In May, I blogged that I Am A Sinner (who has been forgiven). Don't we love to say that? "Oh yes, Lord, I confess that I'm a sinner." And don't we hate to admit it? "Sin? Because I took revenge on the person who harmed me greatly? Oh no, that's not sin, that's "just retribution."
No one will dispute that the perpetrators are guilty; they are guilty by definition. But what about the victims? Are not they innocent? No doubt, many a person has been violated at no fault of his or her own. Yet even if they are not to be blamed for the violation suffered, should we call them innocent? Let us assume that they were innocent before they were violated. Will they remain innocent after the act? Will they stay innocent as they are drawn into a conflict and as the conflict gathers in momentum? Some heroic souls might, but will the rest? Moreover, rather than entering conflicts at their inception, people often find themselves sucked into a long history of wrongdoing in which yesterday's victims are today's perpetrators and today's perpetrators tommorow's victims. Is there innocence within such a history? With the horns of small and large social groups locked, will not the "innocent" be cast aside and proclaimed "guilty" precisely because they seek to be "innocent"? The fiercer the battle gets the more it is governed by the rule: "Whoever is not fighting with you is strugglings against you." Can victims sustain innocence in a world of violence?
In Exclusion and Embrace, Volf quotes Cornelius Plantinga (in Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin William B Eerdmans, 1995, p. 99)
The heart of sin is…the persistent refusal to tolerate a sense of sin, to take responsibility for one’s sin, to live with the sorrowful knowledge of it and to pursue the painful way of repentance.We can't tolerate the idea that we ourselves, or those who we support, are sinners. So we make up theologies that directly contradict what Jesus taught about "just war" and "just retribution" and we tell ourselves that our carefully-calculated violence isn't sinful.