We all know that we should forgive each other. We even know how often—seventy times seven (i.e. unending forgiveness). The problem comes not with the knowing, but with the doing.
Miroslav Volf hit this crisis between knowing and doing after at the end of a lecture when Jürgen Moltmann stood and asked, “But can you embrace a cětnik” (9)? These Serbian fighters had been terrorizing and destroying Croatia, Volf’s country. He was torn between “the blood of the innocent crying out to God and by the blood of God’s Lamb offered for the guilty” (9). This question drove him to research and write Exclusion and Embrace.
Exclusion and Embrace is the best book on forgiveness that exists. Period. Volf used the image of the crucified God, arms outstretched with side pierced, to show how those who are offended can make space within themselves to embrace the other. This does not mean that the embraced are exonerated—they can be embraced “even when they are perceived as wrongdoers” (85). This, of course, is precisely how Jesus receives us.
Although written in 1996, this book feels tailored for today. In our culture of “truthiness,” Volf writes of “Deception and Truth.” As geopolitical tensions flair, Volf writes of “Oppression and Justice,” “Violence and Peace.” Even gender identity receives a chapter. It is stunning to see just how broad the theme of forgiveness reaches.
Every paragraph of Exclusion and Embrace is rich. Volf’s writing is a dense and insightful mixture of philosophical acuity, psychological wisdom, and theological insight. Our world needs this book more now than ever.
Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996.