One of the books I have been reading this month is Simon Wiesenthal’s autobiographical story The Sunflower, On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. Wiesenthal was one of the millions of Jews imprisoned by the Nazi’s in World War II. Unlike most of his friends and six million other Jews, and the millions of others deemed inferior by the Third Reich, he survived, barely. Each day he assumed would be his last day as he was malnourished, and as he witnessed unthinkable cruelty and death in the concentration camp and work details.
It was at a work detail, hauling away barrels of blood-stained bandages at a makeshift hospital for wounded Nazi soldiers, that he had an encounter which posed an ethical and religious question that haunted him. He was ushered away by a nurse to the bedside of Karl, a dying member of the SS. Karl was tormented by the hideous crimes in which he had participated. On his death bed the soldier wanted to confess and receive absolution from a Jew! Should Wiesenthal forgive Karl? Does he, a solitary Jew, have the right to forgive the SS soldier in the place of Karl’s victims and the millions of Jews who had already been tortured and killed. Was it even possible to forgive this one remorseful person because of the hate and prejudice he as a member of the SS had promoted and propagated? It is a tough and awful question.
Many religious leaders from different faith traditions, legal experts, psychiatrists, and political activists have responded to the questions posed by Wiesenthal with other questions. Can only God forgive if the victims are already dead or unable to be reached? Does cheap and easy forgiveness not only deny the victim’s worth but also deny the perpetrator his or her human dignity? How complicit in genocide and murder are those who could have done something to stop the atrocities, or even show compassion and simply did nothing?
Forgiveness is not automatic, and it is not easy. Forgiveness may not be possible or even ethical some argue. What then?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes about his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa responding to the questions posed by The Sunflower. Tutu writes: “What would I have done? Our president Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for twenty-seven years and not mollycoddled. He should by rights been consumed with bitterness and a lust for revenge. The world watched with awe when he so magnanimously invited his white jailer to his inauguration as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. I can tell you of others, both black and white and less well known, who if asked, “What would you have done?’ would have done the same—they have forgiven amazingly, unbelievably. Many claim to be Christians. They say they follow a Jewish rabbi who, when he was crucified, said “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” I sit and marvel at it all as I preside over the process of seeking to bring healing and reconciliation to a deeply divided, wounded, and traumatized nation. It is clear if we look only to vengeance or retributive justice, then we could just as well close up shop. Forgiveness is not some nebulous thing. It is practical. Without forgiveness there is no future.”
What would you do?
Confirmation Schedule Fall 2021
Classes meet Wednesdays at 6:30-8 pm meeting at St. Paul’s Lutheran, 218 E 19th Street.
October 20 Servant Event (TBD)
October 27 Night off.
November 3 Class: The Gospel according to Mark
November 10 Class: The Gospel according to Luke (and Happy 538th birthday Martin Luther.)
November 17 Movie Night at St. Paul’s
November 24 Night off to cook the Turkey
December 1 Advent Worship: attend and participate
December 8 Advent Worship: attend and participate
December 15 Advent Worship: attend and participate
December 22 Advent Worship: attend and participate
December 29 Night off. Get ready for 2022!
October 17, 2021
October 10, 2021