cover image Forgiveness: An Alternative Account

Forgiveness: An Alternative Account

Matthew Ichihashi Potts. Yale Univ, $30 (288p) ISBN 978-0-3002-5985-8

Potts (Cormac McCarthy and the Signs of Sacrament), a Christian morals professor at Harvard Divinity School, delivers an erudite consideration of forgiveness. Lamenting that “Christian forgiveness does too often deny or diminish grief,” Potts suggests understanding forgiveness as the “refusal of retaliatory violence” rather than as reconciliation or emotional catharsis. He decries “compensation of harm through proportional punishment” because it relies on a “sovereign” authorized to administer violence and instead urges readers to acknowledge the past to build a better future. Potts frames his arguments around perceptive analyses of novels by Louise Erdrich, Kazuo Ishiguro, Toni Morrison, and Marilynne Robinson; for example, he digs into efforts by Gilead protagonist John Ames to forgive the wayward son of his friend, and delineates a model of forgiveness based in “persistent penitence and retaliatory restraint.” The common interpretation of Jesus’s resurrection as the “resolution of past wrongs” is inadequate, the author contends, arguing that forgiveness must grapple with sin at the expense of “happy endings.” Potts’s mastery of such theorists as Derrida, Foucault, and Jankélévitch fleshes out his thoughtful theology, making for an intellectually rich contemplation of how to forgive without dismissing injustice. Sober and serious, this is essential reading for anyone interested in Christian ethics. (Nov.)