.

In a day or two, I will post some questions that arise from my reading of "The End Of Memory."

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