Should All Be Forgiven?

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    The definitions of forgiveness are many, but most acknowledge that it involves a "giving up" of something, whether it be anger, the right to vengeance or, say some skeptics, the memory of an event the way it really was. In The Sunflower, Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal asked whether it would be proper for a Jew in a slave-labor camp to grant forgiveness to a dying SS man begging absolution for earlier murders. As part of a symposium that is incorporated into the book, the writer Cynthia Ozick said absolutely not: "Forgiveness is pitiless. It forgets the victim. It blurs over suffering and death. It drowns the past. The face of forgiveness is mild, but how stony to the slaughtered ... Let the SS man ... go to hell." How-to books, therapy and interventions may be useful in dealing with an unfaithful spouse, gossiping colleague or even some cases of violence. But there are other practices--serial killing, torture, genocide--often regarded as unforgivable.

    There are no easy answers to such objections. But for most of us, they will remain in the background so long as--during its journey from sacrament to science experiment to possible nostrum--forgiveness becomes neither a foregone conclusion nor an obligation, but remains a mystery within the heart of the forgiver. Only then will people like Mitchell Wright feel free to continue their struggles. Wright knows that far from being the recourse of wimps, forgiveness is the hardest course of all.

    "Hate can come easy," he says. "I am having a tough time, and I pray. It's not as bad now as it was. But there were several times when I found myself confronted with mixed emotions. You just pray to God, 'Lord, help me. I need some help with this anger.'" He takes solace in one other resource unavailable to those whose forgiveness is removed entirely from faith. The night his wife died, Mitchell Wright talked to his son Zane. "He asked me when Momma was coming back, and I told him she couldn't." But, he recalls, "I promised him we would both see her again."

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