Monday, January 2, 2012

"Unconditional?" (Brian Zahnd)

TITLE: Unconditional?: The call of Jesus to radical forgiveness
AUTHOR: Brian Zahnd
PUBLISHER: Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2011, (256 pages).

This book is poised to be one of the most important books on forgiveness this decade. It argues that Christianity is essentially about forgiveness, in particular, radical forgiveness that is unconditional. This requires us to go back to our roots of the Christian faith. The basic assertion is this.

"If Christianity is about anything, it is about forgiveness. Not forgiveness as merely an end in itself or a legal means of escaping pubishment, but forgiveness as reconciliation and total restoration." (xix)

"Too often the message of Jesus has been misrepresented by the ugly faces of legalism, triumphalism, and religiously inspired hatred. My hope is that you will allow me to present to you the beautiful face of Christianity - the face of forgiveness." (xx-xxi)

Zahnd leads readers through the dark trenches of sin and evil. From the Holocaust memories, he shares about how an Austrian Jew called Simon Wiesenthal comes face to face with a Nazi officer who has brutally killed and tortured his fellow Jews. He raises the question of how can any Armenian ever forgive the Ottoman Turks, who have murdered, raped, massacred and enslaved millions of Armenians during the genocide of 1915-1917. He even talks about the 21 terrorists who turn September 11 into a tragic display of evil. As if these stories are not enough, the author brings up Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn horrible 8 years of suffering in a Soviet prison under the hands of Joseph Stalin. He shares with us the story of Nikolai Velimirovic, a Serbian Orthodox bishop who was betrayed by one of his priests, and sent to a concentration camp. Enroute to persuading readers that it is possible to forgive in the light of impossible crimes, the author highlights classic examples of how Corrie Ten Boom forgave her SS officer who killed her family, and about how Pope John Paul II forgave Mehmet Ali Agca who tried to assassinate him.

While the usual options when it comes to justice is either to exact payment, or inflict punishment, Zahnd offers a third option, costly grace.

"Allowing forgiveness to purge the unforgiveness in our hearts is what enables us to move beyond injustice and not be chained to it for life." (64)

Through the example of Ingrid Betancourt who suffered 6 years of torture by Colombian security forces, learns that forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about breaking the' cycle of revenge' (65). It is about letting God take care of the revenge part, while we kill any desire to prolong the cycle of violence. Through the example of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, Zahnd shows us that forgiveness can also save another person's soul.

Page after page, story after story, the author tugs at our hearts to move us from conditional forgiveness to unconditional forgiveness, and gradually toward radical forgiveness. Along the way, he deals with the barriers that prevent us from forgiving. Through the examples of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, he asserts that there is no future without forgiveness. Through the example of the tragic shooting of five schoolgirls in the Nickel Mines' Amish community, the author shows us that it is possible to let forgiveness transcends tragedy. He deals with the very important question of justice by saying that justice + mercy = reconciliation. Zahnd also criticizes some Christian quarters tendency to justify their revengeful ways. Here he uses John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath to say that the justice that some Christians attempt is actually 'self-righteous' and 'self-appointed morality police' (147). In Christ, the ugliness of sin when washed by the blood of forgiveness, will result in a beautiful scene of God's redeeming grace for the world.

This book is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for those of us who have gone through deep hurts and suffering. It is not easy to forgive. It is harder to forget. What is most important is that while Zahnd raises the need to forgive, he provides the Source from which true forgiveness can flow. In Christ, we have an example of forgiveness. We have the power to forgive that is not of our own strength. If we claim to follow Christ, we need to be prepared to imitate what Christ has done. This book is certainly not for the faint-hearted or the tough-minded person. It is for those with open minds, willing hearts, and forgiven souls, and all persons who WANT to forgive but don't know how. The stories in the book alone are worth the price of the book.
"We are to be the light of the world and the sons of God - through a proclamation and practice of a gospel of peace based in forgiveness." (207)

"The hope for peace that I see is where the disciples of Jesus don't just watch in admiration as Jesus carried his cross, but practice an imitation of the same kind of cross-bearing forgiveness." (216)

"As followers of the Lamb, we must come to realize that it is only through the practice of radical forgiveness that we can achieve real peace. Peace with God comes by forgiving and being forgiven." (218)
Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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