Hope and Memory (Job 14.1–14): a sermon

Oldřich Kulhánek - Job 2

There’s a scene in Terrence Malick’s film Thin Red Line where a young soldier gives voice to a series of imponderable and ancient questions about meaning, about the ‘thin red line’ between life and suffering and death. In what is essentially a prayer, he asks:

This great evil. Where does it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us? Robbing us of life and light. Mocking us with the sight of what we might have known. Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow or the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?

These questions haunt human history and seem to give lie to the claim that the earth is good, that behind and before history, that behind and before our life, that behind and before our agonising questions, stands one whom the NT calls ‘love’. It is little wonder then that we ask ‘why’ – why, if the Creator is good and powerful and loving, are there tsunamis and earthquakes? Why, if the Creator is on the side of life, will 29% of New Zealanders die of cancer? Why, if the Creator is the one who brings shalom, do 20% of us suffer from anxiety and mood disorders on a daily basis?  Why, if the Creator is a father who knows how to give good gifts to his children, are there 925 million people who share life with us on this planet hungry? Why, if Jesus is the bringer of a new thing, is the world so unchanged? If this is how a good God governs the world, and because our cry for answers seems to illicit no response, it is little wonder that we lose hope and we begin to wonder not only do I have a future, but also does creation itself have a future, and even does God have a future.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell spoke for not a few when he wrote:

I can imagine a sardonic demon producing us for his amusement, but I cannot attribute to a Being who is wise, beneficent, and omnipotent the terrible weight of cruelty, suffering, and ironic degradation of what is best, that has marred the history of Man in increasing measure as he has become more master of his fate.[1]

And so we come to the ancient Book of Job, a book which begins with these words:

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants … (Job 1.1–3)

Such fertility represents signs, in the Semitic world, of a family under the blessing of God. But not for long. Soon Job is robbed of every iota of financial prosperity and security that was his familiar lot, his children all die in a tragic accident, his livestock are stolen from him, he himself falls victim to a painful and disfiguring chronic disease, and then even his wife turns against him with the words, ‘Curse God and die’. And, perhaps most terrible of all, the book suggests that all of these things happen by God’s permission.

And then for the next 36 or so chapters, Job’s so-called friends – the would-be theologians – instead of waiting with Job for God to speak, they rush in to defend God with their moronic and ignorant theological speculations and they try to convince Job that he must have done something wrong to bring about this state of affairs. On the other hand, Job, for his part, rather than engage in philosophical speculation about the meaning of suffering – as if there might even be such meaning – turns to address God; first by cursing the day of his birth, and then later by challenging God to a day in court where the injustices of his life might be evaluated before someone or something manifestly less prejudicial than God. And what strikes me about this litany of complaints is that rather than jump onto some ancient equivalent of an online social networking site and whinge to others about his loss, Job turns to prayer. He is completely in the dark as to the reason for his suffering, but again and again and again he commits his cause to God. Consider these words from chapter 13:

See, he will kill me; I have no hope; but I will defend my ways to his face … Why do you hide your face, and count me as your enemy? Will you frighten a windblown leaf and pursue dry chaff? For you write bitter things against me, and make me reap the iniquities of my youth. You put my feet in the stocks, and watch all my paths; you set a bound to the soles of my feet. One wastes away like a rotten thing, like a garment that is moth-eaten. (13.15, 24–28)

This theme is further developed in chapter 14 where we are invited to ask, ‘In the midst of such tragedy, in the midst of our agonies, in the midst of living with our demons and black dogs, in the midst of so many unanswered questions, “Can we hope?” And, if so, what might possibly be the basis of such hope?’

The chapter begins with a sober description of the experience of human life:

A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble, comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last. Do you fix your eyes on such a one? Do you bring me into judgment with you? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one can. (vv. 1–4)

And then we hear something of Job’s bitterness towards God as if he is addressing the schoolyard bully:

Since their days are determined, and the number of their months is known to you, and you have appointed the bounds that they cannot pass, look away from them, and desist, that they may enjoy, like laborers, their days. (vv. 5–6)

In other words, ‘God, since you have already planned all our days, and even our deaths, why can’t you just leave us alone to live out whatever life we have been given, because it seems like every time you come near, my life just falls apart’.

According to Job, our fate is hopeless. We all die, and when we breathe our last, we lie down and never get up. In fact, Job says that even the trees have more hope than we do:

For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant. But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep. (vv. 7–12)

Now most scholars argue that the real turning point of this chapter is in v. 14 when Job asks the question: ‘If mortals die, will they live again?’ (v. 14). And many commentators highlight how Job’s question here whispers that something else might be possible; that despite all evidence to the contrary, some crack might appear in an otherwise closed door and let in some fresh air, some crack which suggests that despite every appearance we are creatures not of chance but of One who has orientated us towards a hopeful future. It’s a fine way to read the passage, though I wonder if it too quickly closes our ears to something else that is important here.

For it may be that the real turning point in this passage actually lies on either side of these words – in v. 13 and in the second half of v. 14 – where Job speaks of both remembering and of waiting:

O that you would hide me in Sheol (i.e., in the underworld, the hiding place from God’s scrutiny and anger), that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! … All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.

The language of remembrance and of waiting is, of course, familiar language around the church. It’s the language that we hear not only around Advent, but also during Lent and during Easter, and during so-called Ordinary Time. But if there’s one day in the church’s calendar when the language of remembrance and of waiting is most intense it is on the quietest day of the Christian year – Holy Saturday. And the story of Job is the story of one faithful person’s experience of Holy Saturday, just as the book of Lamentations recalls on a corporate level the whole community’s journey through its own experience of God abandonment. And Holy Saturday reminds us that there’s waiting and then there’s waiting. For whereas the quality of Advent waiting brims with expectation and preparation for hope to ring and joy to arrive like having warm bread in the oven, the air of Holy Saturday reeks of stale smoke, as though something was burned the day before. The silence of this day is not like the silence of restoration and anticipation and peace. The silence of Holy Saturday sounds more like the buzz of a lonely streetlight on a dark deserted road in the middle of nowhere. It’s the silence of paralysing shock. It’s the silence of shattered hopes. It’s the kind of silence when nothing feels safe or dependable anymore.

The waiting of Job and the waiting of Holy Saturday are like waiting for a teenage son or daughter who has missed a midnight curfew to come home, or like waiting for the surgeon to emerge from the hospital operating room, or like waiting for the phone to ring with a report of biopsy results. Like Job’s questions, Holy Saturday is a day of suspense. It is the boundary marker between the undeniable and the inconceivable. It is, in the words of one theologian, what ‘appears to be a no-man’s land, an anonymous, counterfeit moment in the gospel story, which can boast no identity for itself, claim no meaning, and reflect only what light it can borrow from its predecessor and its sequel’.[2] And it is the space all too familiar to those of us who grieve the loss of one whom death has claimed prematurely. It is the space all too familiar to those of us who live with the burden of unreconciled relationships. It is the space all too familiar to those of us who live with the anxiety of not knowing whether or not we will always be recognisable to our loved ones.

And I want to suggest that what holds that space together – what fills the boundary between death and life, between despair and hope, between love experienced and love unimaginable – is the divine memory. It is God’s memory of us which makes it possible for us to neither abandon our sorrow nor to surrender the horizon of hope. It is God’s memory which places a boundary to our hopelessness and our dislocation. It is the memory of the God who remembered Rachel and filled her barren womb (Gen 30.22). It is the memory of the God who heard Israel groaning under the burden of cruel slavery and remembered an ancient promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is the memory of the God who heard the desperate cry of a frightened thief and made a promise to accompany him even beyond death. And it strikes me that the dead Jesus is resurrected too precisely because he is not forgotten by the Father and the Spirit.

Job knows that one day all who know him will pass away and that his achievements will be long abandoned. He knows the futility of trusting in what will only return to dust. He knows the futility of trusting in those shrines of remembrance that we erect in our lives and in our churches and in our communities. But as fragile as he is, he is not finally without hope, and his hope is not that he will be faithful enough to remember God but that God is faithful to remember him, that he will be kept alive only by God’s memory of him. Job’s hope is that despite all appearances, God’s memory outlasts this creation which is passing away. This is great news for those of us who have ‘lost’ their memory, and for those of us who live with those who have ‘lost’ their memory – for it announces that our dignity and hope and humanity are not to be found finally in our ability to remember and to love but rather in the promise of one who both remembers and loves and who does so beyond the boundaries that death itself would seek to erect.[3]

When pain torments our body; when unwelcome fantasies invade our sleep; when friends unite to condemn or to abandon us; when death hovers on our doorstep – then, it is not finally a kind word or a new resolve that we need but rather an encounter with the God who remembers us, who remembers that we are dust; who is, in the words of Psalm 8, ‘mindful’ of us; who remembers that our history is not something that can be discarded willy-nilly, and who, in Jesus Christ, enters into the boundary of our dislocation and into the emptiness of our long-abandoned memories and who publicises to and for us that we are not forgotten. The reason for our hope is that we are remembered in life; we are remembered when disaster engulfs robbing life of joy and peace; and we are remembered in our graves. The reason for our hope is that we are remembered by God when all other memories have dried up, when all has passed away and the creation itself undone, when (as in v. 19) the waters wear away the stones and the torrents wash away the soil of the earth and all human hopes are extinguished.

And, finally, in the crucified God, we hope together with those who do not share our hopes, and with those whose hopes for this life remain unfulfilled, and with those who are disappointed and indifferent, and with those who despair of life itself, and with those who have been the enemies of life, and with those who for whatever reason have abandoned all hope. In and with Christ, we hope and we remember them before God. In the crucified God, we hope together with the God who remembers us and who, in remembering us, is our hopeful end. Amen.

[1] Bertrand Russell, Last Philosophical Testament: 1943–68 (ed. John G. Slater and Peter Köllner; The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Volume 2; London: Routledge, 1997), 87.

[2] Alan E. Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 2–3.

[3] No wonder that John Calvin once said that ‘there is nothing [human beings] ought fear more than to be forgotten by God’. John Calvin, Sermons from Job (trans. Leroy Nixon; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1952), 78.

Australian Parliament Finally Says ‘Sorry’

Australia‘s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has finally revealed the wording that he will use tomorrow as he delivers Federal Parliament’s apology to the Stolen Generations:

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

For some reactions to the wording from the National Aboriginal Alliance, see here.

Also, ABC News Online will stream Kevin Rudd’s apology from 8:55am AEDT on Wednesday. The apology will also be broadcast on ABC TV and ABC Local Radio.

I have posted more on this issue here.

On Bastard Philosophies, Stolen Generations, and the Forgiveness of Sins

Writing of Bacon, Locke and Scottish common sense philosophy (uncritically lumped together), Nevin writes: ‘The general character of this bastard philosophy is, that it affects to measure all things, both on earth and in heaven, by the categories of the common abstract understanding, as it stands related to simply to the world of time and sense’. – John W. Nevin, Human Freedom and a Plea for Philosophy: Two Essays (Mercersburg: P. A. Rice, 1850), 42. Cited in Alan P. F. Sell, Testimony and Tradition: Studies in Reformed and Dissenting Thought (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 173.

This leads me to draw attention to a recent reflection by Aussie theologian, Frank Rees, on what it means for the new democratically-elected Australian government to say sorry for past and not-so-past sins, and why ‘sorry is not the hardest word: indeed, it will be a word of life’. Frank’s post is a timely reminder of how ‘bastard philosophies’ don’t bring life, but only death; in this case that death bred of fear, misunderstanding (of the issues, of people, and of the gospel itself) and mistrust, the wounds of which will probably take decades, if not centuries, to heal.

In a related post, Rory suggests that the apology to Australia’s stolen generation should be made on our behalf by the Governor General rather than by the Prime Minister. He writes: ‘He is the head of government in Australia, and he holds a position that is above party politics. Whatever you think about the virtues or otherwise of the current government, surely addressing this part of our history is bigger than who won the last election. I can only think that an apology coming from the GG would better speak for the nation, and it would allow the apology to loose itself from any particular party’.

I think I like this (Are there any good reasons – constitutional or otherwise – for why this cannot, or should not, happen?). But regardless of from whose vicarious lips the apology comes, one hopes that it may also model and encourage the way of life and a softening of heart (and a less bastardly-informed philosophy) for other people, governments and organisations. One hopes … [I confess to having no such confidence in human nature of itself to bring about such a change of heart. This too must be a work of the Spirit].

Frank’s and Rory’s posts reminded me of Stevan Weine’s book, When History Is a Nightmare: Lives and Memories of Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a volume which includes some powerful documentary of those closely affected by the tragedies attending the recent conflict in the Balkans. One such testimony witnesses:

I remember Bosnia as a beautiful and peaceful country. We all lived together. Before the war, it was unnecessary to know if your neighbor was Serb, Croat, Muslim or Jew. We looked only at what kind of person you were. We were all friends. But now I think it is like a kind of earthquake. A huge catastrophe. After this war nothing will be the same. People will live, but I think they will not live together. they will not share the same bread like before. Maybe they will be neighbors, but I think the close relationship will not exist any more. Because the Bosnian people, especially the Muslim people, had a bad experience, partly as a result of our attitude. (p. 13)

In his brilliant treatment on forgiveness, The Cleansing of the Memories, Geoffrey Bingham reminds us that ‘memory has always been a problem with mankind. It may seem a curious thing that man can be troubled by his past, as also delighted by it. Some memories bring a renewal of shock and trauma when they come unbidden’. Bingham proceeds to speak of ‘God’s holy amnesia’, of ‘the Divine forgetfulness’ or ‘the Divine non–remembering’. ‘God refuses to remember our sins! If then God refuses to remember our sins, why should we choose remember them?’ While our consciences never let anyone off the hook, Bingham writes, ‘God–through Christ–has so purged our sins, that they have been worked out to exhaustion and extinction, and all their power of guilt, penalty and pollution has been erased. In other words there are–effectively –no sins to remember! God has not simply ignored our sins. He has destroyed them, forever! … Of course–from time to time–we will remember the sins we once did, but we must not make them back into substantial things. God has denuded them of substance, of guilt, power and pollution. If they come to us in memory, then in faith in the Cross we should say, ‘Whilst you represent the sins I committed, you have no substance. God has emptied you, purified you, and taken away the guilt which accompanied you. You are wraiths, ghosts of the past come back to haunt me via the accusations of Satan and his hosts, but you have no substance’. [See The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World by Miroslav Volf, and my post here on Redeeming Bitterness – An Interview with Miroslav Volf].

I have just finished reading Wilhelm Herrmann’s Systematic Theology (Dogmatik), which I recommend. At one point, he notes that ‘It is the realization of the impossibility of friendship with God that creates in us the religious consciousness of guilt. Obviously we cannot be quit of this burden of guilt by any effort for our own betterment; for the sense of guilt before God will paralyse our courage to start a new life’. To all who have tried to be quit of the burden of guilt by their own efforts, Herrmann’s words sound out as a prophetic rebuke and caution against the futility and arrogance of such resolve. This is one of the reasons why in the final chapter of his The Wondrous Cross (reviewed here), Steve Holmes suggests that the message of penal substitution remains an important one to teach us about God’s love, about forgiveness and about justice – for both victims and perpetrators. He writes:

Penal substitution will, of course, teach us something about justice and guilt. It will teach us first that justice cannot and will not ever be set aside. Not that there can never be forgiveness – of course not – the point of the story is precisely that there can be, and is: while crimes cannot be forgotten, yet at the same time they must also be forgiven. Cases of child abuse, where the abuser has used shaming mechanisms so successfully that none of his victims ever speak; cases of corruption, where the politician has cynically sold favours and hidden her misdeeds well enough never to be discovered; cases of war crimes, where the military officer has callously committed certain deeds, feeling secure in the knowledge that they will not come to light: these are the types of cases and situations where penal substitution becomes an important story to tell.

For the victims in such situations, the story of penal substitution holds the promise that there is justice in this world, even for the worst crimes, or the best-hidden atrocities …

For the perpetrators in these situations, the story of penal substitution holds out the invitation to stop trying to escape their crimes by their own efforts, and to find, if they dare to face up with honesty and repentance to what they have done, full and free forgiveness in Christ.

In a recent paper I heard, Alan Torrance bore witness to the truth that it is only by virtue of Christ’s vicarious humanity that we discover the two forms of liberation that are intrinsic to atonement: first, liberation as victimisers for our sin of victimisation; and second, liberation as victims from the bitterness and hatred that attend the sense of irreversible injustice, the hurt of damaged lives, irretrievably lost opportunities, and all the other evils that result from sin. There is liberation here, he said, because precisely at the point where we cannot forgive our enemies the Gospel suggests that our sole representative, the sole priest of our confession, does what we cannot do – he stands in and forgives our victimisers for us and in our place as the One on behalf of the many – and then invites us to participate in the very forgiveness he has realised vicariously on our behalf. On these grounds we are not only permitted to forgive but obliged and indeed commanded to forgive others. Alan said, ‘Where we are not entitled to forgive, the crucified Rabbi is. And where we are unable to forgive, we are given to participate in his once-and-for-all forgiveness and to live our lives in that light and from that centre – not least in the political realm’. He cited his dad (JB Torrance), who defined worship as ‘the gift of participating by the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father’. The consequence of any ethic, therefore, that warrants the name ‘Christian’ must be conceived in parallel terms, namely as the gift of participating by the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father. ‘Forgiveness’, Alan stressed, ‘is the gift of participating in a triune event of forgiveness. In an act of forgiveness, the Father sends the Son, who, by the Spirit, forgives as God but also, by the Spirit, as the eschatos Adam on behalf of humanity. The mandate to forgive must be understood in this light.’

The ‘apology’ that will be made when the federal government next sits is ultimately possible because in Christ, God has already confessed humanity’s sins and forgiven all parties. To say ‘sorry’ is to take up Christ’s invitation to us to ‘participate in that forgiveness that he has realised vicariously on our behalf’. It is, as Alan presses, to participate in a triune event of forgiveness in which the Father sends the Son, who, by the Spirit, forgives. And, it is to participate by the Spirit, in the action of the last Adam on behalf of humanity, to the joy of the Father. Whether or not the Australian Government (or Governor-General), those of the Stolen Generation (and their families/nations), and all Aussies (even Faris QC) know that this is what it means to say ‘Sorry’ and ‘Receive the forgiveness of sins’ does not undermine the reality that the very human actions of confession and forgiveness are at the heart of what it means to be imago dei, and to participate in the ministry of the Triune God in our maimed and besmirched world.

‘For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility’ (Eph 2:14).

‘See to it’, therefore, ‘that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him’. (Col 2:8-15)

Redeeming Bitterness – An Interview with Miroslav Volf

Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, recently published The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World. As Volf calls Christians to remember with redemptive purpose, he recounts his personal struggle to cope with memories of interrogations by Communist officials in his native Croatia, then part of Yugoslavia.

What makes memory an especially urgent theological topic?

Part of the interest in memory is because we live in such a fast-paced culture, in which we have a hard time remembering what’s transpired only a few days or a month ago. We’re glued to this ever-shifting and changing present, so we feel that memory is slipping away from us. We want to hold onto memories, because we rightly believe that part of our identity is what we remember about ourselves and our interactions with others. Part of our identity as a nation depends on what has happened to us in the past.

Why is this topic especially important to you?
Much of the conflict in the world, whether between individuals or between communities, is fueled by memory of what has happened in the past. So on the one hand, we have to remember to preserve our identity. We have to remember in order not to allow similar violations in the future.

Yet when we remember, our memory is not innocent in our hands. I use the term “shield of memory.” But so quickly, the shield mutates into a sword. Memory played a significant role in the recent conflict in my native Croatia. My interest was to find ways in which we can prevent memory from mutating from a shield into a sword—indeed, finding ways in which memory can become a means of reconciliation. That’s why I’m interested not just in memory, but in remembering rightly.

The book is both theological and personal—why?
The narrative backbone of the book is my interrogations by the secret service of Yugoslavia and the Communist army. Immense suspicion arose from the sheer facts that I was a theologian, I studied abroad, and I was married to an American. They had to find out whether I was a subversive element. I narrate the story of my interrogations and my relationships with my interrogators in order to illustrate what memory does to us, how we can deal with memory, and what the light of Christ’s truth and Christ’s person can do to help us remember and reconcile in healing ways.

What is the biblical purpose of remembering?
God’s purpose with humanity as a whole is reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another in a new heaven and new earth. Given that we have sinned, reconciliation is what needs to happen to get us there. That’s also the goal of remembering rightly. Memory ought to serve that grand vision of reconciliation God is working to create—as Jonathan Edwards has said, the “world of perfect love,” love of God and love of neighbor.

What is Christianity’s unique contribution to remembering rightly?
To remember rightly we need to put on certain glasses. We put on glasses of the memory of the Exodus of the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt. Christians in particular remember the death and the resurrection of Christ. The apostle Paul says one has died for all. Now what does that mean for the wrong that a person has done to me?

Well, I have to remember it as a wrong of a person for whom Christ has died, even if that person isn’t receiving that redemption personally. Then I look at myself. Christ died for my sins, too. I can’t remember transgression against me as one who is purely innocent. It’s not as if I stand in the light and the other person [stands] in the darkness, and he or she has to do all the changing, while I bask in my self-righteousness.

So Christ’s death frames my remembering and reminds me of my own sinfulness and of the love of God toward a person who has injured me.

How do we remember without getting bitter?
In the present discussion about memory, we tend to emphasize remembering what has happened to us, what others have done to us, or if we are more virtuous, what we have done to others. But it’s not about our actions and our sufferings. Now, I don’t want to disregard our deeds and our sufferings, but in Exodus, the Israelites didn’t just remember what they had suffered at the hands of the Egyptians. That was the backdrop to remember what God did for them. It’s a hopeful memory of liberation, a memory of salvation. If you emulate that, then you can remember rightly.

How might right remembering affect church practice?
We have a ritual of remembrance, the Lord’s Supper. We break bread and remember Christ’s broken body. We drink from the cup and remember Christ’s suffering and his spilled blood. If we remember Christ’s suffering rightly, that liturgical act also can serve as a means of fostering reconciliation. I will celebrate the Lord’s Supper by remembering myself as a sinner and not as a saint. I will celebrate the Lord’s Supper by remembering my enemy not as this despicable person who has to be thrown into the pit of darkness, but as one for whom Christ has shed his blood. Therefore, I will be taken up into this action of Christ and hopefully emulate Christ in how I remember and treat the other person.

When can we forget the wrongs committed against us?
In a sense, forgetting is given to us as the gift of a healed relationship. It’s a gift of the new world, which God gives us. Then we can not remember. And then our experience is like a person who is sitting in a concert hall and listening to a wonderful piece of music. Even though just two hours ago she was experiencing hell at her job, she’s taken up into that music. It’s not that she tried to forget so that she could be in the music; it’s that the music took her out of the remembrance of the past. God gives us the gift of a healed self, healed relationships, and a reconstituted world, and then we can not remember.

This is taken from an interview by Christianity Today associate editor Collin Hansen posted here.