Forgiveness, or what I’ve learned from the Germans

Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected J...
"Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven" Luke 6:37

There is a lot of opposition in the world.  It seems like whatever you believe there is someone who wants to tell you that you’re wrong.  Religiously, politically, it doesn’t matter.  People will always disagree with you, and sometimes quite vociferously.  In such a world it is sometimes hard not to be offended by someone, at some time.  We cannot do anything to change how others think or act towards us, but we can change our own attitudes.  One thing I think the world needs a little more of is forgiveness.

I spent two years living in Germany, and I have always been drawn to German history.  One of the biggest problems I see with modern Germany is their inability to forgive themselves for World War II.  True, it was Hitler and his Nazis that ravaged half of Europe, but that was over 60 years ago.  This generation of Germans is not responsible for the war, their parents are not responsible.  Their grandparents, some of them at least, were involved, but only because they were drafted in the Nazi army.  And yet they are still blaming themselves for the war and the devastation.  At some point we need to stop, apologize, and move on.  We can’t keep blaming people, ourselves or others, for things that have happened so long ago.  We need to forgive and work toward a better future.

Having lived in Hamburg, I am particularly drawn to story of President Ezra Taft Benson, 13th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who was sent as an Apostle to Europe just after World War II ended.  He spent time in Hamburg and oversaw the rebuilding of the Church in Europe as well as the Church’s humanitarian aid sent to Europe.  He said, “I will  never forget the faith of the Dutch Saints who accepted our suggestion to grow potatoes to alleviate their own starving conditions, and then sent a portion of their first harvest to the German people who had been their bitter enemies. The following year they sent them the entire harvest. The annals of Church history have seldom recorded a more Christlike act of love and compassion. (source)”  For anyone who knows about the Dutch and the Germans, there is a long animosity of these two cultures for centuries, it’s not just WWII.  On top of that, these Dutch saints, who truly deserve to be called saints, were able to forgive the Germans enough to send them their crop of potatoes.

I also think of a man whom I met in Hagen.  He was born in Freiberg, just outside of Dresden in 1940.  He told me about remembering the end of the war and the firebombing of Dresden.  He talked about people who had been caught in the phosphorous bombs, people who would burn, and there was no way of extinguishing the flames.  As soon as the phosphorous came into contact with oxygen again it would flare up and reignite.  And then he said something amazing.  He looked at me and said, “Naja, es war Krieg.” (Oh well, it was war)  He did not harbor any resentment towards the Americans, or those who destroyed his home.  He had forgiven them, and understood the true cause of the evil: the war.

Forgiveness is freeing.  It allows you to go on with your life without grudges or resentment.  It fosters love and understanding of those who are different from you.  The one thing that will heal this broken world in which we live is forgiveness.  Can you imagine what the world would be like if Republicans and Democrats could forgive each other and work together?  What would happen if all of the Christian faiths could forgive each other, if Jews and Palestinians could forgive, if nations could forgive?  That is the way to change the world, change the future. To forgive others and live your life the way you feel is best.  I cannot change anyone but me, but I can change my attitude toward those I come in contact with.  And I will choose to love and forgive.  And I will choose to make the world better.

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