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Chapter 1: The Cost of Forgiveness

1). Key Ideas:

-True forgiveness or grace is costly: it requires a changed heart, one that is committed to an actual change in life (Jones, 1995, p. 5).

-Cheapened forgiveness, on the other hand, is superficial and ‘therapeutic’: it focuses on ameliorating guilt rather than addressing the root causes of damaging, hurtful behaviors (p. 6).

-Reclaiming a biblical view of true forgiveness and grace was Bonhoeffer’s life’s work: he opposed the prevalence of “cheap grace” and the way in which it had hindered German Christians from providing an effective voice against Hitler (pp. 9-14).

2). Meaningful Quotes:

“That is, forgiveness is at once an expression of a commitment to a way of life, the cruciform life of holiness in which people cast off their ‘old’ selves and learn to live in communion with God and with one another, and a means of seeking reconciliation in the midst of particular sins, specific instances of brokenness” (Jones, 1995, p. 5).

“Cheap grace denies any real need for deliverance from sin since it justifies the sin instead of the sinner. As such, cheap grace offers consolation without any change of life, without any sense of either dying or rising in Christ” (p. 13).

“For Bonhoeffer, there is no real grace without judgment. Sin cannot be overlooked or forgotten; it must be confronted and judged in the context of forgiveness” (p. 14).

“The loss of confession as a genuinely Christian practice, patterned in the cross of Christ, had thus created a vacuum that either denied the costliness of forgiveness or evaded it through other forms of death-dealing godlessness” (p. 17).

3). Personal Reflections: Forgiveness is costly. That was the main take-away for me from this chapter: forgiveness, true forgiveness, involves a costly grace (Jones, 1995, p. 5). Forgiveness is costly for God, because it entailed Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and forgiveness is costly for us, because it requires us to live transformed lives in the model of the cross (pp. 5-6). The purpose of this forgiveness is the restoration of community, both between all of humanity and God, and between individual people: it aims to create or restore communion (p. 5). This is the form of forgiveness that Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached and lived: costly forgiveness, forgiveness that involves a truly changed heart, as seen in a changed life (pp. 5-7).

Bonhoeffer contrasted true forgiveness, true grace, with ‘cheap’ grace: where the one requires a costly commitment to following Christ in dying to one’s self and rising to live anew in Him, the other requires only that the sinner’s guilt be assuaged, without any real commitment to a changed life (Jones, 1995, pp. 13-14). This is why cheap grace effectively “justifies the sin instead of the sinner”: the sinner may feel that their emotional needs for reassurance and comfort have been met, but this is a profoundly dangerous and pernicious distortion of the gospel of the cross of Christ (p. 13). Bonhoeffer saw this cheap grace at the root of the German believers’ general inability to provide any effective, united voice against Adolf Hitler: by forgetting the true cost of forgiveness, the German church had failed in her calling to be the body of Christ, united and transformed in Him (pp. 12-14). By substituting true forgiveness and its tremendous costs for the emotional panacea of ‘cheap grace’, the German churches lost their ability to see the menace of Nazism for what it was, and to confront and reject it in the name of Christ.

This is why Bonhoeffer believed that judgment was necessary for forgiveness (Jones, 1995, p. 14). Without the judgment of God, how could believers recognize their own need to be saved from their sins? Here Bonhoeffer was careful to distinguish between Christ’s judgment of sins, which calls all of humanity to repent and partake of His merciful forgiveness, and our own human judgments, which are inextricably mired in our own sinful condition (p. 15). Here, too, Bonhoeffer believed that the church had erred profoundly in abandoning confession, and substituting the psychotherapeutic model of ‘cheap grace’ (p. 17). In the absence of confession, motivated by a right understanding of God’s judgment of sins and costly forgiveness through the blood of Christ, the church had gone astray and chased after the ersatz comforts of cheap grace (p. 17). The only way forward, Bonhoeffer saw, was a commitment to a reclaimed vision of confession and costly forgiveness, in the name of Christ (p. 19).

4). Discussion Guide Questions:

-Is Bonhoeffer right to emphasize God’s judgment, particularly with regard to Romans 5:17 and 8:1-4? If Bonhoeffer is correct, how best to read these passages?

-What are some examples of cheap grace, in the church and in popular culture?

Chapter 2: Therapeutic Forgiveness

1). Key Ideas:

-A ‘therapeutic’ model of forgiveness has infested the church as well as society more generally (Jones, 1995, pp. 37-38).

-Part of the problem is the increasingly individualized outlook of Western culture and the church, which has relegated forgiveness to a much more private and personal context (pp. 37-38).

-The therapeutic mode of ‘forgiveness’ is focused on the self: personal feelings of victimization, anger, grief, and hurt (pp. 44-48).

-This self-absorbed fixation with grievances over wrongs suffered benumbs our ability to feel genuine compassion, which is replaced with a cult of victimhood as a means of obtaining attention and pity (pp. 45-46).

-This is why judgment is important: judgment allows us to see ourselves and others, faults and all, and to experience the revelation of the grace of God (pp. 53-57).

2). Meaningful Quotes:

“If all that ultimately matters is individual autonomy, then forgiveness and reconciliation—which are designed to foster and maintain community—are of little importance” (Jones, 1995, p. 37).

“Regrettably, such therapeutic notions may have arisen at least partly because of the lack of substantive Christian communities marked by forgiving love.” (p. 44).

“It is society, or my parents, or my disease, or all three, and more, that are responsible for the way I am; so I am encouraged to abdicate responsibility for my own actions. This emoting and ‘passing the buck’ also trivializes important issues…” (p. 45).

“This numbing of our capacity for compassion is increasingly addressed by a discourse of victimization. If any person can claim the status of a victim, then that person has recourse to people’s attention regardless of how numb they are” (pp. 45-46).

3). Personal Reflections: The seduction of the therapeutic model of forgiveness is cheap grace: what matters is not a redressing of wrongs, a sincere commitment to change, and restored communion, but rather a private and purely individual sense of emotional assuagement (Jones, 1995, pp. 36-38). The triumph of the therapeutic is seen, sadly, both in contemporary society generally and in the Church. In both contexts it represents the triumph of an ethos that prizes individual autonomy at the expense of community, and instant gratification and self-absorbed fixation at the expense of individual and communal responsibility and commitment (pp. 38-40). The therapeutic and the bureaucratic elements of contemporary culture have produced, in Jones’s words, “the privatization of forgiveness, specifically by producing pale imitations of Christian notions of community, of sin, and of compassion” (p. 40).

A serious consequence of the triumph of the therapeutic in contemporary society is a fixation on “actions, attitudes, and feelings” without a proper focus on how to affect community through reconciliation and healing from wrongs suffered (Jones, 1995, p. 42). There is a great irony here, in that even as Christian practices such as forgiveness have become privatized, therapeutic conceptions, such as the sharing of personal stories and grievances suffered, have become publicized (pp. 42-43). This creates a faux-community, a sort of cheap community based on cheap grace, in place of authentic community based on costly, true forgiveness (p. 44).

Worse, this sort of thing has pervaded Christian culture, with the lamentable result that now many Bible study groups have been reduced to self-absorbed social circles, wherein the participants take it in turns to air their grievances and emote (Jones, 1995, p. 45). This focus on grievances has come at the expense of a proper sense of responsibility for one’s own actions, even as it has trivialized many important personal and social issues by making it nearly impossible “to distinguish the inconsequential from the serious” (p. 45). The result has been a numbing of the ability to feel compassion, and a fixation on a cult of victimhood, whereby the victim is elevated to the status of one who can exercise a claim on our compassion, no matter how benumbed we are (pp. 45-46). Lewis Smedes’s popular Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve is a case in point of the triumph of this sort of thinking in the Church, with its focus on letting go of wrongs suffered at the hands of generally well-intentioned but “’weak, needy, and fallible’” others (pp. 49-51). This simplistic and shallow portrayal comes at the expense of bastardizing a great deal of Christian teaching about sin, notably our own, and  the costs of reconciliation (pp. 51-52).

4). Discussion Guide Questions:

-What experiences have you had with our culture’s emphasis on victimhood?

-Do you agree with Jones’s contention that the discourse of victimization is used to abdicate responsibility, purchase pity, and “gain cultural and ecclesial power”, all without effectively addressing valid social and personal issues and injustices? Why or why not? (p. 46).

Chapter 3: Forgiveness Eclipsed

1). Key Ideas:

-Sin is a self-reinforcing cycle, a habit that is reinforced every time it is engaged in (Jones, 1995, p. 72).

-In particular, violence often seems to be inevitable and all-powerful: is it not the case, the argument goes, that the only way to meet violence is with more violence? (pp. 72-74).

-Violence can be rejected and unlearned: counter to Nietzsche’s charge that Christianity promotes weakness, Christian doctrine and the example of Christ point towards a way in which violence can be deprived of its power through non-violence (pp. 79-83).

2). Meaningful Quotes:

“The pervasiveness of sin and evil is such that we are compelled, over and over again, to wonder whether the darkness has indeed eclipsed the light” (Jones, 1995, p. 72).

“Violence seems inescapable because of the personal, social, and political conditions iwn hich people are forced to live” (p. 83).

“Yet violence only seems inescapable, because Gutiérrez, and countless others like him, continue to cling to the hope found in the story of the Triune God whose Creation comes by way of a peaceable gift, whose redemption through costly forgiveness inaugurates God’s peaceable Kingdom, and whose promised consummation of that Kingdom sustains people in the midst of both joys and griefs, loves and losses” (p. 83).

3). Personal Reflections: In this chapter, Jones opens by reflecting on what all honest Christians already know at some level: sin is a self-reinforcing habit. One of the more terrible ramifications of this is to be seen in the many specters of violence and inhumanity in our fallen world. I too have often felt the very sentiments which Jones discusses: feelings of despair at the sheer darkness in this world, the amount of evil and inhumanity. Jones’s discussion of how the 1992 Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven deals with the cycle of violence is particularly apt: violence is self-reinforcing and an easy habit to fall into or re-learn, true, but it can also be unlearned (1995, p. 76). We do not have to be violent, or to meet violence with counter-violence: it is possible to find another way, a way that encourages our capacity for goodness (p. 76).

One of the more famous critiques of the teachings of Christianity in this regard was that made by Nietzsche. Nietzsche held, in essence, that Christianity promotes weakness and pity, and as such undermines the strength and will that the individual needs to cultivate in order to become truly heroic and excellent (Jones, 1995, p. 79). However, there is an alternative: the true revelation of the Triune God and His gifts of salvation and life to all of humanity (pp. 84-85). For Christians, the challenge is to communicate this to the world: yes, there is a very great deal of darkness and evil in the world, and as Christians we need to recognize this too, but we are called by God to bring the light into the darkness! (pp. 88-89). Reading this passage gave me a tremendous sense of hope and excitement, because it made me realize anew how much hope God offers us in Christ Jesus. For all that the darkness of human sin and the violence it begets pervades the world, the light of the blood-bought gifts of God is so much stronger to overpower it and transform the world!

Easily the most moving part of the chapter was Jones’s recounting of the novel Orbit of Darkness. This account, of the Catholic priest Maximilian Kolbe and his tremendous self-sacrifice, was so moving that it took me two attempts to finish it. The story of this priest in Auschwitz, who volunteered to take the place of a Jewish prisoner who had been chosen to die, is a story of tremendous moral courage and divine light. It is, as Jones explains, an exemplar of how to defeat violence and darkness with the power of God’s grace and forgiveness. It is not easy: indeed, the priest starved to death. This is the true cost of forgiveness, of reconciliation, but it carries with it the power to defeat violence and darkness, to break even the power of the most oppressive of totalitarian regimes.

4). Discussion Guide Questions:

-What are some examples of the power of forgiveness in the world around us? The news is always obsessed with violence and pain. What about healing and reconciliation?

-The effects of violence and darkness are everywhere. How can we, as Christians, confront them in our day-to-day lives? Granted we’re not living under the Nazis, but isn’t that all the more reason to try to make a difference?

Chapter 4: Characterizing the God Who Forgives

1). Key Ideas:

-The Christian understanding of God’s forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice conflicts with Jewish ideas about forgiveness, which do not include the idea of vicarious redemption or atonement through substitution (Jones, 1995, p. 104).

-However, Jewish ideas of forgiveness do include an emphasis on God’s desire for reconciliation in a covenantal framework (p. 107).

-God models harmonious covenant and communion in the Trinity, inasmuch as the three Persons exist in such a perfect relationship to each other (p. 113).

-Repentance is necessary for forgiveness: one must acknowledge forgiveness through penitence, through sincere contrition and a commitment to a changed life (p. 121).

2). Meaningful Quotes:

“God is filled with fierce and righteous anger; but it is the anger of a parent struggling over her wayward child” (Jones, 1995, p. 107).

“The God who created and called Israel remains the God who seeks a reconciling, covenantal relation with God’s people” (p. 107).

“Indeed, the attempt to divide the world into tidy categories of oppressor and oppressed or victimizer and victim oversimplifies the more complex realities of histories and habits of sin and evil” (p. 116).

“That is to say, in the incarnation Christ becomes vulnerable to the world of human beings” (p. 120).

3). Personal Reflections: Jones’s discussion of Jewish and Christian notions of forgiveness was particularly interesting: I was quite taken by the Jewish critique of the Gospel on the grounds that “No one, not even God, can substitute himself for the victim” (Jones, 1995, p. 104). These differences were very illuminating, but I was especially impressed by the way that Jones effectively answered them, showing that there are important similarities between Jewish and Christian understandings of forgiveness, and that the Gospel can indeed be seen as the fulfillment of Jewish hopes for “a messianic forgiveness” (pp. 107-109). Moreover, what Christ offered was a more powerful form of forgiveness: the true measure of God’s forgiveness, and as such the model for us all to follow (pp. 109-110).

Jones (1995) also touched on the theme of the last chapter, namely the cycles of violence and counter-violence, but then moved on to discuss other ways in which people err (pp. 115-116). In particular, one that struck me was the observation that some people become immured in their own sense of culpability and guilt for their own sins, their own contributions to the tragedy of this world (pp. 115-116). I’ve certainly felt like that on a number of occasions, so reading this really spoke to me. Something about the way in which Jones dissects some of these behaviors and responses is very helpful, I’ve found, with regards to my ability to see through some of these pitfalls in my thinking and my spiritual life. The world is more complicated than categories of innocent victim and evil oppressor, Jones tells us, and it is a sobering truth that we must learn to accept (p. 116).

On the other hand, I thought Jones’s reflections on the nature of God’s grace through Christ were very apt and very hopeful. Through the act of kenosis, self-emptying, Christ became human in accordance with the will of the Father (Jones, 1995, pp. 119-120). Jones’s point about how Christ absorbed human evil, especially destructiveness, without passing it on, was another great insight, one that points me towards the calling of the cross (p. 122). Although Jones has emphasized the importance of judgment and the costs of forgiveness, he also explains that from that judgment comes grace, the grace of God through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross (p. 124).     

4). Discussion Guide Questions:

-How can we embody costly forgiveness while, at the same time, not weigh ourselves down with too much guilt and shame?

-If we all contribute to evil in our treatment of each other, how to better counteract that with the grace and mercy of God, a grace and mercy that comes through judgment?

Chapter 5: Forgiveness, Repentance, and the Judgment of Grace

1). Key Ideas:

-Grace is necessary for judgment, if judgment is to be effective in breaking cycles of violence (Jones, 1995, p. 136).

-If forgiveness is not lived out in the world, in relationships between people, then it cannot make a real difference in people’s lives (p. 143).

-Our repentance is by the grace of God, and should be motivated by His forgiveness of our sins (p. 144).

-Forgiveness is a judgment on sin, but it is a judgment that sets us free (p. 146).

2). Meaningful Quotes:

“That light signifies the Holy Spirit’s illumination of both Christ’s life and our lives, a light that enables us to see Christ’s judgment not as condemnation but as grace” (Jones, 1995, p. 144).

“God’s forgiveness does not come apart from an acknowledgment of, and confrontation with, human sin and evil” (p. 146).

“However, God’s confrontation with sin and evil is not for the purpose of condemning us. Indeed, it is for the explicit purpose of forgiving us and healing our—and the world’s—wounds (see John 3:16-21)” (p. 146).

3). Personal Reflections: In my earlier days as a Christian, I think I tended to conceptualize forgiveness as something that I solicited from God, with bowed head and a moment or two of quiet prayer. What mattered was that I felt sorry for whatever I had done, and that I did want to do better. And generally this lasted for a while, until I lapsed into that sin again. To be sure, God has worked on me a great deal since then, but it was still very much an epiphany to read Jones’s (1995) argument that forgiveness needs to be acted out, needs to be actualized in the ways that we treat one another, for it to have real, transformative power (p. 143). This is, fundamentally, what forgiveness is for. And here, too, I note another significant point of difference with my own former thinking as a younger Christian, in that Jones’s portrayal is far more communal with respect to the body of Christ, whilst my own understanding as a younger Christian was a more privatized, individualized one.

And then there was the discussion of the relationship between grace and judgment, which I found simply spell-binding. Here too I think God has been working on me a great deal, helping me to see through some of my less accurate and frankly, less mature understandings of His judgment, but the idea that grace is itself a judgment on sin really took me by surprise. Honestly, this is not usually the way I have seen these topics handled, but it made so much sense to me that I actually found it a breath of fresh air. In essence, God’s judgment is grace, and the point that Jones makes here is that it is grace rather than condemnation (1995, p. 144).

Because of this, we can then turn to God and repent, not because we are condemned or out of any kind of self-loathing at His righteous judgment, but rather because that judgment comes in the form of grace (Jones, 1995, p. 144). God judges us to save us by His grace: to transform us, not to grind us down (p. 146). This was an important lesson for me to read over again, precisely because I have been exposed to Christians who stressed God’s judgment in a fashion that portrayed Him as a wrathful, almost tyrannical God. Reading Jones, I better appreciate that God’s anger is towards our sin, and He judges us because He loves us and desires to save us.

Of course, so much of this is, or ought rightly to be, basic Christian teaching. But throughout my Christian walk, I have been repeatedly amazed at how I so often need to go back and re-learn something that I have already learned. I think we cannot be reminded too much of God’s love, and the judgment of grace that it motivates—and how we should respond with transformed lives. We need to embody forgiveness in our daily lives: like the woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and the costly ointment, we need to show our gratitude to God in how we live, and particularly with regard to how we treat others (Jones, 1995, pp. 160-161). I say this, and I hasten to humbly add that I am no paragon, inasmuch as these are issues I struggle with continually. I am, in the end, like all of us a sinner called to embody the grace of God by which we are saved.

4). Discussion Guide Questions:

-If God’s grace is judgment on our sins, then how does this change how we think about judgment and grace? Should it change how we think about judgment and grace? In particular, it seems as if Jones is saying that God’s judgment is for us, since it comes in the form of grace. Discuss!

-If God’s forgiveness enables our repentance, then what are the ramifications for how we understand both of these things?

Chapter 6: Practicing Forgiveness

1). Key Ideas:

-Forgiveness is a practice, and like all practices it must be perfected and cultivated until it becomes a habit (pp. 164-165).

-Baptism is a symbol of the deeper reality of our changed identities in Christ; it must also be lived out as an ongoing process (p. 173).

-Through God’s forgiveness, we can live out our baptism, through lives transformed by holiness (p. 184).

2). Meaningful Quotes:

“The practice of forgiveness entails unlearning all those things that divide and destroy communion and learning to see and live as forgiven and forgiving people” (Jones, 1995, p. 164).

“In baptism, then, we receive a new life in the Spirit, a new self, that is found and lived most definitively in the context of Christian community” (Jones, 1995, p. 167).

“The forgiveness signified by baptism thus creates a new context and capacity for community” (p. 175).

“The grace of God’s forgiveness makes possible new and renewed lives of holiness. Such is the process of living into our baptism, of living into our vocation as eucharistic people” (p. 184).

3). Personal Reflections: As a practice, as a skill or capacity, forgiveness must be cultivated. This is one of the biggest insights that I got from this chapter. Forgiveness is like any other skill in this regard: it is not simply a state of mind or a feeling, a few words passed between people, but rather a changed state, and making that change requires practice. In other words, it requires action, and it requires dedication and commitment: one cannot simply become good at forgiveness all at once, without due effort.

Forgiveness, when cultivated, takes the form of habits that break the cycle of sin, violence, and darkness (Jones, 1995, pp. 164-166). Baptism, similarly, is something that must be repeatedly engaged in: it is not “just” a sign of one’s commitment to Christ through one specific action, it is also something that must be lived out on a continual basis (p. 166). To do this is to live a life defined by God’s forgiveness and God’s grace, rather than a life imprisoned to sin. In other words, baptism consists of Spirit-transformed lives, and it requires that we live out those lives through the grace of God (p. 167). It is not simply a feather in the proverbial cap, a marker of status, a spiritual merit badge: instead, it is a process of living in communion with God and with other people (pp. 167-168).

Fundamentally, the realization that needs to guide us is that we are new creatures in Christ (Jones, 1995, p. 171). Jones gave the example of the very moving narrative of Old Elizabeth, an enslaved African-American born in 1766: the dehumanizing brutality of slavery denied her identity and separated her from her parents at the age of ten, but she found a new source of identity in Christ (pp. 169-171). The forgiveness and the sense of a new identity that she found through the saving and transforming power of Christ changed her life, giving her a new purpose as a prophetess with “a mission to call people to repentance” (p. 171). Elizabeth’s story is deeply moving, but what should not be missed is the aspect of her message that stands as a prophetic judgment on the Church: the Church must learn to see others through the eyes that God would have for us, eyes that do not deny others their identity but rather confirm it (p. 172). We need to continually practice seeing others as God sees them: as sinful but precious creations in need of His saving judgment of grace.

What we have to learn, through baptism and the Eucharist, is how to un-learn our old selves and re-learn new ones (Jones, 1995, p. 173). I thought this was a very profound point on Jones’s part here. This is why confession is needed: through confession, we “are capable of appropriating God’s forgiveness into our lives as forgiven and forgiving people” (p. 184). And confession consists not only of contrition regarding one’s sins, though of course this is a major part of it, but also in praise of God for what He has done for us. Again, forgiveness is a skill which must be practiced, and it must be practiced by doing it on behalf of others, forgiving them at need, and asking them to do the same on our behalf, when we are in need of their forgiveness. By so doing, we are changed and transformed by the power of God—not through words and prayers, though these are important too, but rather through an active process of ongoing reconciliation and community. Jones’s perspective on these issues has definitely changed my own thinking, and the ways in which I plan to engage with forgiveness, with reconciliation with God and with other people.

4). Discussion Guide Questions:

-What are some ways in which we, as Christians, can claim our baptism by living holy and transformed lives?

-Jones argues that confession should be seen not only as a means of repenting of sin, but also of praising God and expressing faith. Do you agree or disagree? What ramifications would this have for our engagement with confession and repentance?

Chapter 7: The Craft of Forgiveness

1). Key Ideas:

-One key problem in contemporary society is the grounding of ideas of forgiveness in philosophical ideas, without the necessary theological foundation (Jones, 1995, p. 210).

-But forgiveness is not simply about absolving guilt: rather, it is a process that must be based on our moral histories and standing (p. 213).

-The work of the Spirit is the restoration of communion between people, and with God, and with all of creation (p. 219).

-As such, forgiveness is a craft requiring practice (pp. 225-227).

2). Meaningful Quotes:

“By contrast, the Christian account I have been developing insists that our own moral histories are precisely what are at issue, because forgiveness is based on the reconciliation and healing of our broken pasts, not simply the absolution of guilt” (p. 213).

“The Holy Spirit is at work both in the Church and in the world, engaging in the work of re-creation” (p. 219).

“The craft of forgiveness is a lifelong learning process that people are initiated into as apprentices to those who excel at the craft” (p. 226).

“Similarly, in situations where there are persons or groups of people who are clearly responsible, Christians must discern how to embody the craft of forgiveness in diverse ways” (p. 231).

3). Personal Reflections: As a process, forgiveness is not simply a philosophy or a moral idea, as it has so often been made out to be in today’s post-Enlightenment, liberal culture. This is one of Jones’s biggest themes in this chapter, and as usual I found the material stimulating, engaging, and exciting. Jones contends that modern notions of forgiveness have effectively denatured it, stripping it from its proper theological underpinnings (1995, p. 211). Without this supporting theological foundation, forgiveness is diminished to the point of being ineffective and misrepresented: for the Christian, forgiveness is a process that must be carried out and engaged with, following the model set by Jesus Christ (pp. 211-213).

This idea of forgiveness as a craft is that forgiveness must be worked upon: one must practice the craft in order to get good at it, and by so doing one can truly experience the depth of forgiveness and its transforming power (Jones, 1995, pp. 213-214). In order for this to work, though, our moral histories have to be taken into account, thus Jones’s emphasis on theology: without a proper reckoning of the theological basis of forgiveness, the Christian has no foundation and does not properly understand God’s designs for the craft (pp. 213-215). Yes, philosophical and metaphysical speculations are interesting and even topical for the insights that they can potentially provide, but by themselves they neither constitute nor adequately describe forgiveness (p. 215).

Returning to one of his major running themes in the book, Jones points out again that the purpose of the craft of forgiveness is communion: with God and with other people, and specifically within the context of the Church (Jones, 1995, p. 217). This community is very important, and a central aim of forgiveness: it is not ‘simply’ something that one solicits from God or from another party, but rather something one practices in order to improve one’s relationships with God and with others in the community of the Church (p. 217).  

            I was especially impressed with the way that Jones touched upon the challenges of practicing the craft of forgiveness not only in a fallen world in general, but in particular in contexts with other people, non-believers, who do not share a Christian understanding of forgiveness (Jones, 1995, p. 225-227). The key point here that really struck me was the analogy to medicine: like the craft of medicine, the craft of forgiveness must be continually cultivated and improved in the face of ever-changing and novel situations (p. 227). By practicing this craft under the tutelage of those who are well-practiced in it, we can become the more transformed by the power of God (p. 227).

4). Discussion Guide Questions:

-Jones likens forgiveness to a craft which must be practiced, with especial challenges in contexts with nonbelievers. Do you think that practicing forgiveness is easier, harder, or about the same level of difficulty in such contexts as opposed to the Church?

-How can we reconcile with those who do not share our understanding of forgiveness, whether they be fellow believers or nonbelievers?

Chapter 8: Loving Enemies

1). Key Ideas:

-Moral anger, hatred, and retribution are very powerful, even understandable, desires in the human heart (Jones, 1995, pp. 243-245).

-Anger has a place in the craft of forgiveness if it is properly kept in check; hatred and retribution do not (p. 247).

-The call to love our enemies, though excruciatingly difficult, is needful if we are to be faithful witnesses of the power of God (p. 267).

-Punishment of malefactors may be necessary, but it must be contextualized from the perspective of God’s plan, and God’s desire for all to find grace in judgment (pp. 272-273).

2). Meaningful Quotes:

“Rather the question [about anger] is what we become angry about and, more specifically, toward what ends our anger is directed” (Jones, 1995, p. 247).

“Throughout our lives, the goal of our habits of thinking, feeling, and acting must remain reconciliation, the possibility and promise of new life neither bound by the past nor condemned to repeat it” (p. 269).

“Hence, even in situations where punishment may be necessary and unavoidable, we must seek to minimize its exercise and the spheres of its operation” (p. 273).

“We Christians are enjoined to love our enemies, and I have suggested that this is a crucial practice on the path of forgiveness and reconciliation” (p. 277).

3). Personal Reflections: This chapter made a tremendous impact on me. It is very true what Jones (1995) said: moral anger, hatred, and desires for retribution are very common, and they are very understandable human responses to having been wronged. Jones gave such tragic examples as rape victims, including one young woman who was taking his course “in the midst of the trial of the man who raped her” (p. 241). What to say or do to help people in such situations? What could one possibly say to answer the tremendous hurt suffered and anger felt? (p. 241). There is no easy answer to this, because with God there are no easy answers: there are only right, costly answers, like costly forgiveness.

Anger at sin certainly has a place in God’s plan: indeed, Ephesians 4:26 explicitly states that it is absolutely permissible to anger, but this does not excuse sin (Jones, 1995, p. 247). No matter how much we might wish for vengeance and feel hatred towards malefactors, and no matter how justified we might be in so doing, God has a broader, greater plan: judgment of sin begetting grace. To be sure, this does not mean that offenders should not be punished, but it does mean that we cannot do so as a means of satiating our hatred and our desires for vengeance. Hell is the ultimate example of the place of punishment in God’s plan, but the point of hell is fundamentally human accountability: there are consequences for not accepting forgiveness (pp. 252-253).

The call to love our enemies is perhaps the single hardest aspect of the forgiveness that God calls us to, but like all of God’s commandments it has a purpose. Without learning to love our enemies we cannot affect reconciliation and embody forgiveness. By learning to love our enemies, Jones (1995) argues, we can break the deadly cycle of sin, violence, hatred, and desires for retribution (p. 277).

4). Discussion Guide Questions:

-How best can we express moral, righteous anger towards injustice and wickedness without falling prey to our desires for hatred and retribution, and encouraging others to do the same?

-How can we cultivate the love of our enemies, and encourage other people to do the same? I found this the single hardest part of the book up to this point, not so much for myself but for others. For example, how could I tell someone who has been raped or suffered some other kind of violation to ‘love your enemies’?

Chapter 9: Is This a Story to Pass On?

1). Key Ideas:

-Part of forgiveness is a change in remembrance: while one cannot ask that those who have been wronged forget the wrongs done them, in some cases and at some point remembrance may actually impede healing and encourage vengeance (pp. 281-282).

-Stories that should be passed on are stories that, though they show suffering, also show the hope that God has created for the future (p. 289).

-Such stories of great evils suffered, but hope realized, are important to remember through a process of confrontation and retelling: by so doing, we can ensure that their legacy, and in particular their message of hope, lives on (p. 299).

2). Meaningful Quotes:

“Further, there is a danger that remembrance may become a form of vengeance” (p. 282).

“The forgiven-ness of such Eucharistic communities is manifest in solidarity with—and compassion toward—those who are afflicted and is embodied in practices of forgiveness and reconciliation” (p. 296).

“The unforgivable sin is refusal to accept the forgiveness that God always offers. It is unforgivable because there is no way for us to accept forgiveness if we refuse to acknowledge our need for forgiveness” (p. 297).

“By not ‘passing’ on these stories, but indeed confronting and telling them, we are able to absorb them so that they can be remembered well” (p. 299).

3). Personal Reflections: This chapter effectively answered a lot of my qualms and questions from the last one. To be honest, I have enjoyed every chapter of this book, but chapter eight was very difficult for me to get through on account of the issues that it raised, specifically pertaining to the love of one’s enemies. Chapter nine generally answered those issues to my satisfaction, and was, I thought, an amazing finish to a book that has filled my thoughts practically nonstop for the better part of a week at least.

In this chapter, Jones (1995) argues that there is a kind of ‘politics of memory’: remembrance of wrongs suffered can either prove to be an ongoing wound and an impetus to further calls for hatred and retribution, or it can serve as a means of helping us to engage with those stories, confront the evil, and see whatever good there may be in those stories. To some degree this spoke to my own feelings on the politics of victimhood which Jones touched on in a number of places in the book: in contemporary society, our obsession with victims and victimhood does true victims few favors and encourages many people to become self-absorbed for no reason. Some of the stories of the Holocaust and of slaves in the antebellum South that Jones relates throughout the book, and in this last chapter, are cases in point of individuals who suffered tremendous, dehumanizing things, and yet in or through their experiences had an encounter with the transforming power of God, or else manifested it to others for the first time. Suddenly I realized that this is why we need to love our enemies: so that we can manifest the light of God, fulfilling the commandment of Christ to be the light in a dark world, and the salt of the earth. Loving our enemies is quite likely the very hardest part of this for many people, but it is the only way we can show the world the grace of God in the form of embodied forgiveness!   

4). Discussion Guide Questions:

-How can we encourage people, through our deeds and solidarity, to remember and recount stories of wrongs suffered and evils experienced in a framework that highlights the transforming power of God?

-How will we be better lights to the world after reading this book?

Works Cited

Jones, L. Gregory. Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995. Print.