Archive for the Reconciliation Category

Revenge and Justice

Posted in Reconciliation, World with tags , , , on May 5, 2011 by stephengardner

At first we were told that bin Laden – true to his tyrannical character – went down fighting; firing from an automatic weapon and hiding behind his youngest wife. The outrageous manner in which he left the world was met with euphoria in the streets across the United States. People were celebrating that justice had been done; a man of unmatched evil was met with an appropriate form of justice.

But now it has come to light that things didn’t play out that way. bin Laden didn’t go out firing at the US SEALS, in fact he was unarmed; bin Laden wasn’t using one of his wives as a shield, in fact, she had left him to make a charge at the SEALS. This begs the question, has justice actually been done? No, revenge has been done. And revenge must never be confused with justice.

Revenge doesn’t say, “An eye for an eye.” It says, “You take my eye, and I’ll blow out your brains.” It doesn’t say, “An insult for an insult.” It says, “You cross me once, you cross me twice, and I’ll destroy your character and your career.” It doesn’t say, “You organize an act of terror, and we’ll punish you.” It says, “You organize an act of terror, and we’ll use the overwhelming military force of a superpower to recast the political landscape of the entire region from which you came.” Revenge abandons the principle of “measure for measure” and, acting out of injured pride and untamed fear, gives itself to punitive excess. That’s why revenge is morally wrong. In its zeal to punish, it overindulgently takes from the offender more than is due (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, 159).

Some are saying, “Who cares?! The man was evil and the manner in which he died is insignificant.” Well, it does matter. Revenge is not justice. In seeking to bring evil to justice the good guys have effectively become the bad guys, they’ve become the very thing they were fighting. Revenge is not justice, it is itself an act of injustice and only serves to promote further acts of injustice. What will bin Laden’s death achieve? Had he died meeting justice and not revenge I would’ve said, ‘its made the world a slightly safer place.’ But because he died in an act of revenge the only answer can be; ‘evil.’ The ‘good guys’ have now become part of a vicious circle of revenge.

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A reflection on punishment and justice

Posted in Reconciliation with tags , , , , , on May 2, 2011 by stephengardner

‘Justice has been done!’

With the death of Osama Bin Laden has come a whole lot of language which requires honest Christian reflection. His death is being heralded as ‘a great success’, and  as a ‘deeply satisfying’ moment for his surviving victims. I understand the just anger that many people feel toward Bin Laden, even though I cannot imagine the pain many of his surviving victims live with. But I do want to suggest that serious Christian reflection on punishment and justice must be done before we join in the chorus of those celebrating and rejoicing.

The punishment of one evil doer will never bring satisfaction for those who desire justice. I heard a victim of the 2002 Bali Bombings, today, speak with genuine relief, of the satisfaction he now experienced. His enemy, a man whose organisation had inspired the attacks that had killed the family and friends of so many, was now declared dead by the US president, ‘justice has been done.’ And this has brought satisfaction. But, it wont last. And the reason why this act of ‘justice’ won’t provide lasting satisfaction for those who have so longed for this moment is because of memory. Memory, the recalling to their minds of the pain they have experienced and will continue to experience. The punishment of this one man cannot take away the memory of thousands of lost loved ones.

Miroslav Volf writes:

What would be an adequate punishment for Joseph Stalin, Lenin’s evil and dictatorial successor in the old soviet Union between the two World Wars? He not only ruined his own country and invaded many neighbouring ones, but in the process exterminated some 20,000,000 people. If we are after justice, his crime will have outstripped by far any punishment we could devise for him. How many deaths would he have to die to compensate for all the lives he took? How many lives would he need to have to suffer all the pain he inflicted? Punishment alone falters before the enormity of such crime. (Free of Charge, 135)

If the punishment of the evil doer is the answer to a longing for justice and satisfaction, it will only ever leave people unsatisfied. What we need is an alternative story, we need a story that empowers us to be truly satisfied by getting to the heart of the issue, our memories. We need to learn to forget.

How can God forget the wrongdoings of human beings? Because at the centre of God’s all-embracing memory there is a paradoxical monument to forgetting. It is the cross of Christ. God forgets humanity’s sins in the same way God forgives humanity’s sins: by taking sins away from humanity and placing them upon God-self (sic). How will human beings be able to forget the horrors of history? Because at the centre of the new world that will emerge after “the first things have passed away” there will stand a throne, and on the throne there will sit the Lamb who has “taken away the sin of the world” and erased their memory (Revelation 22:1-4; John 1:29) Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 139-140.

Atonement I: The person and work of Christ shows us who God is

Posted in Reconciliation with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2011 by stephengardner

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Phil 2.5-8 NRSV)

Way back in November I introduced an introduction to some thoughts on the atonement. This is the first post, in what I hope will be a series of ‘around seven’, exploring the atonement, what it is and what it achieves. The next couple of posts will focus more on what the atonement actually is, but for now let me describe it as this: the saving significance of the person and work of the Incarnate Son of God.

Initially I was going to use this post as a way of finishing off my reflections on the atonement, but I’ve become convinced that this should be the first port-of-call for any consideration of what God has done in Christ. In a nutshell the point of this post is this: the atonement is not contrary to who God is, in fact it is God in his most Godness.

This seems to be what Paul was getting at when he penned his exhortation to the Philippians that they be a community of humility precisely because God has shown himself to be humble in the death of Christ. The NRSV unhelpfully adds the word ‘though’ in v.6 implying that the work of Christ is contrary to who Christ is – God in his fulness.

Speaking of the limitations and weaknesses Christ takes on and what they mean for him ‘being in the form of God’, Barth writes this:

We will mention at once the thought which will be decisive and basic in the section, that God shows Himself to be the great and true God in the fact that He can and will let His grace bear this cost, that He is capable and willing and ready for this condescension, this act of extravagance, this far journey. What marks out God above all false gods is that they are not capable and ready for this. In their otherworldliness and supernaturalness and otherness, etc., the gods are a reflection of the human pride which will not unbend, which will not stoop to that which is beneath it. God is not proud. In His high majesty He is humble. It is in this high humility that He speaks and acts as the God who reconciles the world to Himself. It is under this aspect first that we must consider the history of the atonement. (Barth, CD IV.1 s59, 159)

 

 

 

Reconciliation and Truth

Posted in Australia, Church, Reconciliation with tags , , , , on March 15, 2011 by stephengardner

I’m currently thinking a lot about the Australian Church and reconciliation. At the more theoretical end, I’m thinking through what the essence of the Church’s ministry of reconciliation is; and to what extent can we presently experience the final reconciliation that God promises when he makes all things new. While, practically, I’m fascinated by what are our particularly Australian stories of reconciliation that need to be told; what opportunities there are for reconciliation to occur in our societies; and how the Church can be involved in all of this. A big chunk of my time at college this year will be thinking through these things – and I hope to post some reflections from time to time.

Today I had the great joy of reading Colonisation and Christianity by 19th Century, English Author William Howitt. It is a painful read – recalling to mind seemingly endless evil often committed in the name of the Church’s Master. But Howitt zealously called into question European colonisation, and its relationship to Christianity – and named it for what it was, evil.

To comprehend the full extent of atrocities done in the Christian name, we must look the whole wide evil sternly in the face. We must not suffer ourselves to aim merely at the rediness of this or that grievance; but gathering all the scattered rays of aboriginal oppression into one burning focus, and thus enabling ourselves to feel its entire force, we shall be less than Englishmen and Christians if we do not stamp the whole system of colonial usage towards the natives, with that general and indignant odium which must demolish it at once and forever (Colonisation and Christianity, 10).

How many Waterloos can the annals of the earth reckon? What Timour, or Zenghis Khan, can be compared to the Napoleon of Modern Europe? the (sic) greatest scourge of nations that ever arose on this planet; the most tremendous meteor that ever burnt along its surface! (p, 4)

But most monstrous of all has been the moral blindness or the savage recklessness of ourselves as Englishmen. (p, 6)

In hindsight, Howitt’s attempts to bring into light the evil of the past did not go far enough, but it is a valuable example of, what seems to me, to be a universally recognised essential starting block; That in order for reconciliation to occur between two parties with a history of bad blood, then there must be a revelation of the truth. A painful, honest look at the past – painful for the offender, reminding themselves of guilt and leaving them vulnerably in the hands of shame. But likewise, and particularly, painful for the victim – again, leaving them in a vulnerable position where they might be forever labelled as ‘victim.’ But if a genuine reconciliation is to occur then this pain must be exposed.

The Church Needs to Get Scandalised!

Posted in Church, Reconciliation with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by stephengardner

One thing that will sell a newspaper is a scandal. One thing that will sell a newspaper and incite mobs of angry people is a scandal within the church. However, Miroslav Volf, in his book, Exclusion and Embrace,  argues that the Christian community needs to a scandalous one. A community that is willing to get scandalised because that is exactly what God has experienced in event of the gospel:

At its core, however, the scandal of the cross in a world of violence is not the danger associated with self-donation. Jesus’ greatest agony was not that he suffered. Suffering can be endured, even embraced, if it brings desired fruit, as the experience of giving birth illustrates. What turned the pain of suffering into agony was the abandonment; Jesus was abandoned by the people who trusted in him and by the God in whom he trusted. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15.34). My God, my God, why did my radical obedience to your way lead to the pain and disgrace of the cross? The ultimate scandal of the cross is the all too frequent failure of self-donation to bear positive fruit: you give yourself for the other – and violence does not stop but destroys you; you sacrifice your life – and stabilize the power of the perpetrator. Though self-donation often issues in the joy of reciprocity, it must reckon with the pain of failure and violence. When violence strikes, the very act of self-donation becomes a cry before the dark face of God. This dark face confronting the act of self-donation is a scandal. (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 26)

Volf goes on to say that ‘there is no genuinely Christian way around the scandal’ (26). Volf explores such practices of self-donation in the political sphere but his challenge, I think, is just as valid for the way our church communities relate to one another.  Getting scandalised, in this sense, is a non-negoitable for our churches. He goes on to write:

the only available options are either to reject the cross and with it the core of the Christian faith or to take one’s cross, follow the Crucified – and be scandalized ever anew by the challenge. (26)

I love it when different thoughts from different books collide. I find Volf’s challenge resonates deeply with much of the work of the brilliant Christian psychologist Larry Crabb. When it comes to thinking through how the Christian life should be expressed in relationship with others, there is no one sharper than Crabb. In his book Encouragement, he argues that too often we are motivated by fear to serve others, or that we hold back from serving because we are self-protective and anxious that we must first have our need for encouragement met by others before we can give of ourselves, or ‘self-donate’ as Volf would say.

What radical a call the cross makes on our communities, and yet isn’t it odd how few of our churches come close to resembling  such radicalness. Imagine the difference it would make if we actually believed that our security and significance was found in Jesus Christ alone.

Peter Adam: why sorry isn’t good enough

Posted in Australia, Reconciliation with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2010 by stephengardner

You might remember that in August 2009 Dr. Peter Adam of Ridley College Melbourne caused quite a stir when he claimed that the federal government’s apology to Indigenous Australians did not go far enough. In this video he urges Melbourne Anglicans to be a prophetic voice to the nation, seeking restitution.

Dr. Adam’s lecture was widely reported on in the blogosphere, Chris and Matt provided some great reflections. Over the next few months I hope to come back to Dr. Adam’s challenge to the Church to be a prophetic voice to the world on the matter of reconciliation.

Miroslav Volf on Violence in the Name of Faith

Posted in Reconciliation, World with tags , , , on November 5, 2010 by stephengardner

In the last post I introduced Yale’s Faith and Globalization Initiative of which Volf is key contributor. There he was introducing the topic of faith and reconciliation between different faiths, here he introduces the topic of violence and faith. Is violence intrinsic to faith as some voices from within the ‘new atheist’ movement suggest? What are the conditions in which faith becomes violent?

Volf distinguishes between external conditions (political power, association with holy spaces)and internal conditions (absolute truth claims). External conditions, so he says, legitimise the defence of power and place.