Everyone knew Simon Wiesenthal as a man who brought forth justice. A Jewish Austrian Holocaust survivor, a writer, and an activist worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, he was famous for hunting down Nazi perpetrators and ensuring that justice is served as a consequence of their cruel acts. Thus, he was labeled "The Nazi Hunter" by the world.
But not everyone knew that this man of justice wrestled with the dilemma and mystery of forgiveness.
In his 1969 book entitled "The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness," he narrated a time when God placed on his hand an opportunity to forgive but turned his back from it, making him question if forgiveness really an opportunity or a curse?
Wiesenthal was a Polish-Jewish concentration camp prisoner then who was assigned to dispose of medical and human waste at a German field hospital. One day, the nurse tasked him to be at the bedside of a dying Nazi soldier named Karl Seidl.
Staying at the soldier's bedside, Seidl started confessing all his trespasses to Wiesenthal, including a horrifying murder of 300 Jewish women and children who had been locked into a house, burned alive, and gunned down when they tried to leap out of the windows to escape the blazing fire. What was more shocking was when this German soldier sought forgiveness from Wiesenthal, as a representative of the Jews.
Seidl's final words to the prisoner were, "I know that what I am asking is almost too much for you, but without your answer, I cannot die in peace." Physically and emotionally exhausted and mentally devastated from malnutrition, cruel treatment, and the shocking confession, Wiesenthal did not know what to say or do, but in the end, decided to turn his back on the soldier without saying anything and left the room. The next day, he found out that the soldier was dead, while he lives his life every day never not wondering what he should have done.
First asking his prison mates, then professional colleagues, and finally thinkers around the globe from every walk of life, Simon
Wiesenthal spent most of his life in a relentless pursuit of the real meaning of forgiveness. He asked his prison mates, professional colleagues, theologians, political leaders, writers, jurists, psychiatrists, human rights activists, Holocaust survivors, even former Nazis, and victims of attempted genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, China, and Tibet. The responses were complex. Some declared that forgiveness should be given for the victims' sake. Others proclaimed that it should be withheld, and the rest was confused about whether or not to forgive was the right thing to do.
The Nazi Hunter, according to Christian Post, was tormented with these questions - "Should he have forgiven the dying soldier? What could he have even said that would absolve the man's guilt? Does a Nazi murderer, though sorrowful, even deserve forgiveness? Can you forgive a crime that was not against yourself, but against others? What about justice - wouldn't forgiveness undermine justice? But couldn't he at least have tried to help a desperate man die in peace?"
Aren't these questions the exact questions every individual faces when one needs to forgive?
Forgiveness: An Opportunity Or A Heavy Burden?
When Peter, in Matthew 18:21-22, asked Jesus how many times should he forgive a brother who sinned against him, Jesus corrected Peter's guess of seven times and instead declared that forgiveness should be given seventy times seven times.
In an article by Got Question, it was stated that the number seventy times seven, which is equivalent to 490 should not be taken literally. The number 490 times was presented by Jesus not to limit the number of times one should forgive but instead as an expression that forgiving is "beyond counting."
"Christians with forgiving hearts not only do not limit the number of times they forgive; they continue to forgive with as much grace the thousandth time as they do the first time," as quoted from the said article.
When Jesus commanded His disciples to forgive always, Jesus was also saying that forgiveness is something that can be done by His followers. In fact, not only once but again and again.
But why would He command to forgive immeasurably? Because forgiveness is an opportunity for salvation - not only of the one who forgave but also of the forgiven.
Forgiveness is an opportunity for the salvation of the forgiver, as stated in Matthew 6:14-15, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
The Bible said that God "keeps no record of wrongs," (Jeremiah 31:34) but that is only possible if one offers forgiveness to the other. God will only save and free someone from his/her sins and transgressions when he/she has already forgiven those who sinned against him/her.
Forgiveness is an opportunity for the salvation of the forgiven. When one offers forgiveness, it is also offering God's unconditional love and grace. When one offers forgiveness, it is also offering the story of salvation, an open door to his/her salvation, and one brings the Salvation Himself, Jesus Christ, to the other. They are introduced to Jesus and to what Jesus had done to the forgiver's heart and life that caused him/her to show forgiveness, and to what Jesus can do to their hearts and lives as well.
Forgiveness is an opportunity to please God. Not only that believers get to obey the commandment of Jesus, but more than that, they are able to pay forward the forgiveness that Jesus has given them and become genuine ambassadors of God as they love their enemies and love others as Jesus commanded them to.
Forgiveness is not a heavy burden. Forgiveness is, once again, an opportunity to lift the heavy burden caused by anger and unforgiveness.
Forgiveness Lifts The Burden
"The power of forgiveness releases us from a burden we were never meant to shoulder," declared Leslie Jones in a piece she has written for Living By Design.
And this is true.
Forgiveness lifts the burden not only off one's shoulders but out of one's soul too. It radically transforms the forgiver. One is saved from the consequences and punishment of having an unforgiving, hardened heart. The heart softens and expands with compassion for others and especially for the enemies. Finally, the journey to healing and wholeness starts as the heaviness of hatred and anger are lifted, and ultimately, there is a powerful encounter with God that allows one to experience His forgiveness fully.
What about justice? One would ask.
Bill Adam, Chaplain of the CCM Spiritual Development team, was able to settle that conflict through Christ. He declared, "Justice is his to execute. Forgiveness is mine to extend. A friend used to put it this way: 'I take them off my hook and put them on God's,'"
This is a powerful obedience to God and a reflection of what Paul said in Romans 12:19, "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay."
Jones boldly stated, "When forgiveness seems impossible, make the decision to forgive."
Forgiveness is not a one-time battle. It is an everyday battle and an everyday decision to humble down and follow Jesus. As Jesus said in Luke 17:4, "Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,' you must forgive them."
When forgiveness seems impossible, choose Jesus - the One who forgave limitless times to the point of dying on the Cross just so the ones He loves can live again with no records of wrong.