In his landmark book Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf comments on the role of forgetting in the process of redemption. He mentions Romans 8:18 ("I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us") and reflects on it in a passage that moved me to tears…
"When we reach the other side and the bridge connecting the new to the old is destroyed so as to prevent the old from ever invading the new, the last part of the bridge to disappear will be the memory of the old. Enveloped in God's glory we will redeem ourselves and our enemies by one final act of the most difficult grace made easy by the experience of salvation that cannot be undone–the grace of nonremembering. When not born out of resentment, the memory of inhumanity is a shield against inhumanity. But where there are no swords, no shields will be necessary. Freed by the loss of memory of all unredeemed past that un-redeems every present and separated only by the boundaries of their identities, the former enemies will embrace each other within the embrace of the triune God."
Nathan Bubna says
No. I do not believe and even pray it will not be so. That is not a story that resonates in me. I want the story where in the end the good in and from the bad is clearly seen, where grace lives not the ease of forgetfulness but the terrible beauty of overwhelming love. I want back all the memories i have lost, whether i think them now good or ill, that i may see and understand how God has worked all things to the good of i who love Him. If the new has forgotten the old there is nothing new about it. I want to eternally know the now-bitter death of my own son with peace and perhaps even joy in the understanding that my tears now were truly, with no sense of cliche, for the good, for the love, for the beauty.
Erasure is oblivion, not redemption. To use a very pop-culture example. If you’ve watched the tv show Lost up thru the season 5 finale, can you imagine how terribly unsatisfying the final season would be if the bomb really works as Jack believed it would? No one really wants that story. Jack’s a fool to think that is destiny, a self-deleting destiny is meaningless, empty.
Ben Sternke says
I would push back with two points:
1. This is a small passage from the book – Volf’s argument is much more robust than just saying “we’ll all forget about it eventually.” I am wrestling with what I think about this, but Volf’s argument was a very strong one. It wasn’t an argument of erasure as oblivion, but was rooted in God’s “forgetfulness” over our sin.
2. Volf wrote this book out of his own struggle to make sense of the command to forgive in the face of unspeakable horror. He is a Croat and saw “ethnic cleansing” up close and personal, so his argument comes from personal experience of suffering (as does yours, it seems, Nathan).
Volf is coming at it, then, from the perspective of someone dealing with suffering caused by human oppressors, thus the command to forgive enemies. Just a nuance there that might make a difference in how you take his words.
That said, I’m still not quite sure how that will work out for us. I do like C.S. Lewis’s picture of heaven (in the Great Divorce) as a place where we do remember, but our memories have been somehow redeemed and cleansed.
Nathan Bubna says
From your description and quote alone (i.e. be skeptical of this), i think Volf has a weak view of Love and its glory. I think he doesn’t truly believe it could overwhelm any hurt, any grievance, any tyranny or torture or injustice. I know my own grief is not at the hands of a man whom i must forgive, so it is much easier for me to believe this than for him. But i stand by it. I believe God does not forget that we were guilty, but rather that we are guilty. This, i believe, we too have power to do but in Christ alone: the kind of love that can be dying alone, crucified on a cross and plead desperately for the forgiveness of your killers, for not one of them knows what they are doing or why as God does. When we know/love as God does, we will have that power. To use it will require us to forget that they are guilty, but never that they were guilty.