Corrie Ten Boom Story on Forgiving
‚ÄúIt was in a church in Munich that I saw him‚ÄĒa balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
‚ÄúIt was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander‚Äôs mind, I liked to think that that‚Äôs where forgiven sins were thrown. ‚ÄėWhen we confess our sins,‚Äô I said, ‚ÄėGod casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. ‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄúThe solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
‚ÄúAnd that‚Äôs when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister‚Äôs frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
[Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]
‚ÄúNow he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‚ÄėA fine message, Fr√§ulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!‚Äô
‚ÄúAnd I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course‚ÄĒhow could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
‚ÄúBut I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
‚Äú ‚ÄėYou mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,‚Äô he was saying, ‚ÄėI was a guard there.‚Äô No, he did not remember me.
‚Äú ‚ÄėBut since that time,‚Äô he went on, ‚ÄėI have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fr√§ulein,‚Äô again the hand came out‚ÄĒ‚Äôwill you forgive me?‚Äô
‚ÄúAnd I stood there‚ÄĒI whose sins had again and again to be forgiven‚ÄĒand could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place‚ÄĒcould he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
‚ÄúIt could not have been many seconds that he stood there‚ÄĒhand held out‚ÄĒbut to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
‚ÄúFor I had to do it‚ÄĒI knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‚ÄėIf you do not forgive men their trespasses,‚Äô Jesus says, ‚Äėneither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.‚Äô
‚ÄúI knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
‚ÄúAnd still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion‚ÄĒI knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‚Äė‚Ä¶ Help!‚Äô I prayed silently. ‚ÄėI can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.‚Äô
‚ÄúAnd 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.
‚Äú ‚ÄėI forgive you, brother!‚Äô I cried. ‚ÄėWith all my heart!‚Äô
‚ÄúFor a long moment we grasped each other‚Äôs hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God‚Äôs love so intensely, as I did then‚ÄĚ
(excerpted from ‚ÄúI‚Äôm Still Learning to Forgive‚ÄĚ by Corrie ten Boom. Reprinted by permission from Guideposts Magazine. Copyright ¬© 1972 by Guideposts Associates, Inc., Carmel, New York 10512>).
For anyone whose interested, here's a brief biography of Corrie Ten Boom and her family who saved many Jewish lives during the Holocaust. We could all learn a lesson about forgiveness through her story.