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Forgiving Bernie Madoff?
Could you forgive the multibillion dollar swindler if you were one of his victims?

Could you forgive Bernie Madoff?

Bernie Madoff
Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

I mean, if you were one of his victims?

Could you forgive a swindler who cheated you out of your life savings, your kid’s education fund, or maybe your charity’s assets? Whose “special deal” was really the con from hell?

Elie Wiesel understandably says “No.” The famed Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate lost most of his foundation’s $15.2 million plus millions in personal investments. "We gave him everything,” noted Wiesel, “we thought he was God, we trusted everything in his hands."

NYU law professor Stephen Gillers finds Madoff’s personal betrayal especially outrageous: “Madoff was willing to ruin people he knew well and charities on which thousands relied. He was willing to reduce retirees to penury and deny children tuition savings. He knew all that would happen when the music stopped.”

“He shattered what holds society together more than do laws, or rules or contracts,” continues Gillers. “He shattered trust and for that he should never be forgiven.”

After pleading guilty to operating a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, he’ll likely finish his days in prison. “I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done,” Madoff explained in court. “I am so deeply sorry and ashamed.”

“Scripted…rehearsed” opined some observers.

Carrying Grudges

Could I forgive Madoff, were I his victim? Of course, he should be imprisoned and the law satisfied. But could I forgive him personally and not go to my grave hating him? If Madoff’s treachery had forced me to alter my life plans, possibly facing poverty, the daily reminders would be tough to bear. But bitterness can corrode internally—as an old adage goes, like swallowing poison to kill your enemy.

One victim in her 60s now says she’s “looking forward to retiring at 95.”

Even Madoff attorney Ira Lee Sorkin has been venomously targeted. Said one angry message, “As one Jew to another, I deeply regret that the Sorkin family did not perish in the Nazi death camps.”

That Madoff traded on his Jewish connections is well known. What might his Jewish forbears say about forgiveness? Millennia ago, the Jewish prophet Isaiah wrote, “Let the wicked change their ways and … turn to the Lord…for he will forgive generously.”

But “forgiving generously” can be difficult for mere mortals. Isaiah continued: “‘Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways’…says the Lord.”

Strength to Forgive

Corrie ten Boom realized her own forgiveness deficiencies the hard way. She and her Dutch family hid Jews from Nazis during World War II. For this she endured Ravensbruck, a concentration camp. 

In 1947, she told a German audience that God forgives. “When we confess our sins,” she explained, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.” After her presentation, she recognized a man approaching her, a guard from Ravensbruck, before whom she had had to walk naked. Excruciating memories flooded back.

The man told of his past cruelty and subsequent faith in God. Extending his hand, he asked, “Will you forgive me?”

Corrie stood there, anger welling inside, unable to forgive. Then she remembered Jesus, who prayed of his executioners, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

She silently asked God to help her forgive her captor. Her anger softened; she warmly forgave him and told him. She later reflected, “When [God] tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Forgiving a scoundrel like Bernie Madoff can be tough, requiring special strength. Maybe that’s why British poet Alexander Pope famously wrote, “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. His work is distributed through Rusty Wright Communications.

Rusty Wright has been invited to participate in conferences organized by the Global Christian Internet Alliance formed by Christianity Today International to platform Christian websites internationally. Christianity.ca is the internet representative for Canada.

Originally published on the website, DelveIntoJesus.com, March 25, 2009. 

 

 
 
 
 

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