Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Book Review: Free of Charge

Miroslav Volf's Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace is an excellent book.

Forgiveness is such a tough issue to both understand and more importantly to practice. There are so many emotional barriers that we struggle with and as a pastor I see people still bound to the hurt that they have received, still trapped by their offender because forgiveness hasn't yet been found.

Volf does not shirk the difficult issues, his examples are as heart rending as any - a father forgiving the sniper who shot his 3 year old daughter while she was playing - a mother forgiving the man who was with her son when his head was crushed in an accident - real stories of pain and hurt. Our lofty ideas of forgiveness need to be earthed in the reality of human pain and misery.

His main influences in this book is Paul and Luther and so Volf draws on the riches of their thought. Volf argues that we give because God is a giver and He gives to us so that we can pass on to others, we forgive because God forgives and our forgiveness needs passing on.

It has helped me think about how I explain forgiveness, by describing how forgiveness includes accusation. By saying I forgive, is to say 'you have wronged me' so forgiveness does not ignore the wrong. It has helped me in seeing how repentance is essential in making forgiveness complete. If I repent, I see the accusation of wrong as correct and I do something about it. If I refuse to accept the accusation I also refuse to receive the forgiveness offered. While the forgiver has forgiven the one in need of forgiveness remains unforgiven because repentance has not followed.

Volf describes well for me how Christ takes my place and seems to me to do an excellent job of describing the importance of our union with Christ, and balancing wrath, justice, satisfaction and God's love. As he says: "You can sum up where we've landed in four simple sentences. The world is sinful. That's why God doesn't affirm it indiscriminately. God loves the world. That's why God doesn't punish it in justice. What does God do with this double bind? God forgives."

It is both spiritual and theological, it is neither dry nor academic. It isn't a straight forward read in that it does demand thoughtful engagement, how else can you think about forgiving others and being forgiven by God? But I would heartily recommend this book.


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