In 1983 Miroslav Volf was conscripted into the army of then-communist Yugoslavia. Having an American wife did him little favours and he was under suspicion of subverting the Yugoslavian regime. This suspicion led to months of intense and traumatic interrogations overseen by a man Volf only knows as Captain G.
Volf’s theological writings have been dramatically shaped by this experience. He writes and thinks at an extraordinarily deep level about issues of forgiveness, reconciliation and memory. Volf wrote a very important book struggling with the question of memory, evil, forgiveness and the world to come called The End of Memory.
The point of the book is to work out an answer to the very practical question, “How do you remember rightly? If you are a person committed to forgiveness, committed to loving the wrongdoer, committed to overcoming evil with good, how do you remember abuse and abuser rightly?”
Volf’s thesis is that in the coming new creation where God makes all things new we will not remember wrongs done in this world. And the reason is because if we did that would mean that evil would have an eternal power and presence. Victim, perpetrator and God would be permanently marked by the evil committed; evil would have succeeded in casting a dark shadow over the eternity of the world to come.
Here is Volf’s powerful summary of his argument:
To be fully overcome, evildoing must be consigned to its proper place – nothingness … Is the non-remembrance of wrongs suffered that I propose a flight from the unbearable memory into the felicity of oblivion? No flight is involved. According to my conception, each wrong suffered will be exposed in its full horror, its perpetrators condemned and the repentant transformed, and its victims honored and healed. Then, after evil has been both condemned and overcome, we will be able to release the memories of wrongs suffered, able to let them slip out of our mind. Will we let go of them so as to be able to rejoice with complete and permanent joy in God and in one another? No, that is not quite the right way to think about the not-coming-to-mind of memories of wrongs suffered. We will not “forget” so as to be able to rejoice; we will rejoice and therefore let those memories slip out of our minds! The reason for our non-remembrance of wrongs will be the same as its cause: Our minds will be rapt in the goodness of God and in the goodness of God’s new world, and the memories of wrongs will wither away like plants without water.
– Miroslav Volf The End of Memory (p. 214)
Volf’s point is that purpose of remembering wrongs done is to remember them truly so that justice can be truly done. And when justice is truly done and the offense is seen truly then the perpetrator can be truly repentant and so be truly forgiven by the victim and true reconciliation may be enjoyed. And so the goal of memory has been reached and there is no more need to remember the wrong, not for the sake of justice or for the sake of protection. The proper goal – the appropriate end – of the memory of wrongs suffered is the loving reconciliation of all people, both perpetrators and victims. And when that love is reached – imperfect and fragile in this life but complete and invincible in the next – then the memory of those wrongs can end as well.
Loving reconciliation is both the end and the end of memory.