Giving and especially Forgiving, has been talked about for many years. Even Shakespeare was involved, with one of his most famous lines from the play Merchant of Venice being “The quality of mercy is not strain’d;/ it droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven” But what is the Christian idea of this “mercy” (forgiveness) that Shakespeare talks about? In fact, in one of my book reviews Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, I even advocated something that seemed to ignore the giving of forgiveness altogether. This is where Miroslav Volf’s book Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a culture stripped of Grace comes in handy.
The first part of the book deals with the idea of giving in three chapters, looking as “God the Giver”; “How Should We Give?” and “How Can We Give?”. Professor Volf elegantly and clearly explains why as Christians, we should give. It’s because God is Love, and in His Love, he gives us everything we have, even our lives, and we as Christians should be a conduit to others as givers. One interesting point he made was that as fallen humans, it’s impossible to give like God, he says:
“These commands call us to be similar to, not identical with God. We are not divine and cannot give exactly the way God does. But we can and should give similarly to how God gives.”
[The commandments he talks about are from Ephesians 5:1-2]
The second half of the book deals with Forgiveness, similarly in three parts examining “God the Forgiver”; “How Should We Forgive?” and “How Can We Forgive?”. However, I felt this part was theologically trickier to understand. I feel that Professor Volf, in his attempt to make the nature of Forgiveness clear to the average reader, inadvertently makes it harder to understand. He preaches Indiscriminate Forgiveness, drawing on his own life experiences to exhort others to “Forgive and Forget”.
However, he seems to have left out how we should relate Forgiveness to the Law of our land entirely. After talking things through with my uncle, I managed to see how they were connected. Because forgiveness requires both parties to be involved, as victim offers forgiveness while the wrongdoer has to repent and accept forgiveness. If the wrongdoer refuses to admit his sin, he has refused forgiveness and is not forgiven. To cite the example of the book Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, if Sylvia, by the grace of God, manages to somehow forgive Tony and approach him over his past actions, but he refuses to admit his wrong, then even though she has forgiven him, she should follow the law and turn him in, in order to prevent him for harming others. In this way, she does not act out of revenge, but out of love for others. If he does acknowledge his sin, then restitution is the natural consequence of forgiveness. Tony would want to take responsibility (even legal responsibility) for his actions, and Sylvia would plead for leniency on his behalf, having forgiven him. In the end, our duty to the law of the land, and our duty to Christdom does not conflict.
The book itself is immensely readable. Apart from referencing many philosophers and authors (some old, some contemporary), Professor Volf weaves in popular culture, especially when showing how modern culture is stripped of Grace (using items such as Grand Theft Auto as examples). This made the book very relatable to me, as I’m sure it will be to you too.
In conclusion, I strongly encourage everyone to read this book. Giving and Forgiving are things we often overlook as ‘ordinary’ but are really hard truths that we need to deeply reflect on. However, I would advise turning to a more mature Christian if you encounter any confusion while reading this book, as a wrong understanding could result in a mis-reading of the Bible.
Published on 6 October, 2011. Last updated on