This Lent I have undertaken to reread Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace and am brought to a most thrilling, most uncomfortable, and most necessary place. I am reminded of the utmost of love – a love that demands relationship with, to, for, and towards the complete other.
In short, Volf maintains that living as a follower of Christ requires us to be willing to embrace those who are other. We must not, in other words, cut ourselves off from the possibility of relationships with others, no matter how unjust, evil, corrupt, or wounding they have been. What passes as “peace” in our world is most often not true embrace – that complete wrapping up of the other by which relationships are made, restored, and enlivened. Instead, most often what we call “peace” or what we consider to be a restored relationship is actually an exclusion – you live over there and I will live over here. Most often, we do not see the hope for real relationship – an impossibility because of the evil that has gone between us.
Volf reminds us, however, that “God does not abandon the Godless to their evil but gives the divine self for them in order to receive them into divine communion.” Moreover, there exists an essential “non-innocence of us all,” even while we maintain the righteousness of our side and unrighteousness of their side.
Volf gives this summation (which we would all do well to heed):
The question is how to live with integrity and bring healing to a world of inescapable non-innocence 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 non-innocence, 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.Miroslav Volff, Exclusion and Embrace, 84-85
We, the other – the sinful other – are embraced by the divine persons who love us with the same love with which they love each other. Wow, think of that! The divine persons make space for us within their own eternal embrace. I love that! It made me think about the arms-wide-open embrace of Christ on the cross. I hate the violence of the crucifixion story yet in it Jesus embraces all of creation and asks me to the same without reserve. That level of self-giving is the risky and hard work of love. Amen.