“To mourn Jesus in at least one sense is to seek some habitable meaning for and from his death in our own world.”
- Matthew Ichihashi Potts (Forgivness: An Alternative Account)
Potts suggests that forgivness and redemption are categorically different, even though we have become conditioned in the modern west to read them as one in the same. It is on this basis that he wants to step in to a discussion of forgiveness by way of this simple definition- a decision to abstain from retaliation. He anchors this definition in a recognition that forgiveness is always applied to a loss that cannot be recovered, thus rendering the langauge of debt repayment, common to western theologies or forgiveness, insufficient.
Potts argues away from the primacy of debt metaphors, especially considering that such metaphors get muddled in translation from the ancient to the modern, and he argues towards the primacy of spacial language and imagery.
“The governing analogy of sin in the Christian West is economic, and its roots do reach to the New Testament. But there are other ways to read aphiemi (forgiveness)…Aphiemi (Greek) and remittere (Latin)… concern not debt but distance in their literal etymologies. Aphiemi means to send away. To remit, at its root, is to establish a distance…
Were we to think of sin not as a debt to God but as distance from God, and were we then to consider the mission of the Son sent away (aphiemi) by the Father to be the crossing of a distance, the opening of a loving space capacious enough to contain sin; if we thought of Christ’s work as the journey into a far country, rather than the payment of an awful price, we might find that the typically nifty logic of atonment- that the cost of sin must be paid in full and that only the God-man can pay it- falls away and is replaced by another, perhaps more lovingly tragic, far less cruelly heroic one. If sin is distance, then the Son’s obedient estrangement from the Father is a journey already implicated in sin, a mission always and already also a remission. If Sin is distance, then God’s love will be signaled by the chasm Christ crosses to meet us rather than the torture he bears to win us.”
To be clear, Potts is not dismissing the language of debt out of hand. He is simply suggesting we view it through the primacy of distance. It is on this basis then that forgiveness is then freed from the trappings of redemption. It is allowed to embrace the tragedy and the mess. It can be something we necessarily act upon apart from reconciliation. And what does this do for our theologies of atonement? How freeing might it be to say that forgiveness is that which sets us in the space where redemption and transformation is not only possible but promised? How freeing might it be to imagine that forgiving a person or a loss or a tragedy can give us space to mourn rather than the expectation that it in itself must be the restoring work?
Further, and this might be the most shocking observation- what might it look like to grieve the death of Christ in the face of circumstances that look less like the promise than the loss? And similarly, what might it look like to actually forgive in the face of that if to forgive means to resist retaliation? Something I’m mulling over.