Forgiveness in a Wounded World: Jonah's Dilemma

Forgiveness in a Wounded World: Jonah's Dilemma

Forgiveness in a Wounded World: Jonah's Dilemma

Forgiveness in a Wounded World: Jonah's Dilemma

Synopsis

The brief book of Jonah is the mighty mite of scriptural narratives. The story of the prophet swallowed by the giant fish is simple enough to delight a child and complex enough to confound a scholar. Human beings hesitate and falter, like Jonah, when trying to accept or imitate a model of divine forgiveness. This book culminates in a dialogue, informed by the best of modern biblical scholarship, between Jonah and modern dilemmas of forgiveness in accounts from the Jewish Holocaust and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The author illumines Jonah's dilemma with literature from Henri Nouwen to Herman Melville, from the Talmud to Greek myth. Paperback edition is available from the Society of Biblical Literature (www.sbl-site.org).

Excerpt

[Hedy will ask the first question,] I said to my husband as we drove to synagogue. [It will be about forgiving those who killed her family during the Holocaust.] To usher in the last High Holy Day season of the twentieth century, he and I would be doing our customary job of teaching. For the midnight religious service known as Selihot, a week before the Jewish New Year, our rabbi asked us to show a provocative film entitled The Quarrel, based on a play by Jewish theologian Joseph Telushkin. After the movie, we led the congregation's discussion of this probing look at two men, friends and study partners before the Holocaust, who accidentally meet after the war and resume their long debate on Jewish law and life. As I expected, Hedy was the first to rise and inquire, [How can I forgive when I can't forget?] My heart sank to my stomach. I had been preparing to answer that question for over a year. Researching the book of Jonah had given me many insights into the process of forgiveness, many stories I wanted to tell, many reassurances that forgiving and forgetting are not the same thing. But when the time came, I did not have the temerity to lecture Hedy. How could I give advice when she has suffered so much that I, born in America to affluent Lutheran parents well after World War II, have not experienced and could never truly understand? I ducked the question.

Several weeks before Selihot, I had made my first trip to South Africa, drawn there by some atavistic force. Growing up in a small North Carolina town during the long, hot summers of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, I had troubling memories of racism and therefore felt an old and profound connection to the victims of apartheid. I found South Africa to be a country of stark contrasts. Though some surprisingly upscale housing is found in Soweto and other townships, millions of black people still occupy acres of windowless, corrugated tin sheds, each one separated by only a few inches from the next. Not very far away from these shacks with no electricity or plumbing, wealthy white neighborhoods sprout mansions surrounded by tall stone walls topped with electrified wire and with armed guards standing at the gates. Yet all over the country — even in the tiny, poverty-stricken . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.