Standing in the Fissures: Miroslav Volf on Theology, Memory, Reconciliation, and the Self
“For me, it was always a challenge, on the one hand, to honor what I was feeling—the rage that was inside against injustice—but on the other hand, to honor the beauty of the Christian faith that has a particular way of dealing with these kinds of situations which is a reconciliation through embrace of the enemy.”
For theologian Miroslav Volf, it’s important that a theologian stand in the fissures—the cracks of human life—helping to mend and tie and heal the fractures that characterize that life, directing humanity back to its telos—its animating purpose and ultimate goal. Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School and founding director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He was educated in his native Croatia, the United States, and Germany, earning doctoral and post‑doctoral degrees with highest honors from the University of Tubingen in Germany. He has written or edited more than 20 books and over 90 scholarly articles, including Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, and his latest, co-authored with Matthew Croasmun, For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference.
In this interview, Volf reflects on the challenge of living a theology in the fissures of life; the often irreducible complexity of human experience; how Volf’s own biography and personal experience with oppression during the Cold War impacted his theology; the centrality of memory to forgiveness; and the importance of living as a porous, open self—open to encountering and embracing the other.
- 3:23—On having an eros for theology.
- 5:13—A Kingdom of God theology: on the public and the private. “I want to make sure though that on the public theology, we understand something that spans the space between the most intimate desires of our hearts to the largest structures that shape the character of our world, that all is in the purview of theology.”
- 7:17—On theology as more than intellectual puzzles. “I think theology has puzzles, as I said, but it is about the mystery of God, the mystery of human existence together with God.”
- 9:25—On the job of the theologian. “It’s living with this fissure. It’s bridging this gap. It’s leading the world to that for which it has been created, that it is a job of a theologian.”
- 12:32—A short biography of Miroslav Volf: “In some ways, I can say that in this regard my theology is trying to articulate their lives in theological terms and make the lives of these people who have shaped me and my vision, make these lives speak to others.”
- 14:30—On God’s grace even through the suffering.
- 16:22—A lie that saved the Volf family. “God of truth delivering him through a lie, that too was successfully told, that was also his experience.”
- 18:31—Ad Break: “Charting a Course Through Grief” A free 8-week ecourse with a variety helpful resources on grief. cct.biola.edu/grief
- 21:16—On unjust interrogations, rage, and enemy love.
- 24:00—“Love of enemy is the fundamental Christian command. You take love of enemy out of Christian faith, you un-Christian Christian. There cannot be Christian faith without love of enemy. That’s, I think, at the foundation, not as a moralizing stance but as a character of God and therefore as a demand and as an opportunity for us as human beings.”
- 25:06—On forgiveness and reconciliation.
- 27:04—Created in the image of exclusion: on being formed by and treating others with exclusion.
- 30:22—On the self and the other. “Open to the other means open to interactive exchanges with the other, which change you in the process of engaging the other.”
- 32:13—“This is a story of our lives at varieties of levels. I think this kind of openness to the other, this kind of sense of sturdy self that can change and yet remain itself is what we need to nurture, which is just a different way of saying of being lovingly open to another and finding one’s identity in love toward the other.”
- 33:59—On reconciliation, memory, and suffering.
- 33:59—“Memory is central to forgiveness because forgiveness concerns the past”
- 36:11—“There is a tendency to being completely absorbed by suffering, to think that the entirety of the identity of the perpetrator consists in having inflicted suffering on you, that the entirety of your own identity consists in having suffered that injury.”
- 37:52—On the cross as communion for both perpetrators and victims.
- 39:34—On suffering, abandonment, and hope.
- 41:26—“There is no intellectually compelling answer to the experience of living either on Friday or on Saturday. We have to live it through, and it’s only at the end of our lives and of the history that the story can be told in such a way that the suffering has not been fully senseless. I believe that that’s part of Christian faith and Christian hope, Christian living with non‑understanding in the midst of suffering in which one finds oneself, in the hope that despite my non‑understanding, God is present and will lead me through the suffering to Resurrection.”
- Hosted and produced by Evan Rosa
- Resource of the Biola University Center for Christian Thought, which is sponsored by generous grants from the John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, and The Blankemeyer Foundation
- Theme music by The Brilliance
- Production and Engineering by the Narrativo Group. More info at Narrativogroup.com
- Edited and mixed by TJ Hester
- Production Assistance by Kaleb Cohen
- Follow: @EvanSubRosa / @BiolaCCT / cct.biola.edu
Evan Rosa: The Table Audio is made possible by the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation and the Templeton Religion Trust.
Miroslav Volf: For me, it was always a challenge, on the one hand, to honor what I was feeling—the rage that was inside against injustice—but on the other hand, to honor the beauty of the Christian faith that has a particular way of dealing with these kinds of situations which is a reconciliation through embrace of the enemy.
ER: I’m Evan Rosa, and you’re listening to The Table Audio, a podcast about seeking Christian wisdom for life’s big questions.
I’m excited to share this conversation with Miroslav Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School and founding director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.
As I sat down, well, stood up, really, because standing desks. As I stood up to write a very profound intro to share with you, I just thought Miroslav’s story, his theological points, they speak for themselves, no need for a fancy intro.
Here in this episode, you have a very brilliant theological mind. Miroslav articulates his theology from within the data of human experience.
It’s important to him that a theologian stand in the fissures, the cracks of human life, helping to mend and tie and heal the fractures that characterize that life, directing humanity back to its telos, its animating purpose and ultimate goal.
He speaks with gravity, so much so that at one point in the conversation, an actual real‑life thunderbolt punctuates his point. Had to leave that in.
Miroslav was educated in his native Croatia, the United States, and Germany. He earned doctoral and post‑doctoral degrees with highest honors from the University of Tubingen in Germany. He has written or edited more than 20 books and over 90 scholarly articles.
Some of his most significant books include Exclusion & Embrace, a book urging that if the healing word of the Gospel is to be heard today, Christian theology must find ways of speaking that address the problem of hatred for the other and replace it with loving openness.
In another, After Our Likeness, he explores the Trinitarian nature of ecclesial community. He’s also written, Allah: A Christian Response, on whether Muslims and Christians have a common God, and A Public Faith, on how followers of Christ should serve the common good.
His latest book published earlier this year and co‑authored with Matthew Croasmun, is For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference.
In this conversation, we discuss the challenge of living a theology in the fissures of life, the often irreducible complexity of human experience, how Volf’s own biography and personal experience with oppression during the Cold War impacted his theology, the centrality of memory to forgiveness, and the importance of living as a porous, open self, open to encountering and embracing the other.
Hope you enjoy.
Miroslav, thank you for being with me. I would just start by asking you to introduce yourself. Who are you?
MV: My name is Miroslav Volf. I am a theologian, a student of theology, a person who, in many ways, has what one might describe eros for theology. I feel that’s my calling, and that’s my job. When two go together, that’s really great. When the calling and the job come together, I think we’re OK.
ER: That’s a real evocative way to describe it, eros for theology. Do you think just a deep desire?
MV: Yeah, a kind of inner drive. I think it’s an accompaniment to calling. It’s a subjective of verse, of successful experience, of calling, so that one is energized by the kinds of questions that we are pursuing.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of very hard work in doing theology, some of it being also simple mule work that needs to be done.
MV: It’s all toward a greater end that one feels passionately called for. I feel that very often it’s this passion for theology, or eros for theology, that it’s missing with some of our students. Those who discover it, they are lucky.
ER: That passion. I wanted to start the content of our interview around people describing you as a public theologian and something that really emerges in your work as a lived theology, pursuing theology as a way of life, with all the habits and the practices that come along with that.
What do you make of…and I don’t know if you identify these things as similar, but public theology, living theology, what motivates these concepts for you?
MV: At the heart of it, for me is that theology is almost like the ideational side of the lived Christian life. It’s accompaniment to a Christian living in the world. Theology is for a way of life, and theology, in a significant sense, is also a way of life.
I know that people sometimes describe me as a public theologian. I don’t know mind that description. I want to make sure though that on the public theology, we understand something that spans the space between the most intimate desires of our hearts to the largest structures that shape the character of our world, that all is in the purview of theology.
You can describe this, in a sense, as a kingdom of God theology, to use the classical terms. The kingdom of God is in the heart as much as it is in the world, in the universe itself. It’s this span of theology that’s given, I think, to us with unity of God as the one Creator and the one to whom and from whom all reality comes and toward whom all reality is oriented.
ER: Kingdom theology encompasses both the public and private. It’s this whole approach.
With that in mind, I get the sense that most people in modern technological society, they think of theology and perhaps related fields, especially in the humanities, as something that is approximating an intellectual game or like a puzzle, where you just passively think in the armchair. You’re at your leisure.
For you—I think you’re explicit about this in many parts of your writing—theology isn’t that intellectual game or puzzle. It’s something that goes much deeper and finds its way into a person’s being and habits and practices. What do you think of this?
MV: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think that theology is about truth of human existence and the truth of the world.
I think that theology obviously involves intellectual skills, obviously involves a great deal of knowing and great deal of reasoning, but all of this is not in the function of resolving a puzzle or two, though there are many interesting puzzles that need to be resolved in theology as well.
All of this is to articulate for today, in ever‑changing circumstances, a vision of a life of one’s self and the world before God. Theology isn’t about puzzles. I always liked a distinction Karl Rahner used to make between a puzzle and a mystery.
Puzzle is something that you can resolve, but mystery is something that you’re invited to delve in and to explore and to live in the exploration of that mystery. I think theology has puzzles, as I said, but it is about the mystery of God, the mystery of human existence together with God.
ER: In light of that—that’s a wonderful distinction of puzzle and mystery—if mystery invites us in in a way that puzzle doesn’t, I imagine the work of that kind of lived theology requires us to live into a mystery that exists within a world that is deeply at odds with theological values and the substance of that kind of theology that were trying to live.
We have a theology that depicts goodness and joy and shalom, but that’s existing in such stark contrast to political and economic oppression, slavery, violence, conflict, wrongdoing. How do we live a theology that’s so deeply at odds with the world around us?
MV: We are called to be followers of Jesus Christ. I take it we’re called to have our lives shape in accordance to to his. That entails, on the one hand, saying no to that which is contrary to the measure of humanity that is manifest in Jesus Christ, but in many ways also it encourages us to celebrate and to say yes.
I take the world to be both deeply at odds but also still God’s good creation. There’s a fissure that runs through the world. In some ways, theologian inhabits that fissure. The fissure runs through the life of a theologian, just like it runs through life of every human being.
It’s living with this fissure. It’s bridging this gap. It’s leading the world to that for which it has been created, that it is a job of a theologian. Theologian isn’t the only one who participates. Indeed, I would say a theologian’s work isn’t the most important one in this whole thing. But this is a calling for each individual Christian, each individual human being.
Theologian has a particular role in this. It would be too bad if theologians abdicated that role in favor of solving some intellectual puzzles or, maybe slightly better, contributing to the progressive increase in knowledge. Very important things, but things that need to be placed in the service of something that’s larger.
ER: I really like this image of them the fissures or cracks in the wall or the ceiling. There’s this Leonard Cohen song where he talks about the cracks are where the light comes through. I love this idea of a theologian living in those spaces or those fissures where the light is coming through and hoping to filter that or just allow that light to shine.
Leonard Cohen: Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
ER: I wanted to turn toward your own personal story. You grew up in a socialist Yugoslavia, but you studied in the West. I just want to find out and ask you about the biographical elements of your life that have contributed, I think, most deeply to your work on love and suffering, forgiveness, to your theology.
MV: I think that’s primarily came out of very intimate family experience. People who I name in conjunction to these kinds of sets of themes is my saintly nanny. It’s my mother. It’s my father. All three of them who have lived lives of deep devotion to God and lives that were oriented toward goodness and also understood as forgiveness.
That was a given in our family history. Many stories can be told that underpin this kind of stance toward life. In some ways, I can say that in this regard my theology is trying to articulate their lives in theological terms and make the lives of these people who have shaped me and my vision, make these lives speak to others.
In a sense, I’m a kind of channel. I’m channeling them in a different setting. I think in many ways that’s what theology is…
MV: …tries to articulate what the saintly life might look like in a situation in which we concretely find ourselves. Saints end up being our most important theologians.
ER: I understand that your father came to faith in a communist labor camp. That just sounds like only one expression. It’s just that kind of dire circumstances where his faith is embodied, as you say, where his faith can speak out of that and form a theology out of living through something like that.
MV: He was pulled out of not just deep suffering but rebellion against that suffering because he suffered as an innocent man. It’s this sense of his own innocence that created the rebellion.
It’s the sense of his discovery that, notwithstanding the circumstances he was in, he was nonetheless loved by God. That’s a very difficult lesson to learn. I don’t know exactly how he had learned it, but it’s one that he has lived.
The paradoxes in my father’s life…For instance, before that event, his life was spared in the course of interrogations because he has stalled and stuck to a single lie. He would have been shot on the spot had that lie not been perceived as truth, but it was.
In many ways, you can say his entire life rests on that lie. My entire life rests on his one lie. [laughs] He saw in that event a presence of God’s grace. You can see how different kinds of fissures start emerging even in these most fundamental experiences.
Saved by God through a lie that he told. Saved from rebellion in the midst of suffering rather than being taken outside of it. It’s this kind of complexity of experience that I think theology needs to thematize, needs to find space to be true to who we as human beings are.
ER: Do you mind sharing what that lie was? I don’t want to be too personal if it’s…
MV: No. It’s very simple. Toward the end of the war, he was taken by an officer to defect from the then‑regular Croatian Army and join the partisans who worked together with the Allies fighting Germans. They left from that base. That’s toward the end of the war. They were in a tram.
The Croatian secret police somehow found out about it. They were captured. Four of them were together with their officer, officer and three soldiers, were taken to be interrogated. The officer basically told them, “Tell them that you didn’t know what you were doing. You were just obeying my orders.”
For three days, without food and drink, my father was held. At night, he was interrogated. He stuck to this lie. It’s this life that was a bridge between life and the imminent threat of death and the new life. Somehow, he walked to the new life through this lie. When he thinks of it in retrospect—I’m reading some of his comments on this—he says God’s grace was there. A God of truth delivering him through a lie, that too was successfully told, that was also his experience.
ER: Stay tuned. After the break, Miroslav Volf recounts his personal experience with injustice and oppression during the Cold War, which he writes about in his award‑winning book, Exclusion and Embrace. He discusses the ways in which memory of wrongs and harms done can occupy the living rooms of our mind. Stay with us.
Hello, friends. Thanks for giving us a place at your table. It’s a gift for us to bring these conversations into your life. We hope you find them meaningful and memorable. Throughout season three of the podcast, we’ll be offering a brand‑new online course.
It’s free to all of our email newsletter subscribers and free to sign up. It’s called “Charting a Course Through Grief.” It’s all about providing much‑needed perspectives on dealing with the pain of loss.
This stuff isn’t easy to talk about, but we need to. Not far beneath the shiny facade of the smiley, “How you doing? I’m fine” version of American happiness, we all know that darkness, that loneliness, and the real pain that’s there.
This course doesn’t take the place of counseling, therapy, or healing of loving encounters with God, friends, and family, but there are words, beautiful words, and ideas and stories that provide for us companions for our journeys of grief.
It’s right in line with our goal to continue to seek Christian wisdom for life’s biggest questions. So we’ve curated an email‑based course that brings a weekly variety of perspectives on depression, disability, disease, and death, bringing Christian resources for healing and growth within and through and despite these painful events of life.
We’re developing new content, dusting off old content, as well as providing helpful resources and references for continued education and exploration. Charting a Course Through Grief is totally free. So head over to cct.biola.edu/grief. Sign up today.
We don’t see eye to eye on everything, but all of us will someday encounter deep personal suffering. Here’s an opportunity for us to learn, pray, meditate, and open up to the opportunities for growth in the face of suffering.
Check out the link and description in the show notes, or head over to our website to sign up. Again, that’s cct.biola.edu/grief. Of course, thanks for listening to The Table Audio. Now back to our conversation.
You had your own experience that marked you, also an interrogation, or really months of interrogation in 1984, which you describe. You were serving under compulsory military service to Yugoslavia. You were considered a threat. You formed a relationship. It was a negative relationship with who you called Captain G.
MV: [laughs] Yeah.
ER: Would you mind sharing a little bit about that? What I hope we can do is I’d like to ask you to relate, briefly, the story of this.
You write and you go into more detail, but I’d like to ask you to speak from that personal experience about the themes of suffering, the cross, embrace, exclusion, and memory especially, but to start here with your story again, to start with this embodied experience and then move to the theology.
MV: I was a son of my father. In the communist Yugoslavia, one knew that. One knew that my father was on the death march, that he almost lost his life. He was considered that time to be the enemy of the people.
We lived in an environment in which we were never sure whether what we said in our house was taped or not. We didn’t know whether…We suspected our rooms were bugged. We had to be very careful with what we say. We were considered to be enemies of the people.
I think that’s how my interrogations also started. I was conscripted. After I was conscripted, the room in which I was was bugged. There were pages and pages of recorded conversations that were then typed.
On the basis of these conversations and, say, my advocacy of pacifism or some other political statement that I might have said that interrogations proceeded. Again, I felt that I was unjustly treated. I felt very much like my father did when he was in death march.
Here are these people interrogating me and threatening me with years of imprisonment for absolutely no reason. You can imagine that certain forms of resentments can build. I was not a particularly good friend of my interrogator, whom I called Captain G.
I think throughout the story of my father, him being found by God in the midst of deepest suffering as an innocent man and having to deal with rage against other people and against the situation, against God, creations in a sense of the peaceful self in the midst of this horror was a foundational story of our family. I think it’s a foundational story of the Christian faith.
That’s how I’ve experienced it. For me, it was always a challenge on the one hand to honor what I was feeling, the rage that was inside against injustice, but on the other hand to honor the beauty of the Christian faith that has a particular way of dealing with these kinds of situations which is a reconciliation through embrace of the enemy.
Love of enemy is the fundamental Christian command. You take love of enemy out of Christian faith, you un‑Christian Christian. There cannot be Christian faith without love of enemy. That’s, I think, at the foundation, not as a moralizing stance but as a character of God and therefore as a demand and as an opportunity for us as human beings.
During those interrogations and after them, one of the most important tasks that I had was not just attending to my fear and survival but attending to the character and the beauty and the purity of my own soul.
Dealing with what I perceived as inadequacies in responses, understanding on the one hand myself, beating myself on the other hand, up for them struggling through to get to the point where I knew that I wanted to be.
That then entailed trying somehow to come to the point of forgiving my interrogator. I searched to find him. I failed in that search, although I’ve tried many times so I could do it in person.
When we can’t reconcile in person, we need to reconcile in our own imagination because they live in our imagination, our enemies often occupy our imagination. We can reconcile internally as a first step toward something that’s richer and deeper and more complete.
ER: You describe that experience of fear and anxiety and having undergone that kind of interrogation, not just a fear of imprisonment or the suffering itself. You describe the fear of omnipotence. This is what you say, the concept of Captain G somehow colonizing your interior life.
Elsewhere, you describe this with the metaphor of “The memory sits in the living room of our mind, in the best chair. Soon, our entire life pivots around it. You become what you have done or left undone or what other people have done to you.”
In depicting what suffering does psychologically and how the memory of that suffering is almost complicit in how that suffering affects us, what you describe, this experience of suffering, leads you to a theology of love and a theology of embrace, of union, you might say, when you think of the concept of embrace, like two people coming together.
That metaphor is rich with suggestion of union. That’s existing against the backdrop of your concept of exclusion or evil. Can you speak to the conflict that exists between embrace and exclusion?
MV: The act of exclusion or the act of violation, which is also an act of exclusion, often calls or elicits a reaction of corresponding exclusion.
ER: It’s like a spiral, a downward spiral.
MV: That’s right. As a kind of defensive mechanism. In order for us to defend ourselves from exclusion, from violation, we often incorporate the patterns of exclusionary feeling and thinking into our reaction to the exclusion, so that, so to speak, exclusion has not only had effect on us, so to speak, outwardly, but it has colonized us from within.
It has created us in its own image. It is this kind of creation of the self in the image of that which has assaulted us that to me seemed fundamental in the struggle against evil. Because I’ve already lost the struggle if I have been shaped by evil in fighting against evil.
I might overcome my enemy but at the expense of losing myself. This loss of the self or the preservation of the self as one created in the image of Christ, in the image of God, was always a fundamental concern for me.
That’s why earlier I said the theology just as it is engaging in discussion of exclusions that happen at communal, national, and global levels is at the same time theology that’s concerned about the deepest recesses of the self.
That’s because the self is both the subject of violation but also an agent of overcoming it. As an agent of overcoming it, it’s possible to be that authentically only if one hasn’t been shaped by it.
ER: Here, I’m reminded of your qualifying embrace as the will to give ourselves to others and welcome them with a simultaneous readjusting our own identities to make space and distancing ourselves from ourselves.
Is that what you’re referring to, this concept of letting go of finding our identities in the same kind of power, in the same kind of exclusion that having wrong done to us can self‑perpetuate?
MV: I think there are two aspects of this work on the self. One is the work on the self so that we do not mirror the violation that has occurred, was perpetrated against us. There’s this other work on the self. That’s the work of the self which attends living together and reconciling as we live together in the communal relationship.
You cannot think of yourself as having a self‑enclosed identity which then subsequently enters relationships. Rather you have to think of yourself as being in some sense bound, but at the same time open to the other.
Open to the other means open to interactive exchanges with the other, which change you in the process of engaging the other. I call this porous self, self that is the self, but at the same time self that always is in that dynamic relationship to another.
If once that dynamism comes to a halt, we become hardened and our identities become static, and then it’s much easier for us to enter into conflicts with other because we can’t adjust ourselves to lives, accompany them with our own lives. You have those stories among siblings, among spouses, among faculty members.
This is a story of our lives at varieties of levels. I think this kind of openness to the other, this kind of sense of sturdy self that can change and yet remain itself is what we need to nurture, which is just a different way of saying of being lovingly open to another and finding one’s identity in love toward the other.
ER: So to bring more memory into the picture, these kinds of conflicts that we’ve been talking about, they’re often fueled and sustained by the memory of wrong having been done to us. I’m mostly thinking through the lens of being a victim of violence, a victim of suffering or wrongdoing.
The kind of hardened character that you’re talking about can often occur when these conflicts stay within our memories, and these memories of past injustice or a personal suffering or even a group’s suffering that you’re very connected to.
That begins to shape us and shape our identities in a way that maybe even pulls us farther from the truth, it pulls us further from justice even though—and this is what is so tempting about exclusion and about the use of power and force in response. Instead, you suggest that we need to remember rightly.
I would love for you to give us an expression of what you think about how memory is so central and important to the concept of embrace and forgiveness.
MV: Memory is central to forgiveness because forgiveness concerns the past, and the only way in which the past is accessible to us is through memory. The way in which past bears upon our lives—there are other ways as well—but in a significant degree it bears upon us through our memory.
The way in which we remember the wrongdoing suffered will be decisive for whether we are able to forgive or whether we will seek something like revenge. I think it’s central for us then to think about what does it mean to heal our memories, and that’s what I mean by this idea of remembering rightly.
For me it means remembering truthfully. For me, it means remembering proportionately, so to speak, so that the injury doesn’t acquire disproportionate significance in our lives.
There are various elements of remembering rightly, and it’s only when we remember rightly that we can move toward reconciliation. Indeed, I would say that one of the elements of remembering rightly is to remember in reconciling kinds of ways.
Obviously, that’s been shaped by the story of Jesus Christ, by emphasis on the love of enemy, by emphasis on reconciliation and on forgiveness. It seems to me that we need to attend to the ways in which we need to remember so that reconciliation can take place. I can’t forgive what I don’t affirm as having had happened, therefore truthful remembrance of what has happened is important.
ER: People have a way of exaggerating their suffering, and that’s not to minimize the suffering that occurred, but there is that tendency, you would point out.
MV: There is a tendency to exaggerate suffering. There is a tendency to being completely absorbed by suffering, to think that the entirety of the identity of the perpetrator consists in having inflicted suffering on you, that the entirety of your own identity consists in having suffered that injury.
Almost the two have been merged into this definition of each is in such a way shaped by the conflict that they are in the lock and they cannot be pried apart. That’s why we need, I believe, to carefully attend to how we remember and do so in reconciling ways. I try to develop in the book four or five steps and elements of such remembering.
ER: For you the Cross is so central to your theology of suffering and this concept of embrace. It’s truly a central theme in how you formulate this understanding. Here you talk about the solidarity. You’re following your teacher, Jürgen Moltmann.
The solidarity of Jesus for victims but also atonement for perpetrators, so that on the Cross Jesus is embracing both his friends, that is the weak and the oppressed and the marginalized and the victim, but also embracing their enemies or his enemies, those who are set against him.
MV: There are these two very significant elements in the theology of the Cross. Sometimes they seem to be in tension with one another, but certainly Christ…
And you can see throughout the history, the afflicted has found solace in the sufferings of Jesus Christ and they were the sign of hope for them especially as the Cross in Christ’s case leads to Resurrection at the same time that Christ dies for the ungodly.
So that it speaks both to the perpetrators and to victims, and precisely by doing so creates a communion, or it creates at least potential of a communion between perpetrators and victims.
ER: Really, it’s not the danger that’s associated with this kind of solidarity or self‑identification or the giving of self that is required with embrace. It’s the abandonment.
You talk about how the suffering can be endured or even embraced if it brings fruit, but with abandonment and with the idea that the suffering might be for naught, that it might be in vain, that’s what we really fear.
I wonder if you might talk about this worry that this approach to suffering of dealing with personal pain and violence and wrongdoing done to us that it might be in vain. How do we live with that scandal?
MV: It’s always a temptation for one who is experiencing suffering either to understand oneself as abandoned by God in that suffering or to notch it up, so to speak, and rebel against God and abandon God who, according to his or her experience, has abandoned that person.
That’s a struggle through which every person who thoughtfully goes through suffering, that’s a struggle in which he or she engages. You see it on the Cross of Christ as well. I think that’s why it’s also important for us to affirm the reality of Resurrection in the context of the experience of suffering.
It’s at the time where you do not see that Sundays are coming, that Resurrection needs to be affirmed in hope. I believe that Cross, proclamation of the Cross, and Resurrection and Easter Day really belong together.
If you sever them, the Cross becomes a disappointing act, becomes a venture into darkness where you might actually end up being swallowed up by the darkness. It’s on the count of the Resurrection that comes that the road to the Cross and through the Cross can be traveled.
ER: But to live on Saturday, so to speak, that’s walking a very fine line. It could be so difficult.
MV: There is no intellectually compelling answer to the experience of living either on Friday or on Saturday. We have to live it through, [laughs] and it’s only at the end of our lives and of the history that the story can be told in such a way that the suffering has not been fully senseless.
I believe that that’s part of Christian faith and Christian hope, Christian living with non‑understanding in the midst of suffering in which one finds oneself, in the hope that despite my non‑understanding, God is present and will lead me through the suffering to Resurrection.
ER: That’s beautiful. Miroslav, thank you so much for your time. This has been so rich, and I appreciate you sharing your story and your thoughts with us.
MV: Very good to talk to you.
ER: Thanks for listening, my good friends. More conversations from The Table Audio coming soon, and may thunderclaps emphatically punctuate all of your best conversational points. Till next time.
[music and lyrics]
Open up our eyes
To see the wounds that bind
All of humankind.
May our shattered hearts
Greet the dawn of life with charity and love.
When I look into…
[background music and lyrics]
ER: The Table Audio is hosted and produced by me, Evan Rosa, and is a resource of the Biola University Center for Christian Thought, which is sponsored by generous grants from the John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, and The Blankemeyer Foundation.
Theme music is by The Brilliance. Production and engineering by the Narrativo Group. More at narrativogroup.com. Edited and mixed by TJ Hester.
To subscribe to The Table Audio check us out on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Google Play, wherever you listen to podcasts. If you like this episode, please share it. You might be thinking, “Huh, I wonder if he’s just saying that.” Well, I’m not. Would you, could you, should you, email it to a friend or post it online today.
On Twitter you can follow me @EvanSubRosa, and you can follow the Center for Christian thought @BIOLACCT or visit our website cct.biola.edu
[music and lyrics]
I see my brother
I see my brother.
[end of prerecorded material]