Rev Paul Smethurst, Llanelli, discusses renowned theologian Miroslav Volf’s talk at BMS’s Catalyst Live event in Reading at the end of October 2014.
‘How do we remember rightly past wrongdoing?’ For Miroslav Volf, an ethnic Croat who lived through the horror and inhumanities of the Balkan conflict of the 1990’s, this is not simply an academic question. Now Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale University and the Keynote speaker at the outstanding BMS sponsored 2014 Catalyst Live event Volf skilfully helped us to navigate this painful issue with deep theological roots, Christ-focused spirituality and pastoral wisdom.
In his ground breaking book ‘Exclusion and Embrace’ Volf suggests that there are four vital elements of reconciliation; forgiveness, apology, restitution and memory. Having perused the vastness of this material he explained that in the time available at Catalyst Live he would be best to focus on what he suggested was the least explored and most difficult of these; memory. Having established that remembering rightly the past wrongdoing is a prerequisite of reconciliation Volf gave four components of this.
First Volf argued that we must remember truthfully. The tendency for both the perceived ‘victim’ as well as the percieved ‘victor’ to interpret events to their own moral advantage – often infecting it with untruth – only serves to perpetuate injustice he warned. Then we must remember responsibly. Volf encouraged us to recognise that the way that we remember past wrongdoing not only affects us but it affects our attitude to and treatment of the other.
Lest we be overwhelmed by the challenge of such remembering Volf pointed us to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ and encouraged us to see that ‘The good news of the cross is that we can remember rightly.’ Because of this he argued that thirdly we must remember hopefully. Rather than our identity being taken up almost exclusively by the memory of the wrong done to us, God’s love, expressed in Christ to both ‘victim’ and ‘victor’, provides us with a navigable route through our memories. Finally, because of this hopefulness, Volf spoke of the need and opportunity to remember in reconciling ways. Because of Christ there is a future that awaits both the wronged and the wrongdoer that does not grow out of the present but comes to us from outside; we are reconciled to God only as a gift of his grace and we can be reconciled to each other as we receive God’s grace to us in Christ and offer it to the ‘other’ as gift.
If we have the courage to rightly remember past wrongdoing it can set both us and the other free to live in a ‘sincere community of love’; a community that is humbly and gratefully receiving from God the message of his reconciliation and, then, and only then, being made capable of the ministry of reconciliation to which we are called (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). Though the memory of wrongdoing in our nation mercifully does not extend to the awful blood-letting of the Croatia of Volf’s early life, perhaps, for us in Wales too, remembering it rightly should not simply be an academic question.
Miroslav Volf’s talk is below but to watch other contributors to the days please go to the Catalyst Live website