Would you forgive a Nazi mass murderer?
It is difficult to state clearly the New Testament’s view of forgiveness. New Testament views would be more like it. Nevertheless, the central claim seems to be that forgiveness should be offered as many times as it is needed. In Matthew (18:21-22), Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him, suggesting the answer might be seven. Jesus replies “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Or seventy times seven in some versions). Seven represents the number of completeness and perfection in the Bible, and the point of course is that for forgiveness to be perfect, it must be impossibly generous. Jesus expresses much the same point in Mark (11:25) when he states that when people pray, they must forgive anyone anything and everything, so that “your Father in heaven may forgive your sins.”
The Sunflower, or would you forgive a Nazi mass murderer
Little in Christ’s teachings suggests that I am required to forgive someone for an act against a third party. Yet, this issue comes up often in discussions of forgiveness. It is the main issue that seems to divide Christians and Jews in their responses to The Sunflower, a story told by Simon Wiesenthal.
The gist of the story is straightforward. A young Nazi is dying in a hospital located near a concentration camp where Wiesenthal is imprisoned. While being marched past the hospital in a work detail, a nurse selects Wiesenthal from the group of inmates and takes him to the room of the dying Nazi, who wants “a Jew” to hear his confession and grant him forgiveness. Evidently brought up in a good Catholic home, the young Nazi had willingly committed terrible atrocities against innocent Jewish civilians, burning many to death. Will Wiesenthal grant him forgiveness before he dies?