September 12, 2011

Forgiving Enemies

                The Gospel lesson for yesterday, a day of remembrance and reflection on 9/11, was Matthew 18:21-35, a text about the possible limits of forgiveness.  Peter asks Jesus: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”  Jesus will not let him draw a strict legal conclusion, rather states 77 times—which means unending forgiveness.  Interestingly, there are no conditions of repentance stated.  The rest of the passage narrates how a forgiven person ought to live in forgiving ways, rather than as the slave who practices a form of retribution that he had been spared. 

Our guest lecturer, Dr. Miroslav Volf, stressed the Gospel reality that God forgives prior to our repentance, and thus one forgives because one has already been forgiven.  When struggling with forgiveness, we must learn to view ourselves and our enemy at the foot of the cross.  Sounding much like his doktorvater  Moltmann, Volf proclaims the general pardon to the whole world that occurs in the death of the Son.  Giving an example from his own life, an epoch in which he was detained and interrogated in his land (the former Yugoslavia) as a suspected “enemy of the state,” he came to believe that as a Christian he must view “Captain G” as one forgiven, also.  In the ensuing years, he has sought to find his interrogator in order to make the slow steps toward reconciliation.  Learning to forgive allows the death grip of unhealed memory to ebb.

Over the past couple of days, I have heard much rhetoric about “never forgetting” what happened to America so that we might ensure it will never happen again.  This presumes that we have the power to secure our lives against all threats.  This is simply not the case.  As fragile and fallen human creatures, we remain vulnerable from within and without.  Perhaps the greater threat is to our souls comes from within as we demonize those we perceive as enemy and distort our shared history.

In his text, The End of Memory, Volf urges wounded people to remember rightly, that is with sensitivity to victims and openness to the healing of memories. Forgiveness and the “non-remembrance of offenses is scandalous, especially when extended to vile evildoers…” (208), yet it is possible through receiving the forgiveness offered by God.  As God’s “reconciling self-giving for the ungodly stands at the center of our faith” (209), then we are able to opt for grace and ultimately release the memory of suffered wrongs.  Forgiving enemies may be the most difficult spiritual practice of all, but it is possible in light of the cross.

                Molly T. Marshall

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