Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bell, Day 7: Forgiveness and Eschatology

I just finished an article about the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. The article asks a question posed over a year ago by one of the kidnapped team members: Am I willing to risk as much for peace as our soldiers risk for war? To me, this question captures well how Dan Bell completes his treatment of forgiveness.

Bell states,
"The risk of forgiveness is that it only disempowers the Church of the poor and prolongs their suffering by depriving them of recourse to what is due. The risk of forgiveness is that it is not able to fund resistance to the capitalist order. The risk is that the refusal to cease suffering that is forgiveness is only a refusal to cease suffering" (193-194).
Forgiveness is risky because it opens up a new possibility. Violence, even in the guise of capitalist economics, is easy to understand and predict because it so shapes the narratives of the fallen world. We see and experience violence every day. The Confederate cavalryman, Nathan Bedford Forrest, reduced his understanding of military strategy to one simple axiom, "The first with the most." This is the axiom of our age: the first person/group with the most power wins. The ensemble of technologies that is forgiveness opens up a new hope, a move towards a non-violent future that requires a new way of thinking creatively about how to respond to violence and evil. It is risky because it requires us to journey somewhat blindly into the night with nothing more than faith that Jesus is who he claims to be and that his Spirit continues to be at work in the world. Along these lines, Bell states,
"Ultimately, the refusal to cease suffering that is Christian forgiveness is an act of hope... The risk of forgiveness must be borne in patient hope that mercy will indeed triumph over sin and death. The truth of the therapy of forgiveness as a form of resistance to capitalism, to echo Foucault, is in the future. It is in a future where the tears are wiped away, where those who are hungry now are filled, where those who build homes inhabit them and those who plant vineyards partake of their fruit... The truthfulness of forgiveness... is contingent upon the consummation of redemption, when suffering will indeed cease" (194).
Forgiveness, then, is a wager on God. We are bothered because we are so enamored with techniques that work instantly, even if the "work" is temporary and incomplete. The fullness of forgiveness reaching even reconciliation is much deeper, much more problematic, and thus increases our vulnerability dramatically. Forgiveness is a gift offered even to the perpetrators of grave violence. It is a gift that must be both received and participated in. This increases the wager of the Church to accept that perpetrators of violence might reject the gift and do harm to the Body. Along these lines, Bell states,
"While reconciliation is the goal of forgiveness, at times it may not prove very effective at attaining that goal and bringing suffering to an end... [I]t may only intensify the suffering as it provokes a hostile response that leads to persecution and martyrdom. At such times, the true politics that is the gift of forgiveness may amount to little more than surviving, maintaining the presence of grace that is the offer of the gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness, therefore, is best characterized as a matter of how Christians live in the absence of reconciliation" (194).
Earlier, I made mention of the Christian Peacemaker Teams that journey to areas of intense hostility and stand in between warring factions, receive the Eucharist, and pray for Christ's peace to end the violence of war and the suffering it inflicts on countless thousands. One of the kidnapped team members asked, "Am I willing to risk as much for peace as soldiers risk for war?" This is the question asked by forgiveness. It is both eschatological and apocalyptic. It is eschatological because the answer cannot be offered deterministically. Forgiveness is a hopeful wager on how God will act towards his children, that he will hear our cries and will redeem the crucified people: the last, the least, the broken, the tortured. It is apocalyptic because true forgiveness refuses the sword and accepts the Cross. In Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo, David Toole draws upon John Howard Yoder to remind us that the Church's ultimate hope is that God will remember us and will fight for us.

In an early critique of Radical Orthodoxy, Frederic Bauerschmidt wrote an article where he asked whether Milbank rendered the Word strange or simply speculative. As Bell truthfully recounts, there is a speculative aspect to Christian witness that sometimes culminates in martyrdom. Yes, forgiveness may render the Word speculative, but it also renders the Word present, and boldly longs for the Word made victorious. In the meantime, forgiveness is the Word rendered and embodied hopefully in the Church shouldering Jesus' Cross, limping toward Golgotha, the Tomb, and the Resurrection, even if the path takes to Abu Ghraib, Darfur, Liberia, Chile, or even into our own bedrooms and communities.

To close, Bell concludes,
"When history's losers, the crucified people, follow in the steps of Jesus and forgive their enemies, they are wagering on God. They are wagering that God is who the Gospel proclaims God to be, the one who defeats sin and wipes away every tear, not with the sword of a justice that upholds rights but with the gift of forgiveness in Christ... Although the tomb is empty, the Lamb who was slain has yet to return in final victory. In the meantime, the crucified people, awaiting his return and the consummation of the judgment of grace, refuse to cease suffering" (195).
As the Church, are we willing to wager on peace in the same way that statesmen wager on war?


Anonymous Josh Kaufman-Horner said...

Please check out our attempt to respond to your final question at eucharism.org

December 21, 2005 11:51 AM  

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