The Geography of Absolution

“Grace will remake but not undo.”[1]
These are immensely profound words. Grace will not (perhaps better: cannot) undo. Grace will not undo who we are and have been, or what we have done. Grace will not pass over those details in utter absolution without first fundamentally addressing what we, as selves, have been responsible for.
We may be guilty and by consequence cannot be innocent. We may be the victim of violence that has robbed us of our innocence.[2] At every point it must be said we live in a world of non-innocence. No one stands apart from these taints. And ultimately, more often than not, we all toe the line of having been victimised and having been the perpetrator of victimization.
In this way,
“The gospel will not tell us we are innocent, but it will tell us we are loved; and in asking us to receive and consent to that love, it asks to identify with, and make our own, love’s comprehensive vision of all we are and have been.”[3]
The grace extended by the gospel cannot undo because the gospel refuses to deal with us in abstraction. It is a message so pervasive that it refuses to deal with us unless we are dealt with fully. The gospel is the message of a new world and to be a member of the community of the new world requires our remaking.
“Grace deals with us whole: it does not simply console me as a victim, for that would be to leave untouched the reality of my complicity in the hurt and damage of the world.”[4]
Our culpability in the state of life in the world renders absolution shallow. We must face ourselves as we are and allow ourselves to be dealt with as we are. This is vital. This is key, because it is only here that transformation can occur. It is only here we can be remade.
It is in the on-going process of remaking, in the on-going re-centring of our character (and by consequence our actions and judgments) that we will find ourselves able to participate in the reality unleashed when God announces that he has made “all things new!” In this sense absolution can only be announced because a new geography has been realised, the geography of new creation unleashed in resurrection. What cannot be undone, what cannot be declared innocent in the old world shall not have the final word, because of the grace of renewal, because of the God who absolves in the remaking of all things ex vetere.
This is why grace will not undo, it cannot. You cannot participate in the age to come without capitulating, as a free being, to the loving will and way of the Creator who brings that age. As people who, by nature and experience, have been corrupted by violence, the categories that violence has imprinted on us are not categories congruent with the coming kingdom – they must be remade. We must learn new categories; categories fitting of the coming age.
This is why grace remakes; for we are not innocent and yet we are loved deeply by the God who
“has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13-14
And it is here, precisely here, that we are being remade by the grace of the God of love, which deals with us wholly, as the persons we are.
[1] Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, 81
[2] “Violence ensnares the psyche of the victim, propels its action in the form of defensive reaction, and–robs it of innocence.” Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation, 80
[3] Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, 81
[4] Ibid.