Would you forgive a Nazi mass murderer?

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?

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Forgiving a mass murderer: the Amish

Forgiving a mass murderer: the Amish

I want to tell you a story about forgiveness.  It’s begins with the murder of five Amish school girls, and the critical wounding of five others, at a one room Amish school house in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, USA, on October 2, 2006. 

The girls, the oldest of whom was thirteen, were murdered by a demented local man named Charles Carl Roberts IV, who brought with him to the schoolhouse a semi-automatic pistol, six hundred rounds of ammunition, a shotgun, a stun gun, plastic ties to use as handcuffs, sexual lubricant, and a board with nails to barricade the school door shut.  The teacher managed to slip out the side door almost immediately and ran for help; three policemen arrived within minutes.  Ten more police arrived several minutes later.  Negotiations were brief.  Hearing shots from inside they stormed the school.  Roberts had shot himself in the head, but not before shooting the ten girls.  

That evening, three Amish men went to visit Amy Roberts, Roberts’ widow, who was staying with her parents.  “We just talked with them for about ten minutes to express our sorrow and told them we didn’t hold anything against them,” said one of the Amish visitors (Kraybill, p 44).  Several miles away, an Amish man went to see Carl Roberts’ s father, spending about an hour with him.  A spokesman for the Roberts family later said “He stood there for an hour, and he held that man [Mr. Roberts] in his arms and said, `We forgive you.'”  Presumably Mr. Roberts’ father did not need forgiveness in any of the ways we ordinarily understand the term today, but perhaps that was not as important as the visit and the holding. 

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