Monday, February 18, 2008

On the social nature of forgiveness and the community of the church

From the early writings of Dorothee Sölle (1929-2003). Emphases mine.

No one can save [oneself] alone and no one is forgiven alone, if forgiveness is taken seriously in the sense of being born anew.

But how does that happen? To experience the forgiveness of sins, we need a group of human beings who make it possible for us to begin afresh; at the very least we need partners who accept us as we are, who have faith in our repentance, who believe we are capable of communion. In the ancient church this social role was filled by the Christian community, which criticized and absolved the individual. But where do we find comparable groups in the Christian church today?.... It is out of the fear of making ourselves dependent on others that we appeal to God as absolute Lord and link our forgiveness and conversion to [God] alone. But can there be a nonsocial forgiveness?

Reflection on a forgiveness that is accomplished here "below" resolves this difficulty: damnation in fact occurs even here, consisting in the total isolation of the individual for whom a new beginning is no longer believed to be a possibility. In Germany those who have become aware of their sin from experiences in the Nazi era have scarcely any chance of conversion if they are alone.

Conversion is more than forgiveness because it includes the future. Our world obstructs the possibility of conversion, for its principles include the isolation of [people] from each other and their segregation according to privilege. People live as much as possible in small, intimate units; they organize their work in terms of meaningless and unrelated fragments, and their needs are reduced to those of the consumer. Pressure to achieve, built-in competition, loneliness and inability to communicate, and insistence on privileges are characteristic of a society in which we are not permitted to make a mistake or at least not to admit it. It is a society in which conversion is excluded.

The liberation of all, which is the intention of the gospel, suspends the isolation of modern capitalism. "Jesus wants us to be friends" – thus runs the first sentence in the Catechism in the Community of Isolotto. Thus in the groupings of [people] established by the gospel the theistic, private meaning of forgiveness of sins will become superfluous, because forgiveness has once again become a possibility in the common life. There is a turning away from isolation and from thoughts of achievement, and the experiences that men have with the gospel of liberation can be talked about.

Dorothee Sölle, Political Theology (first U.S. edition, 1974)


MikeF said...

Superb - thank you for posting that, Jane. Scary, though, in terms of what it says to us about the depth of our pastoral responsibilities within our own communities. Echoes, there, almost, of Ezekiel 33.

Truly, love has no days off...

Thank you again


St Edwards Blog said...

Jane - oh my, what a post.

I am sitting here stunned into silence by its power. And I thank you.

What MikeF says makes so much sense love has no days off.

I feel very strongly about community and my hunger for it is deep and strong. In that way I have been lucky - I am blessed with family, friends and communities in abundance. My parish community is quite amazing and I am also astounded by my blogging community.

As someone once said to me - "I don't want to be saved without you." Today I think of that as "We can't be saved without each other."

Amen, Amen.

Oh my this is Fran! I am commenting from my parish blog. I just realized you might be wondering who this was!!

johnieb said...

In Germany those who have become aware of their sin from experiences in the Nazi era have scarcely any chance of conversion if they are alone.

Not only in Germany, and not only then, in the now "remote" past, but now, to us. The stories are there, for any who can stand to read them: in the papers and on TV, every day. "We didn't know" doesn't wash any more now than then.

Thank Godde for my friends, some of whom I have not yet met. I need their forgiveness to survive, and hope, despite my weakness, to offer the same to all, as Jesus does.

Jane R said...

You do, JohnieB, you do already.

Friends of Jesus, that is all we're called to be. No more. No less. To be true friends to one another is the work of the church; and to befriend the world. No small task. But that's what Christ shows us and that's where Christ calls us. There is no way we can walk that path alone.