Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Book-"Free of Charge" (Miroslav Volf)

Title: Free of Charge
Author: Miroslav Volf
Published: Zondervan, 2005 (247pp).

We all like free things. However, many of us struggle with giving things away for free. Even more difficult is the willingness to practice ‘giving’ and ‘forgiving’ in a culture of ungrace. However, in God, this is possible. This is in essence the point of the book. We need to give and forgive. We need to sustain it with an environment, and we cannot do it on our own. We need one another and above all, we need God.

Beginning with a description of a personal encounter with an American traffic cop, Volf highlights the alarming culture that is ‘stripped of grace.’ His antidote: Giving and Forgiving to be given and received freely. I read this book not simply to see examples and acts of giving and forgiving. ‘Giving and forgiving can be done very quickly. Doing it consistently is not so, especially in a culture that is selfish and lack the grace everybody wants.

In part One of the book, Volf deals with the subject of giving, starting from God as the foundation of giving. Firstly, the idols of ungrace must be broken. Then we need to learn to adopt a disposition of recognizing the knowledge of God. Finally, we ‘look in the right places with a ready heart,’ with an attitude of readiness to receive the expected and unexpected. In a nutshell, this dependence on God is a theological statement that we cannot become givers on our own strength. We need God to give us ‘new birth’ first (120). True giving involves a ‘triangle’ of giver, receiver and God. It is only in God when we know when to give and when to receive. Without God, we fail to discern what, where, when, who and how to give or receive.

Volf lists four ways in which we can give:
1) Give according to our talents
2) Give according to the fruit of the Spirit in us
3) Give according to the hope we have;
4) Give according to the need to sustain a community of giving.

Before entering Part Two, Volf highlights the immense difficulty of moving toward a culture of forgiving. We live in a culture of assuming revenge as the norm. We easily blame others for the ills of society. We then endure helplessly the effects of retaliation and injustice. These are the ways of the world. There are the effects of a fallen world. Volf brings us back to God as the Forgiver. In ‘How Should We Forgive?’ he maps out the way toward true forgiveness:

Revenge corresponds to illicit taking, the demand for justice corresponds to legitimate acquiring, and forgiving roughly corresponds to generous giving.” (158)

Instead of revenge, consider justice. Instead of dwelling in justice, think forgiveness. Forgiveness, restores, reconciles and gives all a chance to repent. I take delight in learning about one forgiving, that leads to two victories. The act of forgiving is the first victory. The fruit of forgiveness is the second victory. Ultimately, both go toward honouring God.
For instance, in the United States, we live in an increasingly litigious culture. It hasn’t always been that way; we’ve become such a culture. There are many reasons for that, which I don’t need to explore here. But once a culture has become litigious, forgiveness starts making less and less sense. We can still hold onto forgiveness on our own, but we are then swimming against the stream. We start questioning our commitment to it and often give up. To forgive, we need an environment in which forgiveness is valued and nurtured.” (212)
My Comments
I will add that we all need to build an environment of ‘giving’ and ‘forgiving.’ Starting with outselves, let us contribute toward toward developing ourselves to become ‘givers’ and ‘forgivers.’ Do not simply pat ourselves on the back once we do one act of giving or two instances of forgiving. Do it often. Do it regularly. Do it.  We need to create an environment that encourages giving and forgiving. May I encourage the Church to begin one, wherever they are.

Book Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

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