Reconciliation Book Reflections #2: The End of Memory, by Miroslav Volf
Before reading The End of Memory I never thought very deeply about the subject of memory. On a somewhat superficial level I conceded with those whose cry to remember atrocities simply meant that in doing so we were honoring the victims and protecting future victims. However, in reading Volf’s book I have become convinced that, as he says, memories are morally ambiguous and must be redeemed, not just put up with. In chapter three Volf explains that an important component of remembering is remembering truthfully. When we fail to remember truthfully we also commit injustice.
As God’s people who locate ourselves especially with the weak, marginalized, and oppressed of the world, I think that Volf’s work is helpful because it reminds us that solidarity and liberation is only one aspect of the mission God has called us to. If we forget the theological importance of positioning and intervening for reconciliation among the victims of this world, then our attempts at liberation can easily tend toward oppression once then weak have gained power. In our lives with the oppressed, it is the Passion memory that can shape our interaction with those who oppress. The Passion memory teaches us a number of things: 1) to extend unconditional grace, 2) to affirm as valid the claims of justice (these first two translate into the pursuit of forgiveness), 3) to aim for communion, 4) for victims to see themselves also as sinners embraced by God, 5) that any wrongdoing committed against me is already atoned for, and 6) in light of the anticipated final reconciliation, every wrongdoing can be remembered in light of future reconciliation with the wrongdoer. If the Christian community in solidarity with those who suffer live out this story then new communities of reconciliation can be born and cycles of violence will be broken.
Finally, Volf’s explanation of the not-coming-to-mind of wrongs suffered in the world to come is a beautiful vision of hope and freedom, I think. This eschatological vision of the world of perfect love, though speculative, is truly beautiful and something to anticipate. If we know that the memory of wrongs suffered will one day not come to mind, maybe this helps us to release our greedy hold on such memories. I have learned that we remember so that we can forgive and reconcile, and we forgive and reconcile so that we can let go of those memories. In God’s world the purpose of memory is a community of perfect love and embrace.