Forgiveness is Freedom

One of the most important issues that we all face in life is the question of forgiveness. It is important because, whatever our belief in moral matters, we will never be free of the need to receive forgiveness or give it to one another. Most believe that forgiving is the right thing to do, but when it comes down to it human nature takes over and grudges take place. Many people do not realize the rewards of forgiveness or the cost of refusing to forgive. In his novel, The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, Simon Wiesenthal challenges readers with the moral question of forgiveness. If someone is truly remorseful, should he or she be forgiven? Are some actions too horrible to forgive?
Though it may be difficult, depending on our circumstances, it is important to understand how crucial and liberating forgiveness can be, even for Wiesenthal when faced with the dying Nazi member, who murdered innocent women and children. To be able to forgive is to be able to strive for the future instead of regretting the past. Being unforgiving enslaves the one who cannot forgive. Even years later, Wiesenthal was still haunted by the incident and was still pondering whether or not he did the right thing in not forgiving Karl. It was obviously not his duty to pardon Karl, but forgiveness would have been for his own benefit. The purpose of forgiveness would not be to excuse or benefit Karl, but rather to free Wiesenthal. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness or a way of condoning the evil done; rather it is a way to experience freedom and healing. As Jose Hobday strongly asserted in The Sunflower, "No one, no memory, should have the power to hold us down, to deny us peace. Forgiving is the real power."
The concept and benefits of forgiveness have been explored in religion, social sciences and medicine. Most world religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness, and many of these teachings are the basis for the varying modern day traditions and practices of forgiveness. Most Christian denominations teach that a believer receives forgiveness directly through a genuine expression of repentance to God, and that the believer completes this in the act of forgiving others. In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful thoughts from causing destruction to one?s mental well-being.
Not having the ability to forgive causes such emotions as anger, bitterness, despair and resentment. These harbored feelings are toxic, creating stress and even illness. Whether we realize it or not, these underlying emotions affect our lives and our relationships with others. Unforgiveness can cause immense harm physically, relationally, emotionally and spiritually. Very few people say forgiveness is easy, but even fewer question how great they fell when they forgive. If Wiesenthal desired healing, the best way to receive it would have been by forgiving. But how could he have forgiven such a man, who slaughtered his people and tortured them? Harold S. Kushner, profoundly comments about this matter of forgiveness in The Sunflower,
"Forgiving is not something we do for another person?Forgiving happens inside us. It represents a letting go of the sense of grievance, and perhaps most importantly a letting go of the role of victim . . . For a Jew to forgive the Nazis would mean, 'What you did was thoroughly despicable and puts you outside the category of decent human beings. But I refuse to give you the power to define me as a victim. I refuse to let your blind hatred define the shape and content of my Jewishness. I don't hate you; I reject you.' And then the Nazi would remain chained to his past and to his conscience, but the Jew would be free."

I had to ask myself Wiesenthal?s question: What would I do if I was a prisoner in a concentration camp and a dying Nazi soldier asked for my forgiveness? As a Christian, I would want and be compelled to forgive him. However, I have never been in a situation where such atrocities were committed against me or those I love, nor have I ever been in any troubled time where survival is the only thing one thinks about. But, what I do know is that when one learns and harnesses the power to forgive, one finds peace and rest.
Forgiveness should be