Tag Archives | forgiveness

Sin is an Adverb | Abraham J. Heschel

Abraham J. HeschelTo the prophets, sin is not an ultimate, irreducible or independent condition, but rather a disturbance in the relationship between God and man; it is an adverb not a noun, a condition that can be surmounted by man’s return and God’s forgiveness.

—Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 295.

Exclusion and Embrace | Miroslav Volf

The cover of Volf's Exclusion and EmbraceThen Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. (Luke 23:34 NRSV)

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.

To Whom Should We Confess? | John Calvin

Since it is the Lord who forgives, forgets, and wipes out sins, let us confess our sins to him in order to obtain pardon. He is the physician; therefore, let us lay bare our wounds to him. It is he who is hurt and offended; from him let us seek peace. He is the discerner of hearts, the one cognizant of all thoughts; let us hasten to pour out our hearts before him. He it is, finally, who calls sinners: let us not delay to come to God himself.

—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.iv.9.

Peace Be With You | David Carlson

In the wake of 9/11, David Carlson sought answers. He knew “something was missing” in our response to the tragedy, but he wasn’t quite sure what. This question led him to monasteries and retreat centres across America where he interviewed 30+ contemplatives. This book promises to deliver that “monastic wisdom for a terror-filled world”.

I’ll start with the good. As  you might suspect, the contemplative community views the American response to 9/11 as completely un-Christian. Indeed, our vengeful retaliation is an act more in line with the Islamic terrorists than the spirit of Christ. Carlson gave a central position in his book to the writings of the late Thomas Merton, especially his Fourth and Walnut epiphany. It was then Merton realized that humanity was one and that because of incarnation, we can never view another human as, well, other.

His closing insight was to compare 9/11 to Golgotha. If God had responded towards humanity the way America responded towards Pakistan and (later) Iraq, we wouldn’t be around. That’s a comparison worth meditating on.

While the message is important, I was frustrated by the way Carlson shared it. Instead of letting the monastic wisdom of those 30+ interviews shine, he couched their insight in paragraphs of introspection. Here’s an example:

I will never forget that precise moment as we sat across from one another, when an insight that had been lurking in the wings of my consciousness finally became clear. That insight would have meant nothing without the interviews that had come before. But that insight, now dawning, seemed to complete my journey. (244)

Use the preceding paragraph as a litmus test. If you are intrigued by his journey, buy the book. If, like me, you found it tiresome and wished he’d just get to the aforementioned insight, you might want to take a pass.

This book is more memoir than journalism.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free as a member of Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program.

Bless the Lord: Sermons on Psalm 103

This year I’ve been trying memorize some of the Psalms. I’ve been amazed by the depth of meaning that surfaces once they’re committed to memory. Psalm 103 is one of those Psalms. Our church spent four Sundays delving the riches of the famous call to, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

As usual, you can find download links to these messages on the Sermons page. Detailed write-ups are over at my church’s website.

  1. Membership has its privileges: Psalm 103:1-5 (June 26, 2011)

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  2. Deeply Forgiven: Psalm 103:6-14 (July 10, 2011)

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  3. Two Uncomfortable Truths: Psalm 103:15-18 (July 24, 2011)

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  4. God’s Throne: Psalm 103:19-22 (July 31, 2011)
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