The Most Offended Party

“Supposing, God forbid, that on your next trip to work you are brutally attacked tacked by a gang of thugs. You are viciously beaten up, left half dead, maybe gang-raped. Emergency services take you to a hospital, and I go and visit you two days from now. You are bandaged up with your legs on pulleys. You can barely talk. And I say to you, “You know, you can be glad, for I found the thugs, and I have forgiven them.” What would you say to me? Wouldn’t you be outraged? “Who do you think you are? You’re not the one who was gang-raped! You’re not the one lying in the hospital! How can you possibly forgive them? The only person who can forgive is the offended party. Only the offended party can forgive.”

“At the end of World War II, a Jew by the name of Simon Wiesenthal was still clinging to life in Auschwitz, even after all of his extended family had been wiped out. At this juncture he was only weeks away from the end of the terror and horror of Auschwitz: the Russians were moving in from the East. Wiesenthal was in a work party when suddenly he was pulled out by the German man guards and shoved into a room. There was a young German Nazi soldier there-maybe nineteen years old. He had suffered grievous wounds and was clearly going to die. Before he died he wanted to talk to a Jew. In God’s peculiar liar providence, the Jew who was pulled out of the line and shoved into that room was Simon Wiesenthal. The young Nazi explained why he wanted to see him. Gasping for breath, not long to live, he acknowledged that the Nazis had treated the Jews horribly and that he himself had been engaged in horrible things. Now he wanted the Jews’ forgiveness. 

“Wiesenthal was quietly reasoning it out in his mind. He later wrote up his reflections in a little book called The Sunflower. Most of the pages of that short book describe what flashed through Wiesenthal’s mind. The reasoning is this: Who can forgive but those who have been offended? The most offended parties of the Holocaust are dead. In Auschwitz they have already been burned in the ovens. How can a survivor like Wiesenthal pronounce forgiveness on behalf of those who died? How can he speak for the dead? If the most brutalized victims of the Nazis are dead, then there is no one qualified to pronounce forgiveness, so there is no forgiveness for the Nazis. Without saying a single word, Wiesenthal listened to the young man, then turned and walked out of the room. 

“After the war was over and he had written his little book, Wiesenthal sent it to ethicists all around the world-Christian and Jewish, various backgrounds-and and asked them to answer the question, “Did I do what was right?” He kicked off a furious exchange among ethicists all over the world. 

“Wiesenthal almost got it right. He was surely right to insist that only the offended party can forgive. That is right. But according to the Bible, the most offended party is always God. That is what David understood when he dared to write, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:4).4

“Now this young paralytic is lowered before Jesus-a young man who has not offended Jesus in the flesh, not man-to-man, person-to-person-and Jesus looks at him and says, “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). The theologians ask, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). 

“Just so. And Thomas remembered that too. Combined with all the other memories of what Jesus had said and done, combined with all his reflections on the Old Testament Scriptures, he came to the only reasonable conclusion: Jesus is not only a resurrected man-miracle enough!-but somehow, incredibly, ibly, wonderfully, he is God, with all of God’s right to forgive sins. And he bowed before the resurrected Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). 

“That is what each of us must do: recognize that what Jesus has accomplished on the cross was suffering for the sake of his own people who put their faith in him, who recognize that what he bore was their sin. As the God-man, only he can forgive. We must have his forgiveness to be reconciled to God. We must have it. Then we bow before him and cry with joy and thankfulness, with mystery, adoration, and awe, “My Lord and my God.” 

Concluding Prayer 

“We rejoice, heavenly Father, in the truth that Jesus rose from the dead. Yet we begin to see that this is sunflowers-van-goghnot simply a truth in the public arena of history to be absorbed quickly and then set to one side. For if indeed your dear Son, the God-man, rose from the dead, then everything is changed. His victory over death is confirmed. The sacrifice he provided has been vindicated. Already he is the head of a new humanity that will one day share in his resurrection-likeness. likeness. And his people, heavenly Father, rejoice to bow before him and cry, “My Lord and my God.” Grant that each one who reads these pages may cry, “Forgive my sin as you forgave the sin of that paralyzed man, my Lord and my God.” In Jesus’s name, Amen.”

– D. A. Carson. God Who Is There, The: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (p. 161-163)

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