Texts: Psalm 130, Ephesians 4:25-5:2
In April of last year, PBS aired a film series called Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate. The film provided an intimate look into the spontaneous outpouring of forgiveness: from the Amish families for the 2006 shooting of their children in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania; the struggle of ‘60s radicals to cope with the serious consequences of their violent acts of protest; the shattering of a family after the mother abandons them, only to return seeking forgiveness; the legacy and divisiveness of apartheid and the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa; the penitential journey of a modern-day Germany, confronting the horrific acts of the Holocaust; and the riveting stories of survivors of the unimaginably brutal Rwandan genocide. One of the featured stories was that of holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
Elie Wiesel was 14 years old when he was taken, along with his mother, his father, and his sister, to Auschwitz in 1944. After the war and liberation he was the only member of his family to leave Auschwitz alive. For ten years he never spoke about these experiences. But a little more than ten years later he wrote Night, an accounting of what he went through. In the book, he talks about his anger toward God, asking God, “What could we possibly have done to deserve this? What evil could we ever be capable of that we all should die?” His anguish and overwhelmed senses threatened to end his faith in God. Reflecting on his experience in Auschwitz and in working through his own understanding of forgiveness and his Jewish faith, he says in the film, “Yom Kippur is translated as the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is plural. Why in the plural? Because it’s a double forgiveness. Just as we ask God to forgive us, maybe we should forgive [God].” In 1997, for Rosh Hashana, Wiesel published a riveting letter in the New York Times that read in part, “Mr. God, let’s make peace. We’ve quarreled long enough. Let’s make peace. You thought I would forget, but I won’t forget. Let’s make peace.” What is forgiveness and what is it not?