“If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus said, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
It’s a condition not easily met.
During the Holocaust, Dutch watchmaker Corrie Ten Boom, along with her beloved sister, Betsie, spent ten months imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp. Nazis had discovered Jews hidden in their family home in the district of Haarlem. Frail and cruelly mistreated by their Nazi guards, Betsie died in the camp a mere fifteen days before Corrie’s release (attributed to a clerical error) in early January of 1944.
After the war, Corrie became a missionary and author, writing books and travelling the world sharing her experience of how God’s love had followed them, even into the hell-hole of Ravensbruck. She also shared how Betsie’s example of God’s love and forgiveness for their cruel keepers inspired her during those fiendish years.
In one of her books, The Hiding Place, Corrie relates how in 1947 she visited post-war Germany to share her message that God forgives and “there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” After one of her messages, a man approached her, explaining that he’d been a guard at Ravensbruuk.
She had already recognized him; a recognition accompanied by horrid flashbacks of “walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin.” He had become a Christian, the man said, and though he knew God had forgiven him for his actions, he wanted to hear words of forgiveness from someone who had been in the camp. Corrie wrote, “I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?”
Hand outstretched, the man stood for what seemed like hours, though actually only seconds, as she inwardly wrestled with “the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.”
In her head, Corrie replayed Jesus’ words, knowing she had only one choice. Forgive. Coldness clutched her heart, she recounted later. “But forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
Pleading for Divine help, she told God she could lift her hand, but he would have to supply the feeling. “And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’”
For a long moment, Corrie writes, she and her former enemy held hands. “I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
Corrie’s message and her example of forgiving like Jesus does, still resonates. In a wounded world it’s the healing message we need most.