Forgiving The Unspeakable and the Unforgiveable
Is it really possible for someone to forgive a Nazi doctor who conducted unspeakable medical experiments on concentration camp inmates during World War II or other heinous acts?
The 2005 documentary Forgiving Dr. Mengele tells the story of Eva Kor, a former World War II concentration camp survivor. The film follows the one-time “Mengele twin” as she travels to recover the files of Dr. Josef Mengele regarding her twin sister. Dr. Mengele was as a German SS officer and physician in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau who became notorious for his grisly and painful human experiments on inmates.
Ms. Kor’s journey takes her to several countries such as Germany, where she talks to a former SS doctor who was found innocent of wrongdoing at Auschwitz in a postwar trial. She offered him her forgiveness and later received an apology from a German organization for the suffering caused by the Holocaust. Ms. Kor now runs an American holocaust museum and is a public speaker with a message of forgiveness as self-healing from anger and pain.
Forgiving Dr. Mengele Trailer
I have not seen Ms. Kor link her personal religious beliefs with her stand on forgiveness. As a Christian, I have to wonder, could I forgive such a heinous crime against me and my family?
The Christian view on unforgiveness
Christians are told to forgive, but are some things absolutely unforgiveable? Are conditions required, such as a perpetrator making an admission of guilt and request for forgiveness?
For Christians, Jesus' teachings on forgiveness are clear. The “Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6, says that Christians should pray for the ability to forgive debtors, according to how they forgive others.” To receive the forgiveness of God for sins, Christians must extend the same mercy to others. But can Christians forgive what seems to be unforgivable?
Negative emotional reactions to "unforgiveable " acts are natural
Some of us, like some Holocaust survivors, feel that the heinous acts committed against us are unforgiveable. We bristle with righteous indignation and feel we have the right to stew in our own juices. The trouble is those juices become poisonous after a while.
The bible compares living in anger as churning milk into butter or tweaking a nose until it bleeds - it always leads to strife (Proverbs 30:3)
Anger does not lead us to the kind of life God wants us to lead (James 1:19). Staying in anger opens the door to Satan having a stronghold in our lives.(Ephesians 4:26-30) Anger is a natural response to offences. Jesus himself became angry when He saw how moneychangers were taking advantage of people at the temple but he did not stay angry (John 2:14-16). He continued His ministry and practiced forgiveness even to the cross.
Dealing with the pain
We need to recognize that we are angry because we are hurting and experiencing loss. Many of us are afraid of allowing ourselves to feel the pain, fearing that it will harm us, but God never allow us to experience anything we can’t endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). We can try to ignore our situation but doing that is like trying to put a lid on a live volcano. We can hide it and deny that it exists, but the lava is still there, bubbling and troubling - ready to explode at any moment. Psalm 37 tells us not to rage or fret about evildoers because this anger leads to evil and destructive situations.
Vengeance is wrong
Sometimes, we deceive ourselves into thinking that holding on to our anger and pain will somehow punish others when in reality, the only one that is usually hurting is us. Our perpetrators are usually far from our grasp, sleeping peacefully at night while we toss and turn. In the middle of the night, we may have to reach for sleeping pills or antacids to deal with our body's toxic state of emotional turmoil. When the perpetrator is in our lives, we may try to punish them with our resentful put downs, temper tantrums or vengeful acts.
Taking vengeance can lead to damaged property, broken relationships and destroyed marriages. If our actions are illegal, we can end up being fined or in jail. Sometimes, vengeance is not possible. Dr. Mengele was hunted as a Nazi war criminal but escaped justice. His victims did not have the satisfaction of putting him on trial and punishing him through the justice system.
The difference between accountability and forgiveness
Some of us confuse forgiveness and accountability. When a perpetrator has committed a crime against us, he or she breaks the laws of God and of man and will suffer the consequences for it, whether in this life or the next.
Does forgiving mean forgetting?
When we forgive someone, this act of love does erase the memory of the pain they caused. However, forgiveness is not a license for perpetrators to continue to inflict pain on us. Romans 12:1 says that we should give our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and presentable to God in order to serve Him. We can't do that if we allow our bodies and minds to be physically or emotionally abused by others.
Jesus set the example for us by forgiving the people who beat, mocked and crucified him on the cross (Luke 23:34). After He rose from the dead, he didn't come back to shoot lightning bolts at His enemies. He came to encourage His disciples to carry on in ministry. We can't progress as Christians and overcome our hurts if we don't forgive others. God can't extend His pardon for our sins unless we forgive (Matthew 6:14). Our unforgiveness is a barrier to having a relationship with God that will heal us from our pain.
Forgiveness is a process
This course is not easy - forgiveness is a process. For Eva Kor, it means that the Nazis no longer had the power to fill her mind with anger and righteous indignation. We too can find freedom through forgiveness
© 2013 Carola Finch