By BARRY PULVER
After his talk at Davidson College Monday night, Oxford University theologian Nigel Biggar took questions from the audience and one woman asked: Is it understandable to be angry and seek apologies from God if a family member is severely ill, or after a natural disaster?
It would be “appropriate if it was honest,” he replied.
That question and others like it were at the center of Biggar’s lecture, titled “Christian Love and Forgiveness in the Context of Human Conflict,” hosted by the Vann Center for Ethics.
The talk was one of two at Davidson this week by Biggar, a professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford, whose appointments have included one by the Queen of England. A second lecture Tuesday morning was scheduled on “The Role of Religious Ethics in Contemporary Liberal Society.” His visit is funded by the Davidson Religion Department’s Sam Maloney Lecture Series in Religion and Society, named in honor of a longtime Davidson professor.
Monday night’s one-hour talk focused mainly upon the nature of forgiveness and repentance in Christian philosophy. He led off with a 10-minute video clip from a 1997 BBC documentary which included a story from South Africa about a man whose family was murdered in a church massacre. The first time he came face-to-face with the murderers, one of the gunmen apologized. In response, the survivor said his Christian views allowed him to forgive the murderers unconditionally.
CONSIDERING BOTH SIDES OF THE ARGUMENT
That led to a discussion about whether forgiveness should be unilateral and unconditional. In a typically English ironic delivery, Biggar cited biblical scripture, how both viewpoints are “half right and half wrong”.
Moving onto repentance, Biggar suggested three reasons why it should be conditional: “To offer trust to the untrustworthy and unrepentant is foolish. It robs the wrongdoer of learning and changing, and also shows no respect to the victim, whilst showing little importance to the their suffering.”
While often citing scripture, Biggar also tied the discussion to current and previous world conflicts, including Northern Ireland, South Africa, Rwanda and the response to the World Trade Center attacks in 2001.
Whenever a discussion is meaningful and applicable to current society, some viewpoints will border on controversial, as Professor Biggar explained. He did pose the view that “the victim has responsibility to show wrongdoing” to the guilty, along with expressing the fact that to regret is not to repent.
VIDEO TO COME
Davidson College’s 2013 ethics forums are videotaped for replay on the web. The entire video from Biggar’s talk will be accessible in the next few days. Find out more at http://www.davidson.edu/ethics, or go to the center’s video page, http://vimeo.com/vanncenter