I’m re-reading Exclusion and Embrace, by Miroslav Volf, one of my favorite professors in seminary. I’m being reminded how central this book’s ideas have become in my own life.
His basic premise is that living as a follower of Christ requires us to be willing to embrace those who are other. We cannot cut ourselves off from the possibility of relationship with others, no matter how unjust, evil, corrupt, or wounding they have been. What passes as “peace” in our world is most often not embrace (restored relationship), but rather exclusion (you live over there, and I live over here; the hope for real relationship between us is now impossible because of the evil that has gone on between us).
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
…as God does not abandon the godless to their evil but gives the divine self for them in order to receive them into divine communion through atonement, so also should we–“whoever our enemies and whoever we may be.”(p. 23)
Sin is…the kind of purity that wants the world cleansed of the other rather than the heart cleansed of the evil that drives people out by calling those who are clean “unclean” and refusing to help make clean those who are unclean. (p. 74)
After arguing persuasively for the noninnocence of us all, even while we maintain the innocence and rightness of our “side”, Volf gives this life-altering summation:
The question is how to live with integrity and bring healing to a world of inescapable noninnocence that often parades as its opposite. The answer: in the name of the one truly innocent victim and what he stood for, the crucified Messiah of God, we should demask as inescapably sinful the world constructed around exclusive moral polarities–here, on our side, “the just,” “the pure,” “the innocent,” “the true,” “the good,” and there, on the other side, “the unjust,” “the corrupt,” “the guilty,” “the liars,” “the evil,”–and then seek to transform the world in which justice and injustice, goodness and evil, innocence and guilt, purity and corruption, truth and deception crisscross and intersect, guided by the recognition that the economy of undeserved grace has primacy over the economy of moral deserts. Under the conditions of pervasive noninnocence, the work of reconciliation should proceed under the assumption that, though the behavior of a person may be judged as deplorable, even demonic, no one should ever be excluded from the will to embrace, because at the deepest level the relationship to others does not rest on their moral performance and therefore cannot be undone by the lack of it. (pp. 84-85, italics his)
It’s because I believe this so strongly that I have trouble with black and white explanations of the world. It’s because of this that I’m committed to understanding and embracing those who do see the world that way.