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Forgiveness as an act of self-love

I went with my kiddos to see Les Miserables on opening night. And yes, I was blown away by Anne Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." If you can win an Academy Award for one song, then she'll win. She sings of a broken heart and dashed hopes. Her character, Fantine, embod…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I went with my kiddos to see Les Miserables on opening night. And yes, I was blown away by Anne Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." If you can win an Academy Award for one song, then she'll win. She sings of a broken heart and dashed hopes. Her character, Fantine, embodies what the movie explores: the themes of justice and forgiveness. You wonder, who will help for the opressed of this world like her?

If Les Miz is over-the-top, Forgiving Dr. Mengele, is stylistically it's opposite – an obscure documentary. But it's themes are the same. Dr. Josef Mengele was a horrible man. He performed medical experiments on people in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

It follows Eva Kor, a real estate agent in Terre Haute, Indiana who was subjected to his torture. She was one of the hundreds of twins on whom Dr. Mengele experimented. Her twin sister, Miriam, later died.

All these years later, the memories persist. Dr. Mengele is long dead, yet he continues to inflict pain from the grave. Realizing that the only power he has is the power she gives him by remaining bitter, Kor chooses to forgive him.

Her rationale: It's not because of her faith (she's Jewish). And it's not because it's part of her culture. She chooses to forgive Mengele because she simply wants to be happy again.

In an amazing act of courage, she travels to Bavaria to visit a surviving SS officer and forgives him as well. And then she asks him to accompany her on a visit to Auschwitz. He agrees to do so and it's then that the movie gets interesting.

After reading a public statement forgiving Dr. Mengele, she is attacked by her fellow Jews. "What right have you to forgive such a man?" They ask. "He's a monster. And even if we were to forgive him, an act of contrition needs to happen."

What right to forgive does she have indeed? What right do any of us have to ask or seek forgiveness? Christianity is unique as a religion in that it's central tenet has to do with forgiveness. We who grow up in the faith take forgiveness for granted, but as this movies makes clear, it is a moral scandal.

Kor's position is that if you love yourself, the best thing you can do is to forgive others. It's in your self-interest to forgive. As followers of Jesus, we have no choice. We are commanded to forgive. Consider these scandalous passages:

Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Matthew 18:21-22 “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

2 Corinthians 2:5-6 Now if anyone has caused pain…you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him.

Galatians 6:1-2 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.

Ephesians 4:31-32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Comments (4)

  • Seth, this points out that our Father has placed in us the real need for justice. We seek, need and look forward to justice. And our God will come again seeking justice. It is only through Christ that we can find justice and receive His Peace. Thanks for all you have done for our family in 2012 and we are excited to see what God will do in 2013. Come Lord Jesus and bring your Glory, now…amen Frank III

  • I watched this difficult film some months back. For her sake, I am glad she chose to not be bitter. Yet, this story shows that true forgiveness is only understood and experienced in Christ. It is a mystery as is the gospel. We’ve spoken the basics of the gospel and faith so many times, have we missed the wonder of it? The difficulty we have in forgiving, even as Christians, suggest that we have. Do we really know the price He paid for us to be forgiven…by God? Do we really believe what we are deserving of apart from HIs forgiveness? Life experiences, sometimes horrific ones, greatly challenge the very core of our faith….over and over again.

  • I have seen this film and it articulates so well the power of forgiveness. While such a hard lesson of the Gospel of Jesus it is central to everything we claim to want in the Kingdom of Forever.

    Love to the Barnes……

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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