Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #E.3
[Presented at Theologica Pacis conference, Akron, PA, January 2007]
The faith community is central to biblical religion. In the Bible, from the start (the calling of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12 to bring forth a community meant to bless all the families of the earth) to the end (the vision in Revelation 21–22 of the churches witness leading to the healing of the nations), this community has the vocation not simply to serve its own interests but to serve the interests of all the families of the earth.
I have written a little book reflecting on this vocation as a central theme of the Bible as a whole, suggesting what I call “God’s healing strategy” as a narrative key for interpreting the overall message of the Bible. The “strategy” is simply that God has called together a faith community to know God’s healing love in its common life and to witness to that healing love in a way the serves to bless all the families of the earth, that brings healing to the nations.
This motif recognizes the need the human family has for healing. We hurt each other. We violate each others’ dignity, sometimes in terribly destructive ways. A key aspect of the healing motif then may be seen as the issue of how to we respond to the inevitable harm we do to each other in ways that does not add to the harm. Based on the Bible’s core message, the community of faith is central in the effort to respond redemptively to harm. And a key part of redemptive responses, of course, is forgiveness.
When Michael Hardin asked me to prepare a discussion paper for this conference that would discuss the theme of “how the church might look if it was grounded not in victimage but in forgiveness,” I said sure, that I would be happy to since I was in the midst of teaching a course at Eastern Mennonite University I called “Topics in Theology: Vengeance and God.” I figured I could draw on materials from that class. This was a new class for me and back in mid-September when Michael contacted me, I wasn’t quite sure where the class would go.
As it turned out, the class pretty much did go the direction I hoped it would – concluding with a lively discussion on forgiveness and the centrality of the church in the embodiment of forgiveness as the ultimate Christian response to harm-doing.
Forgiveness may most usefully be understood not simply as pardon, a letting of wrongdoers off the hook, so much as a way of life, a set of practices, that brings an end to the cycle of enmity but also effects transformation in the wrongdoer, the survivors of the wrongdoing, and the broader community that is effected by the wrongdoing.
When we look at the dynamics loosed by the manifold violations of human dignity in our world today, we may easily recognize how crucial reflection on and, much more importantly, putting into practice forgiveness has become. Much more common, it would seem, that seeking to break the cycle of harm triggered by violating acts, human beings tend to heighten the cycle with the “automatic” (?) quest for vengeance. From the perspective of the Bible and its account of God’s healing strategy, we may want to claim, as Christians, that our tradition offers powerful resources for freeing human beings from the spiral of violence. As we should. But, of course, Christianity has, as Michael’s wording in his request implies, all too often embodied vengeful, violent dynamics more than healing, forgiving dynamics. Continue reading