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Do Not Trespass

(c) Inebriantia aka Jose Ramos

In a recent post I quoted and wrote about the view put forward by Miroslav Volf that in the new creation we will no longer remember wrongs done, either by ourselves or others, due to our perfect enjoyment of God and each other in God.

To view the post click here.

Now, while I am sympathetic to this point of view and am of the opinion that it makes good sense of scriptural evidence and itself has explanatory power, I still don’t find Volf’s entire thesis convincing. And there are two key points where Volf and I part ways. The first is the question of assigning meaning to the events of the past, and the second is the memory of the cross in the new creation. And I view both of these as significant points of departure.

At one point Volf ponders what salvation would look like if we did perfectly remember wrongs suffered for eternity? “… it seems that it would need to entail rendering remembered wrongs in some way meaningful … they would have to be integrated into a narrative.” (p. 183) Volf comes at this from the human-level view and asks whether our whole past needs to be rendered meaningful to be redeemed?  And in the end Volf rejects the ideas that all events must in some way be rendered meaningful and that all events will in fact be rendered meaningful. And thus it coheres with his thesis that past wrongs will not be displayed as meaningful but will eternally resist being integrated into a meaningful whole and will instead slip from our memory.

Whether the redemption of people can be true without the redemption of all their past experiences is an interesting question, though not the heart of the issue. (Though I tend to think the answer is: yes it can). To my mind the heart of the problem isn’t so much anthropological but rather God-shaped. The issue isn’t so much tied to whether personal history must be shown to be meaningful within a wider narrative for true redemption of a person to occur, but instead is God the type of God who overrules a world which is meaningful? Does God see all the events of the past with meaning within a wider narrative? Does God design and execute all the events of my past with a meaning and within a wider narrative?

I am convinced that this type of high view of God’s sovereignty and providence is the picture the Bible describes. The issue here isn’t so much will past events be rendered and/or revealed as meaningful but are past events actually in fact meaningful, regardless of how hidden that meaning is to us?

So for me the question isn’t, “Do the events of my past have meaning?” – I think they do – so much as, “Will their God-designed meaning within His narrative be revealed to me in the new creation?”

In sum, the core issue isn’t about the nature of humanity or the nature of redemption but rather the nature of God and his rule over his creation.

I’m not convinced, however, that the fact that all my past events do have meaning – a meaning which is at present largely hidden but will one day be revealed – necessarily means that non-remembrance will not and must not occur.

Secondly, Volf asks, “If wrongs suffered will not come to mind in the world of perfect love, does it mean that the death of Christ will not come to mind either?” (p. 190) to which he answers, “True, our being new creatures in eternity will have been achieved in part through Christ’s death. But it does not necessarily follow that life as a new creature is predicated on the eternal display of the means by which such life was achieved … The cross of Christ is, rather, a stage on the road to resurrection and exaltation … a stage that can be left in the past even if its effects last for eternity.” (p. 191)

This is a change of mind for Volf from the position he posed in Exclusion and Embrace, where he believed the cross would be eternally remembered. And it’s not a change I’m particularly excited about.

I should be clear that I’m not of the opinion that the cross is an eternal event in God. When the New Testament refers to Christ as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8) I think it means that from eternity Christ had been destined for the cross within the realm of time. But I do believe that the cross is so central to the New Testament, so central to the character of God, so central in regards the revelation of God, so central to what love is, so central to the display of God’s glory and victory that I find the proposal that it will not be remembered in eternity not particularly plausible.

But does that mean that the Cross will be the one act of past wrong that will be remembered into eternity? The greatest act of evil in all of history will be the only one remembered while all others will fade into non-remembrance?

I’m not sure.

Is it the uniqueness of the cross that will set it apart? Is it the triumph of God over evil in and through this specific evil that will separate it?

I’m not sure.

But on at least these two issues I’m not keen to follow Volf. I think at these two places he has memory problems.